How many times have we run into communication glitches with our friends? You say one thing but your friend understands something completely different. This often happens because either one word or the whole statement is ambiguous (has more than one meaning). Sometimes you just can’t avoid it and you come out with some really wacky sentences.
Syntactic ambiguity is when a sequence of words carries a double meaning. For example, “The chicken is ready to eat.” Is the chicken going to be the one chowing down or are you going to be eating the chicken? There really is no way to tell by looking at this sentence alone. Newspaper headlines also have syntactic ambiguity sometimes, making great material for late night talk shows! The problem with writing headlines is that you have a minimal amount of space to convey as much information as possible. Here is one headline: “Lack of Brains Hinders Research.” We aren’t sure if there is a shortage of physical brains to examine for the experiment or if the people doing the research are not smart enough to continue!
Lexical ambiguity is when one word carries multiple meanings, making the whole thought unclear. For example, the statement “The fisherman when to the bank.” Since we are talking about a fisherman, the word “bank” can mean a river bank or the kind of bank you keep your money in. This sentence alone doesn’t provide enough information to see which one it really is. Here’s a newspaper headline with lexical ambiguity: “Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case.” The word “case” is the problem word here. So basically this person is either going to jail for 9 months after stealing a violin, or the funnier option, has to stay in a physical violin case for 9 months.
Let me know if you run into any funny ambiguities. Leave a comment!