Key Difference – Lexical vs Structural Ambiguity
Ambiguity is the quality of having more than one interpretation. A word, phrase, or a sentence becomes ambiguous if it can be interpreted with more than one meaning. Ambiguity can be classified into two different categories named lexical and structural ambiguity. Lexical ambiguity occurs when a word has more than one possible meanings. Structural ambiguity is a situation where one sentence has more than one meaning due to its sentence structure. This is the key difference between lexical and structural ambiguity.
What is Lexical Ambiguity?
Lexical ambiguity, also known as semantic ambiguity, occurs when a sentence has an ambiguous word or phrase (which has more than one possible meaning). This phenomenon is a result of polysemy. Lexical ambiguity is sometimes used deliberately to create pun and other wordplays. Given below are some examples of lexical ambiguity.
We saw her duck.
- We saw her pet animal.
- We saw her bend to avoid something. (verb duck)
The minister married her sister.
- Her sister married a minister.
- The minister performed the wedding ceremony.
Harriet cannot bear children.
- Harriet cannot give birth to children.
- Harriet cannot tolerate children.
The fisherman went to the bank.
- The fisherman went to the river bank.
- The fisherman went to a financial institution.
Although lexical ambiguity can cause problems in meanings, it is not difficult to understand the intended meaning of the writer by looking at the context. For example,
“We saw her duck when we visited her last month. She has made a special pond in the garden to keep it.” – Duck here refers to an animal.
What is Structural Ambiguity?
Structural ambiguity, also known as syntactic ambiguity, occurs when a phrase or sentence has more than one underlying structure. Such a sentence can be interpreted in more than one way. Given below are some examples of structural ambiguity.
Miriam hit the boy with a book.
- Miriam used the book to hit the boy.
- Miriam hit the boy who was holding a booking.
The teacher said on Friday he would give a test.
- On Friday, the teacher said he would give a test.
- The test will be on Friday.
Visiting relatives can be boring.
- It is boring to visit relatives.
- Relatives who are visiting are boring.
They are cooking apples.
- A group of people are cooking apples.
- They are apples that can be cooked.
Peter saw his neighbour with binoculars.
- Peter has a telescope, and he saw his neighbour while using the binoculars.
- Peter saw the neighbour who has binoculars.
What is the difference between Lexical and Structural Ambiguity?
Lexical Ambiguity: Lexical Ambiguity occurs due to polysemy – words having more than one meaning.
Structural Ambiguity: Structural Ambiguity occurs due to the structure of the sentence.
The Intended Meaning:
Lexical Ambiguity: The intended meaning can be understood by the context.
Structural Ambiguity: The intended meaning can be understood by the prosodic features such as stress, intonation, etc.
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