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Ambiguty in (natlangs and) conlangs (was Re: Linguistic term for ease of changing word-class)

From:Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>
Date:Monday, August 11, 2008, 18:37

On Mon, 11 Aug 2008 14:04:29 +0200, Benct Philip Jonsson wrote:

> Plura commentaria in uno voluta! > > Från: Alex Fink <000024@...> > > [...] > > Talk of casting tends to make me leery, for the > > way it seems to make the background assumption > > that given any two data types there should be > > exactly one function between them of such > > paramouncy that it makes sense to elevate it > > above all others and crown it the Cast between > > those two types. For some type-pairs I buy this > > (smaller to larger floating point types, say); > > mostly not. > > Talk of too strict disambiguity in language, at > least naturalistic (qua natural human language- > like) language as opposed to computer language or > the most ivory-towered loglang, makes me leery. > Ambiguity, fuzziness and under-specification are > as much a feature of natural language as is > redundancy!
Exactly. Natlangs get away with pretty much ambiguity, as it can usually be disambiguated by context. Only in especially awkward cases (e.g., _queen_ vs. _quean_ in Early Modern English, or the famous 'cat' vs. 'rooster' example in Gascon (where regular sound changes rendered both words homonymous)) the ambiguity is removed, usually by disusing or modifying one of the conflicting words. A naturalistic conlang *should* thus admit some ambiguity. Zero ambiguity is unnatural; it is thus *only* for engelangs.
> The reason of course is that any > ambiguity at some level (lexical, morphological or > syntactic) will be resolved by context at another > level, or as the last resort by the recipient's > knowledge of the world.
Right. In most cases of homonymy, all but one of the possible meanings of the word form just don't fit into the context in which it is uttered. One of the homonyms gives an utterance which is grammatical and meaningful; all others give utterances which are ungrammatical, meaningless or counterfactual. Often, homonyms can be told apart because they occur only in certain fields of discourse. One example: the noun _mass_ has a certain meaning in physics, and a different meaning in sociology. Now if you are reading a physics dissertation in which the word _mass_ occurs, you can rule out the sociological meaning with a high degree of certainty.
> Moreover the canonical > communicative situation is not reading a book but > a conversation (be it face-to-face or by email) > and in a conversation the interlocutors can always > ask/clarify if they don't or seem not to get the > intended meaning.
Indeed. If in doubt, ask. ... brought to you by the Weeping Elf