The Advantage of Ambiguity in Language

...a group of MIT cognitive scientists ... claim that ambiguity actually makes language more efficient, by allowing for the reuse of short, efficient sounds that listeners can easily disambiguate with the help of context.

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"The result is a system that skews toward ambiguity, reusing the "easiest" words. Once context is considered, it's clear that "ambiguity is actually something you would want in the communication system," Piantadosi says."

So we want ambiguity for humans -- not for computers --computer language has to be precise.


"Ambiguity is only good for us [as humans] because we have these really sophisticated cognitive mechanisms for disambiguating," he says. "It's really difficult to work out the details of what those are, or even some sort of approximation that you could get a computer to use."


Too much ambiguity interferes with comprehension.  The current use of the word "issue" to mean "problem" is a good example.  I once asked a speaker why she did not say "problem", if that is what she meant, rather than "issue".  She answered that "problem" was so negative.  Vagueness and ambiguity often mask an urge to hide emotion.  

ha ha ha here in japan ambiguity is part and parcel of life. compared with english, making a definate statement is hard and it will not be accepted as such by the listener. here no one uses the word "No". about the most negative word you hear is "we'll think about it".




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