Ambiguity

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Ambiguity is a term used in writing and math, and under conditions where information can be understood or interpreted in more than one way and is distinct from vagueness, which is a statement about the lack of precision contained or available in the information. Context may play a role in resolving ambiguity. For example the same piece of information may be ambiguous in one context and unambiguous in another.

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Linguistic forms

The lexical ambiguity of a word or phrase contains in its having more than one meaning in the language to which the word belongs. "Meaning" hereby refers to whatever should be captured by a good dictionary. For instance, the word “bank” has several distinct lexical definitions, including “financial institution” and “edge of a river”. Another example is as in apothecary. You could say "I bought herbs from the apothecary." This could mean you actually spoke to the apothecary (pharmacist) or went to the apothecary (pharmacy).

The context in which an ambiguous word is used often makes it evident which of the meanings is intended. If, for instance, someone says “I deposited $100 in the bank,” most people would not think you used a shovel to dig in the mud. However, some linguistic contexts do not provide sufficient information to disambiguate a used word. For example, "Biweekly" can mean "fortnightly" (once every two weeks - 26 times a year), OR "twice a week" (104 times a year). If "biweekly" is used in a conversation about a meeting schedule, it may be difficult to infer which meaning was intended. Many people[who?] believe that such lexically ambiguous, miscommunication-prone words should be avoided wherever possible, since the user generally has to waste time, effort, and attention span to define what is meant when they are used. Lexical ambiguity can be addressed by algorithmic methods that automatically associate the appropriate meaning with a word in context, a task referred to as Word Sense Disambiguation.

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