|Language in use||
English Language & Linguistics
having more than one meaning, may be a result of syntax or of semantics.
"walls have ears"
In the example
"I know a man with a dog who has fleas"
it is unclear - ambiguous - whether it is the man or the dog who has fleas. It is the syntax not the meaning of the words which is unclear.
To clarify the meaning or meanings of an ambiguous sentence
we can gloss the meaning (express it in a different form of words) or
use grammatical terminology to explain the functions of the words and
the structure of the sentence.
the gloss could be either "the object belonging
to me exploded" or "the explosive device exploded".
The humorous effect of ambiguity can be seen in newspaper headlines (below) and in graffiti - eg
BILL STICKERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
On the eve of George Bush's visit to the UK in November 2003 Ceefax posted the following headline:
GIANT POLICE EXERCISE TO GUARD BUSH
Spend a little while disentagling the semantic and syntactic ambiguities of that!
Here are newspaper headlines said to be genuine and published in 2002.
Decide whether the ambiguity is semantic or syntactic and if syntax is the problem explain using grammatical terminology
HEADLINES OF YEAR 2002
also classic headlines ...
Giant waves down Queen Mary's funnel
Sheep rustling in the hills
Do you want a woman vicar?
Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans
Handel's organ works
Villagers Grill Gas Men
Nigerian Talks in London
Doctors Review Body
Sikh Girl Wins Trouser Case
Blow for Musicians Union
Villa Face Cream of Italy
IRA Bomb Guts Factory
Foot To Head Joint Body
Star's Broken Leg Hits Box Office
Collect your own examples as you read - and if you are working with a partner who doesn't see the ambiguity, explain it clearly in grammatical terms!