stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sat Jan 24 18:45:16 UTC 2009

On Jan 22, 2009, at 11:13 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

> ... What I am trying to do is actually distinguish between homonymy
> and
> homophony on one hand and relational ambiguity on the other. I
> suppose,
> the difference is ontological and perhaps qualitative. I don't see
> "bat", "bank" and "bear" as ambiguous--they can easily be contextually
> determined and, as AZ points out, they don't mix.

oh dear, now a reference to what you might call "effective
ambiguity".  "bat", "bank", and "bear" are straightforward examples of
ambiguous lexical items; out of context, each has several clearly
distinct meanings. (the way semanticists use the term "ambiguous", it
refers to potential ambiguity.)

> This is not the same
> for what I have been referring to as ambiguous kinship terms. I
> mentioned three different meanings of "uncle" which can't be
> determined
> either from context or by modifiers--to find out which kind of "uncle"
> is being used, a complete explanation needs to be given.

you're attempting to wrench the technical term "ambiguous" into a new
use (as Larry Horn pointed out).  there's more than one way for x to
count as an uncle of y.  so what?  there's more than one way for a
situation to count as an instance of killing, and to find out which
kind of killing is being referred to, a more complete explanation
needs to be given; that doesn't mean that "kill" is ambiguous as
between these ways.

you seem to have a strong intuition that these relational cases are
deeply different from other instances of lack of specification.  i
don't see it, but if you want to draw the distinction, that's fine --
but please don't highjack the term "ambiguous" for this purpose.
invent a new one.


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