Ambiguity in language

I came across this excellent quote in a journal article yesterday about ambiguity in language:

However, the flexibility of language allows us to go far beyond this. For example, as revealed by a brief Internet search, speakers can use “girl” for their dog (“This is my little girl Cassie…she’s much bigger and has those cute protruding bulldog teeth”), their favorite boat (“This girl can do 24 mph if she has to”), or a recently restoredWorld War II Sherman tank (“The museum felt that the old girl was historically unique”). Such examples reveal that for nouns, it is often not enough to just retrieve their sense, i.e., some definitional meaning, from our mental dictionaries.

-Van Berkum, Koornneef, Otten, Nieuwland (2007) Establishing reference in language comprehension: an electrophysiological perspective. Brain Research, 1146, 158-171.

For more about ambiguity in language, check here and here.

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