Seven Types Of Ambiguity PDF By William Empson

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AN ambiguity, in ordinary speech, means something very pro Announced, and as a rule witty or deceitful.

I propose to use the word in an extended sense and shall think relevant to my subject any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language.

Sometimes, especially in this first chapter, the word may be stretched absurdly far, but it is descriptive because it suggests the analytical mode of approach, and with that I am concerned.

In a sufficiently extended sense, any prose statement could be called ambiguous. In the first place, it can be analyzed.

Thus, The brown cat sat on the red mat’ may be split up into a series: “This is a statement about a cat. The cat the statement is about is brown, and so forth.

Each such simple statement may be translated into a complicated statement that employs other terms.

Thus you are now faced with the task of explaining what a ‘cat’ is, and each such complexity may again be analyzed into a simple series.

Thus each of the things that go to make up a ‘cat’ will stand in some spatial relation to the ‘mat.

Explana on, by choice of terms, may be carried in any direction the explainer wishes; thus to translate and analyze the notion of “sat” might involve a course of anatomy; the notion of ‘on’ a theory of gravitation.

Such a course, however, would be irrelevant not only to my object in this essay but to the context implied by the statement, the person to whom it seems to be addressed.

And the purpose for which it seems to be addressed to him; nor would you be finding out anything very fundamental about the sentence by analyzing it in this way.

You would merely be making another sentence, stating the same fact, but designed for a different purpose, context, and person.

Evidently, the literary critic is much concerned with implications of this last sort and must regard them as a main part of the meaning.

AuthorWilliam Empson
PDF Size24.5 MB


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