The comprehension, use and perception of selected ambiguous English expressions by Polish subjects

Artur Świątek, The Pedagogical University of Cracow, Poland


The objective of my presentation will be both a theoretical and an empirical elaboration on the notion of ambiguity in English and how this rather intriguing, but on the other hand, misleading aspect of English is used and comprehended by Polish subjects. The subjects will represent different proficiency groups ranging from 1st year to 3rd year English Philology students deriving from different universities. Students will be requested to explain the instances of ambiguity during a test instrument administered to them for the needs of a research study. Ambiguity as such is divided into lexical ambiguity and syntactic ambiguity. Let us quote some of many selected instances to be given to clarify during the student`s test instrument.

Lexical ambiguity:

-          the word "bank" has several distinct lexical definitions, including "financial institution" and "edge of a river". Another example is as in "apothecary". One could say "I bought herbs from the apothecary". This could mean one actually spoke to the apothecary (pharmacist) or went to the apothecary (pharmacy).

Syntactic ambiguity:

-          "He ate the cookies on the couch", for example, could mean that he ate those cookies that were on the couch (as opposed to those that were on the table), or it could mean that he was sitting on the couch when he ate the cookies. 

It is believed that the sufficient number of instances of both kinds of ambiguity perceived appropriately or erroneously by Polish subjects, supported by relevant theoretical assumptions will provoke lots of fruitful scientific discussions concerning this intriguing aspect of a foreign language. 

Key words: ambiguity, lexical ambiguity, syntactic ambiguity