Ambiguity in Translation Across Languages


This paper deals with translation ambiguity and target polysemy problems together. many Words have more than one translation across languages. Such translation ambiguous words are generally translated more slowly and less Accurately than their unambiguous counterparts.

Additionally, there are multiple source of translation ambiguity including within language semantic ambiguity and near synonymy, the present study examines the extent to which word context and translation dominance reduce the difficulties associated with translation ambiguity , using the primed stemming from the two source , especially translation ambiguity derived from semantic ambiguity (meaning translation ambiguity) and translation ambiguity derived from near synonymy (synonym translation ambiguity).

Translation unambiguous pairs were recognized more quickly and accurately than translation ambiguous pairs. In this paper I have used qualitative and quantitative methods of research to investigate And describe ambiguities in the text translation.

Key words: translation ambiguity – polysemy problems – ambiguous and unambiguous texts – qualitative and quantitative – semantic ambiguity .


Ambiguity is a pervasive phenomenon in language which occurs at all levels of linguistic Analysis.

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Out of context, words have multiple sense and syntactic categories, requiring Listeners to determine which meaning and part of speech was intended. Morphemes may also be ambiguous out of context , as in English.

Phonological forms are often mapped to multiple distinct word meaning, as in the homoPhonemes,( too , two and to). Syllables are almost always ambiguous in isolation , meanIngs that they can be interpreted as providing incomplete information about the word The speaker is intending to communicate. Syntactic and semantic ambiguity are frequent enough to present a substantial challenge To natural language processing.

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The fact that that ambiguity occurs on so many linguistic levels suggests that a far reachIng principle is needed to explain its origins and persistence.

The existence of ambiguity Provides a puzzle for functionalist theories which attempt to explain properties of linguIstic systems in terms of communicative pressure . One might imagine that in perfect Communication system , language would completely disambiguate meaning. The communicative efficacy of language might be enhanced since there would be no danger of comprehenders incorrectly inferring the intended meaning confusion about ( who is on first) could not occur. Indeed, the existence of ambiguity in language has been argued to show that the key Structures and properties of language have not evolved for purpose of communication or Use.

The natural approach has always been : is language well designed for use, understood typically as use for communication? I think that is a wrong question. The use of language for communication might turn out to be a kind of epiphenomenon. If you want to make sure that we never misunderstand one another , for that purpose language is not well designed , because you have such properties as ambiguity. If we want to have the property that the things that we usually would like to say come out Short and simple , well , it probably does not have that properties.

Statement of problem Translation is a challenging activity and there are few difficulties that appear during translation process. so every language describes the word in different way and has its own grammar structure , grammar rules and syntax variance . During this process the following are the most particular problems :

  • problems of ambiguity : these originate from structural and lexical differences between languages and multiword units like idioms and collocations.
  • Problems of grammar : there are several constructions of grammar with rules that are poorly understood.
  • Problems of language : these includes idiom terms neologisms , slang difficult to Understand, respect to punctuation conventions and proper name of people, organization And places.
  • Problems of source texts: these are illegible text, spell incorrectly. It can easily be seen that language differ from one to another in terms of many ways and Not just in grammar subjects . for example, small words are hard to translate and the Meanings of common words depends on context. Besides, some words, are untranslatabLe when one wishes to remain in the same grammatical category that is why translators Face of with many problems.

Another problem is that translators have a hard time to convey the same meaning to the Other language. For example: translation of literature, poems and songs are impossible To express their same meanings in another language. So these texts need to be familiar With two languages . Translation process is not only to translate the words, but also to Find ones that rhymes as well. Keep in mind , lack of vocabulary knowledge cause certain problems. for those reason Translators need and in-depth knowledge of two language to translate advanced texts and Avoid using dictionary that many times make this process very boring.

The last problem is that translators will encounter complex grammar structures that they Must interpret correctly. Techniques to overcome translation problems In this part of article I have presented some techniques in brief to overcome the problems That could be useful in translation , such as : back translation , consultation and Collaboration with other people and pre testing or piloting such as interviews. Research question In case of translation ambiguity we are face with some critical questions and that most Important of them is the real meaning of ambiguity that can be designed like below questions.

What does language ambiguity mean? Something is ambiguous when it can be understood in two or more possible senses or Ways . If the ambiguity is in a single word it is called lexical ambiguity, in a sentence or Clause, structural ambiguity. In the field of ambiguity we are face with two interrelated questions:

  1. what is being denied? And
  2. what would have been dissolved?

One answer equates ambiguity within the semantic, given that equation ambiguity can be Overcome by resolving either the founding lack of clarity in the first instance or in the Second addressing and eliminating contestation posed on the level of meaning.

Review of literature We tend to think of language as a clear and literal vehicle for accurately communicating ideas. But, even when we use language literally , misunderstandings arise and meanings shift . People can be intentionally or unintentionally ambiguous. Nevertheless , when someone uses a potentially ambiguous sentence or expression, usually the intention was to express only one meaning . As we know , most words can have denotations, apparent meaning , connotations and implied or hidden meaning . Also, we often use words in a figurative way.

even though figurative language is more often used in poetry and fiction it is still very common in ordinary speech. Ambiguity is a poetic vehicle. It is human nature to try to find meaning within an exchange . a text is given to us and in Return we give our interpretation . Our own associations give understanding of what is Presented to us . The characteristic of the late 20th century, as well as of postmodern Literature , is that certainties are continuously called into question and thus allegory becomes a suitable form for expression. Allegory is a classic example of double discourse that avoids establishing a center within the text.

Because in allegory the unity of the work is provided by something that is not explicitly there. In contrast to symbols, which are generally taken to transcend the sign itself and express The universal truths, allegories metaphors divided the sign, exposing its arbitrariness. ( I used sign here in the sense of the direct intended meaning). Thus, the allegorical impulse in contemporary literature can be seen as a reflection of the Postmodern emphasis on the reader as co-producer, since it invites the reader s active Participation in making meaning.

Metaphors are indeed highly appropriate postmodern devices, because they are obvious Vehicle for ambiguity . A living metaphor always carries dual meanings, the literal or Sentence meaning and the conveyed or utterance meaning. A metaphor induces comparison , but since grounds of similarity are no t always given, Metaphors serve to emphasize the freedom of the reader as opposed to the authority of The writer . historically, we can point to Saussure as initiating the discussion related to the Arbitrariness of the sign as described in his course of general linguistics.

The signifier may Stay the same but the signified will shift in relation to context. In terms of change over time, Saussure states whatever the factors involved in the change Whether they act in isolation or in combination , they always result in a shift in the relationship between the sign and the signification. Methodology Addressing qualitative and quantitative method appears to be rather ambiguous task, Especially when we consider our experience of working on the issue.

On the one hand , we experienced fears that working on this topic may damage one s Reputation as a scientist: talking about oneself may appear indecent and self-aggrandizing Unless one belongs to a science studies disciplines. Additionally, the messenger maybe Called to account for the message. The message being that social sciences are inherently Structured by historical , local , social and personal characteristics of those involved in Them . anyway , we should not forget that quantitative approaches have been seen as more scientific and objective.


One problem with attempting to identify different kinds of lexical and semantic ambiguity is that there is not definitive consensus among commentators of how these terms should be defined . semantic ambiguity has a fairly wide range of linguistic concern . Palmer discusses ambiguity as an attribute of the discipline of semantics in general. Semantic ambiguity in Palmer s formulation would refer to potentially multiple meanings of the relations within language (sense) and relations between language and the world (reference) .

In other words , it would refer to a pattern or structure of meaning of a linguistic presentation , such as a sentence , a paragraph, a poem, a novel, a scene from a movie. the ambiguity is to be found in the sense relationships of the piece as a whole or in parts of a whole . it is difficult to discuss lexical and semantic ambiguity apart from pragmatics . Because so many commentaries bring in all three kinds in their discussions.

For instance , Poesio refers to semantic ambiguity as having simply a multiplicity of Meanings , but links it to the structure or grammar of a language in a way that assigns Responsibility for the ambiguity to the deliberate intent of the one who originates but Underspecified, what the language means or its rhetorical intent. tropes: metaphor, metonym, allegory, homonym, homophone, homograph, paradox these are only a few of the language figures of ( tropes) providing concepts useful to understanding ambiguity in language.

  • Metaphor: This refers to the non-literal meaning of a word, a clause or sentence. Metaphors are very common; in fact all abstract vocabulary is metaphorical. A metaphor compares things. A metaphor established by usage and convention becomes a symbol. Thus crown suggests the power of the state, press = the print news media and chair = the control (or controller) of a meeting.
  • metonym : a word used in place of another word or expression to convey the same meaning. (eg: the use of brass to refer to the military officer)
  • allegory: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalization about human existence.
  • homonym: when different words are pronounced , and possibly spelled the same way. (eg: to , too, two)
  • homophone: where the pronunciation is the same but standard spelling differs , as in flew (from fly), flu ( influenza) , and flue ( of a chimney).
  • homograph: when different words spelled identically, and possibly pronounced the same. (eg: lead the metal and lead /what leaders do).
  • paradox: the statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true .
  • a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true.
  • an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises.

Significant of research

The significant of research about ambiguity is in clearing the real meaning of a word in Different situations . as I said before a word in English and any other language has many different meanings that its real meaning depends on the situation that those words are used . one word may have different meanings in sport , medical , computer, science , military fields and so on . But translators should have much more information about the target and source language till choose the proper meaning for the used words and should be much experienced at this field and had much researches to be in perfect position of translation.


We have provided several kinds of evidence for the view that ambiguity results from a Pressure for efficient communication . we argued that any efficient communication system will necessarily be ambiguous when context is informative about meaning. The units of an efficient communication system will not redundantly specify information Provided by the context. these units will appear not to completely disambiguate meaning. Language can not exist without ambiguity , which has represented both a curse and a Blessing through the ages. Language is a very complex phenomenon.

Meanings that can be taken for granted are in Fact only the tip of a huge iceberg. Psychological , social and cultural events provide a moving ground on which those Meanings take root and expand their branches. The overlapping meanings emerge from The tropes , ways of saying something by always saying something else. in this sense ambiguity in literature has a very dark side, when important documents are interpreted in different ways , resulting in persecution, oppression , and death . the meaning in each situation appears as an effect of the underlying structure of signs. These signs themselves do not have a fixed significance, the significance only exist in the individual .

sign is only what is represents for someone . Disambiguation is a key concept in computational linguistics. The paradox of how we tolerate semantic ambiguity and yet we seem to thrive on it , is a major question for this discipline . at this time , there is no computer capable of storing enough knowledge to process what human knowledge has accumulated. It can be seen, there for that ambiguity in language is both a blessing and curse.


  1. Clare, Richard Fraser. (Historian) Informal conversations about historal consequences of different interpretations of the Bible
  2. Engel, S. Morris.”Fallacies & Pitfalls of Language” from Fallacies & Pitfalls of Language: The Language Trap. Ed Paperback Nov. 1994.
  3. Fortier, Paul A. “Semantic Fields and Polysemy: A correspondence analysis approach” University of Manitoba. Paper.
  4. Frath, Pierre “Metaphor, polysemy and usage” Universite MarcBloch, Department d’anglais. France.
  5. Freud, Sigmund “El sentido antitetico de las palabras primitivas” Obras Completas Ed. Biblioteca Nueva.
  6. Fromkin, Victoria/Rodman, Robert. “An introduction to language” Ed. Harcourt.
  7. Hobbs, Jerry R. “Computers & Language” SRI International, Menlo Park, CA.

Cite this page

Ambiguity in Translation Across Languages. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from

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