Sous la direction de Éric Laporte
[Lingvisticæ Investigationes 24:1] 2001
► pp. 3–41
Homography of utterances (words or meaningful sequences of words) is a term used for ambiguity at the spelling level. Ambiguity is the preferred term for phrases and sentences. The present paper is an attempt to clarify the status of this notion.
When people talk, write, read or listen to discourses, they seldom raise questions of ambiguity of words or phrases. Discourses, spoken or written, are rarely perceived as ambivalent at the linguistic level, hence the words from which they are composed are not ambiguous. Questions of ambiguity arise immediately when words are isolated from any context. In such cases, the discussion of the meaning of a word amounts to defining its dictionary entry, that is to enumerating its different meanings. The discrepancy between the two situations is summed up in one sentence: Contexts resolve ambiguities. When a word, a priori ambiguous according to dictionaries, is put to use in a discourse, this discourse filters out all irrelevant interpretations of the word. The organization of a dictionary is intended to provide contexts for the use of words. This information takes on different forms:
–definitions incorporate semantic clues of use,
–examples of usage provide syntactic and semantic information.
Such information cannot be considered as explicit contexts, thus it is up to the human user to generalize these indications in order to apply them to the interpretation of texts.
We present a number of situations where contexts can be formalized and systematically described.