Ambiguity In English Language

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In recent years, a number of scholars (e.g. Nowak, 1999, 2000; Briscoe, 1997; Kirby, 2001; Oliphant & Batali, 1997; see Kirby 2002 for an overview) have begun to investigate the evolution of language using modelling techniques borrowed from computational genetics. Almost none of this work addresses the question of ambiguity, and much of it adopts the simplifying assumption that expressions have unambiguous meanings. 2.1 In collaboration with Aviv Bergman and Thorsten Brandts, we have begun to model highly simplified versions of the kinds of factors discussed above that might influence the survival of ambiguity as languages change. This work is still in its early stages, and it would be premature to report on it in any detail. Nevertheless,…show more content…
Thus, words like random, significant, and spread become much more difficult to learn and teach than technical words such as standard deviation. Furthermore, Makar and Confrey (2005), in their study of pre-service teachers’ use of non-standard language to discuss variation, found that neglecting students’ use of nonstandard language makes the subject seem more difficult. Research done with elementary school children as subjects provides “evidence that awareness of linguistic ambiguity is a late developing capacity which progresses through the school years” (Durkin & Shire, 1991b, p. 48). Shultz and Pilon (1973) found that elementary school students were able to detect lexical ambiguities with a steady, almost linear improvement across grades. Two of the major suggestions are to acknowledge and exploit the lexical ambiguities and to help students to “build their voices” (Adams, Thangata & King, 2005; Durkin & Shire, 1991a; Lemke, 1990). To acknowledge and exploit lexical ambiguities, researchers suggest that students list the ambiguous word pairs and…show more content…
This literature led to the second guiding principle of the design of the intervention to target student understanding of the word random: that instruction should focus on random processes, not outcomes of random processes. By random process, we mean actions such as rolling three dice or selecting a random sample. The corresponding outcomes would be the values shown on the dice, for example, {3, 4, 2}, or the names of the people selected for the random sample. The consensus in the literature regarding the understanding of the concept of randomness is that instruction should focus on the process rather than on the outcome. Wagenaar (1991), for example, states “randomness is in reality a property of a generator, not of its products” (p. 220). He goes on to say “that inferring properties of generators on the basis of their products will always be problematic” (p. 220) partly because, as has been shown in psychology studies, people are quite poor at assessing randomness of outcomes. They tend to use heuristics, such as irregularity in order, the equal occurrence of equiprobable events (or a similarity to the underlying distribution of outcomes), or higher than actual alternation rate between outcomes (Batanero, Godina, & Roa, 2004; Batanero & Serrano, 1999; Hahn &

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