LINGUIST List 31.2683

Fri Aug 28 2020

Calls: Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics/Switzerland

Editor for this issue: Lauren Perkins <>

Date: 28-Aug-2020
From: Ilaria Fiorentini <>
Subject: How vague and ambiguous are vagueness and ambiguity?
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Full Title: How vague and ambiguous are vagueness and ambiguity?

Date: 27-Jun-2021 - 02-Jul-2021
Location: Winterthur, Switzerland
Contact Person: Ilaria Fiorentini
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics

Call Deadline: 15-Oct-2020

Meeting Description:

Panel organizers:
Ilaria Fiorentini
Chiara Zanchi

This panel aims to explore the relationship between ambiguity and vagueness. Along with fuzziness/indeterminacy and generality (Zhang 1998), both concepts convey incomplete knowledge (Denison 2017: 293) and have been distinguished as follows: Ambiguous expressions carve up multiple discrete regions in the conceptual space, whereas vague ones select a single region with blended boundaries (Wasow 2015: 32). Furthermore, ambiguity is understood to pertain to different linguistic levels, while vagueness only affects the lexicon. Finally, vagueness purportedly correlates with inherent indeterminacy that can be mitigated or intensified, whereas ambiguity has been considered responsible for misunderstandings that need to be resolved (Piantadosi et al. 2011 propose an opposite view; for a discussion, see Magni 2016).

Nonetheless, the relationship between ambiguity and vagueness is more complex than it initially appears. First, there is little terminological consensus on imprecise/unspecified language. Second, although ambiguity is usually regarded as a trigger of language change, it can also be considered a result of change, whereas vagueness enables unconscious language change (Denison 2017). Third, polysemy has been variably described as a case of ambiguity, of vagueness, and as the place where the two concepts are mostly confused (Tuggy 1993). Fourth, both ambiguity and vagueness can occur accidentally or intentionally, and may be exploited or avoided through purposeful communicative choices. Finally, when deliberately chosen, ambiguous and vague expressions are productive in specific textual genres (Cutting 2007).

This panel aims to discuss the relationship between ambiguity and vagueness (i) as a terminological/theoretical issue, (ii) in diachrony, and (iii) in relation to language use and users:
- Can we differentiate between ambiguity and vagueness, and if so, how? Is their distinction merely terminological?
- On which linguistic levels do ambiguity and vagueness operate?
- What role does ambiguity and vagueness play in language change?
- Does context play any role in distinguishing ambiguity from vagueness?
- Does ambiguity have more negative effects than vagueness on communication outcomes? When are ambiguity and vagueness efficient and/or tolerable?
- When ambiguity and vagueness are accidental, what communicative strategies do speakers use to avoid them? Do sometimes speakers deliberately permit them? Overall, what is the addressee’s role in interpreting ambiguous/vague message?
- When ambiguity and vagueness are intentional, how are they used in manipulative discourses? Are they particularly exploited in specific textual genres?

Call for Papers:

If you are interested in participating in this panel, please send an abstract (min. 250 – max. 500 words including references) by 15 October 2020 to:

All abstracts will also have to be submitted individually through the IPrA website ( by 25 October 2020. When submitting your abstract to the conference website, make sure to select “How vague and ambiguous are vagueness and ambiguity?” as the panel for your submission.

Please note that IPrA membership is required to submit an abstract through the IPrA website. Information on membership categories and fees can be found at the following web site: For further information, please refer to the IPrA Call for papers & Submission guidelines (

Cutting J. 2007. Vague language explored. Palgrave/Macmillan.
Denison D. 2017. Ambiguity and vagueness in historical change. In The Changing English Language, M. Hundt et al. (eds), 292-318. CUP.
Magni E. 2016. Sette tipi di ambiguità nel mutamento linguistico. In Problemi e prospettive della linguistica storica, P. Cordin & A. Parenti (eds), 13-34. Il Calamo.
Piantadosi S. T. et al. 2011. The communicative function of ambiguity in language. Cognition 122/3, 280-291.
Tuggy D. 1993. Ambiguity, polysemy and vagueness. Cognitive Linguistics 4: 273–290.
Wasow T. 2015. Ambiguity avoidance is overrated. In Ambiguity: Language and Communication, S. Winkler (ed), 29-47. De Gruyter.
Zhang Q. 1998. Fuzziness – vagueness – generality – ambiguity. Journal of Pragmatics 29: 13-31.

Page Updated: 28-Aug-2020