Disambiguating ambiguity

Providing a framework for classifying types of ambiguity


  • Giulia Baker Researcher and teacher
  • Michelle Aldridge Cardiff University




ambiguity, comprehension, definition, humour


This paper addresses inconsistencies in findings for children’s humour development by examining the ways in which five different ambiguity types (lexical, phonological, morphological, syntactic and idiomatic) have been interpreted and applied in earlier studies on humour comprehension.  It identifies discrepancies in linguistic phenomena perceived to constitute each ambiguity type and highlights how differences have contributed to contrasting claims being made about ambiguity types comprehended by young children during the final humour stage.  Definitions are subsequently provided for each ambiguity type examined.  Definitions accommodate the fact that verbal humour is intrinsically embedded with the form in which it is delivered (i.e. the language in which it is communicated) and are based upon linguistic phenomena through which ambiguity types are manifested.  Application of these definitions should now allow the researcher to be sure of linguistic phenomena being tested at any given time and facilitate comparison and contextualisation of findings across future studies

Author Biographies

Giulia Baker, Researcher and teacher

Giulia Baker is researcher, teacher and former Literacy Co-ordinator, who has taught across all Year Groups in the UK primary school system, as well as at secondary and undergraduate level. Her interests lie in the ways in which different types of ambiguity-based humour can be used in the classroom to motivate pupils and to facilitate learning.

Michelle Aldridge, Cardiff University

Michelle Aldridge is a Reader at Cardiff University where she lectures in psycholinguistics, communication disorders and forensic linguistics. Her research interests focus on the communicative abilities and experiences of vulnerable people including children and adults with a communication disorder especially in the educational and legal contexts. She has published widely in peer-reviewed journals such as Applied Linguistics Review, International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, Text & Talk, and Word.


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How to Cite

Baker, G., & Aldridge, M. (2021). Disambiguating ambiguity: Providing a framework for classifying types of ambiguity. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 14(3), 237–260. https://doi.org/10.1558/lhs.19339