Al al-Bayt University
Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Department of English Language and Literature
Lexical Ambiguity in Arabic Language
(An- applied Study on Streets Jokes)
Prepared by:
Wafa Abu Amer
Supervised by:
This proposal is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the Master’s Degree of Arts in Linguistics
This paper aims to talk about the lexical ambiguity in Arabic language. And it includes examples from Arabic language on each type of lexical ambiguity. And the impact of the ambiguity on meaning. This study examines the lexical ambiguity in Arabic jokes, and different types of ambiguity within them , also, it talks about the meaning of jokes. Furthermore, it includes ways to solve the ambiguity.

This study will relies on Humor language, semantic relations such as: homonymy, and polysemy. In order to attain the objectives of the study, a sample of fifteen jokes has been collected, some of them are from the standard Arabic and some from the colloquial Arabic. Some jokes are mentioned in more than one websites like: and …..etc. And some other jokes are common between Jordanian community. So, I have chosen the jokes containing the conditions of ambiguity. Some of the sample has been gathered through observation method and some of them from different websites like the mentioned above .
Moreover, in this study I am going to use the ambiguity and implicature, which is a technical term in the field of pragmatics, to study what is suggested in an utterance though it’s neither said nor implied. (Blackburn, 1196) and the affect of context on the meaning. At the end, recommendations and conclusion will be provided for future researches.

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Keywords: Ambiguity, lexical Ambiguity, jokes, Semantic Relations, Polysemy, Homonym, Synonyms, Humor Language.

We use language in our daily life as a method of communication, to express ourselves, and to talk about our thoughts and ideas. Jokes are part of our language and our daily life, we use jokes as a method to relive the stress, and to post our mood or simply to make us laugh. A joke is a short humorous piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence, which is called the punch line .In fact, the main condition is the tension should be reached to its highest level at the very end. No continuation relieving the tension should be added. As for its being “oral,” it is true that jokes may appear printed, but when further transferred, there is no obligation to reproduce the text verbatim, as in the case of poetry.(Hetzron 1991). The different meanings of the same concept cannot be a coincidence or a random use. However, they have deep indications needed to be analyzed and revealed to enable readers or hearers to capture the message of jokes. The relations between words such as synonymy, antonyms, collocations, and other relations can help to recognize the ambiguity and get the sense of humor.

jokes are defined within the framework of his Script depending on Semantic Theory of Humor a text can be characterized as a single-joke-carrying text if both conditions are in satisfied.
(i) The text is compatible, fully or in part, with two different scripts.
(ii) The two scripts with which the text are compatible are opposite in a special sense.

If we want to make a good joke we should take into consideration the following elements: the situation, the frame of the joke and the teller of the joke, joke telling is not suitable for everyone since the way of telling the joke is important. As any other language, Arabic has its own system of rules and vocabulary, Arabic language has its own sense of jokes i.e. joke loses its humors side if we try to translate it to other languages. In Arabic, there are different types of jokes like: ethnic jokes, jokes about a specific group of people, and jokes may be found in different styles as a riddle or as a short story. Raskin’s (1985)
Ambiguity is the special element that gives the joke its unique taste, this was stated by Shultz and Horibe (1974): hundreds of verbal jokes were analyzed by the authors indicated that many of jokes were relied on some kinds of linguistic ambiguity used for a successful resolution. Ambiguity is an undesirable in communication, because it eliminates the conversational maxims. Grice (1975)
Jokes have been subject for many different studies such as: Why is the joke funny? What make a good joke? Do jokes differ from one culture to another? But in this paper I’m going to discuss the lexical ambiguity in Arabic jokes.

In this study I am going to use the ambiguity and implicature, which is a technical term in the field of pragmatics, to study what is suggested in an utterance though it’s neither said nor implied. Blackburn(1196) and the context effect , that studies the affect of context on the meaning.

Literature review
Lew (1996) conducted a study about the different types of ambiguity in English jokes and how to deal with in translation from English to polish language; also he found that trainability of different types of jokes, he pointed out a conclusion that there was more uniformity across language in pragmatic than that was in hard core linguistic component.

Lew ( 1996) conducted a study on the ambiguity-based theory of the linguistic verbal joke in English and it resulted that improving the typology of ambiguity-based verbal jokes, recognizing and tackling the inconsistencies of some other taxonomic efforts to date, and he proposed a new concept and it was “ambiguator” as an ambiguity-generating device and showed how it worked in actual jokes.

Abdul Ameer(2010) conducted a study about homonymy in English and Arabic language and he deduced that in the two languages homonymy created ambiguity in lexical and syntactic levels. Also, he found that the reasons for creating and using homonymy were the same such as: metaphorical uses, different dialects, and derivation. And he found that homonymy in Arabic is similar to polysemy in English and we could deal with them as one.

Statement of the problem
Ambiguity is a purposive approach to analyze jokes uttered by people, As well, ambiguity is flexible approach that many significant factors can be examined to reveal the intended meaning. Social, cultural, political, and other standards can be awfully considered while analyzing the speaker linguistic choices, some expressions bear implicit meaningful messages in addition to the explicit meanings. Hearers and readers should deeply think about the embedded structure employed by the speakers as the surface structure can be deceptive for somehow in many cases. The current study shed light on fifteen jokes from standard and colloquial Arabic language that discuss ambiguity in understanding jokes. This controversial issue can be deeply analyzed ,thus Ambiguity can be suitable choice to unveil the apparent and hidden meanings.
Objectives of The study
The study aims to analyze eight jokes taken from standard and colloquial Arabic. 1.

2.It aims to study the lexical ambiguity.
Also, it will determine what kinds of lexical ambiguity are found in Arabic jokes. 3.

Furthermore, it suggests ways to solve the problem of ambiguous words and makes 4.. the hearer determines the correct interpretation or meaning to reach the embedded
message of the jokes.

5.Then these jokes will be analyzed according to ambiguity and semantic relations like polysemy, homonymy….etc.

6. Finally, recommendations and conclusions will be supported for enhancing the aims of study and for future research.

Questions of the study
1-What are the different types of lexical ambiguity?
types of the lexical ambiguity are found in Arabic jokes? 2-What
3-is there a way to decide the correct meaning of the ambiguous word?
Hypothesis of The study
The researcher hypnotizes the following:
1.There are different types of lexical ambiguity such as polysemy, homophones, and homonymy.

2. Arabic jokes has lexical ambiguity like: homonymy and polysemy.

3.We have different ways to decide the correct meaning of the ambiguious word like: synonyms, background knowledge, context effect, and adding words.

Instrument of The Study
The researcher has collected data which are eight jokes from standard and colloquial Arabic language by using two methods: some of the jokes are mentioned in more than one website like: : and .While some of them are common in Jordanian community so the researcher has used the observation method, and she chose the sample containing the conditions of ambiguity. The jokes will be written, translated, and analyzed to get better understanding.

Significance of The Study This study aims to analyze the lexical ambiguity in Arabic jokes from a semantic perspective that haven’t been examined yet in Arab world, to the best knowledge of the researcher. From here the significance of the study emanate.

Limitations of The Study:
The present study limits itself into the following:
1.The present study contains of fifteen jokes taken from standard and colloquial Arabic language.

2.The study mainly focuses on the semantic relations such as polysemy and homonymy.
Theoretical Framework
Semantics is defined as” the study of meaning”. Lyons (1995). This definition is adopted by many researchers . Frawley (1992) adds that linguistic semantics is” the study of literal, decontextualized, and grammatical meaning which means the patterns of languages draw the global semantic blanks and encipher them within a grammatical shape”. .

Theory of meaning pays attentions to different majors such as the lexical content of a language, its whole vocabulary, its availability to the speaker in any time, is not gathering from separate stratum. Also, the use of words is controlled by the availability and presence in language to a speaker whose semantic relations are affected by the area of situational culture. Robins (1964)

The main important feature in the field theory of meaning is vocabulary that is categorized into two fields the first is the lexical and the conceptual field, and substances in each field are structured with each other. Leher (1969)
Linguistic jokes very often depend for their existence on the linguistic ambiguity (oaks, 1994). Ambiguity happens when a meaning has different interpretations, ambiguity can be found in the level of the sentence or the level of the words. There are different types of ambiguity on the word level like, phonological, and syntactic ambiguity where the sentence can be interpreted in more than one way because of its structure, and its pragmatic ambiguity. The pragmatic ambiguity is an oxymoron. When people use ambiguous language, its ambiguity is not intended.(Ibrahim,2005).lexical ambiguity, which is the ambiguity in the word level that deals with different meanings for the same word such as: when we say I went to the bank what do we mean by the word bank? is it your going to the bank of the river? or is it you going to the financial bank? In this paper I will study the . Categorizing jokes emerges syntactic, phonological, and lexical ambiguity. In other words does the linguistic ambiguity depend on the variances in sounds(phonological), or the variances on structuring the word(syntactic) or on the meaning (lexical).(Seewoester, 2009). Lexical ambiguity depends on polysemy, homonymy, and homophones. This is the approach taken to analyze the jokes in this study. Lexical ambiguity relies on homonyms, polysemys, or homophones. In lexical ambiguity sounds still the same while the ambiguity locates at lexemes (Attardo.1994. b,p34)
the word homonym comes from Greek consists of two parts the first is the prefix homo- which means “the same” and the suffix -onymos which means” name”. So it refers to more than one concept having the same signifier. (Wikipedia )

There are different definition for this concept because scholars define it differently, but in general, it is a phenomenon happens when there are two words having the same pronunciation or the same spelling or both but they differ in their meaning(Abdull Ameer,2010)
Homonymy was defined as a semantic term used for lexical items which are identical in pronunciation and spelling but they are different in meaning. And there are different types of homonymy either partial in the case if two words share the same pronunciation but differ in spelling such as: morning and mourning, or complete homonyms when the two words share the same pronunciation and spelling like the word bank which means the side of the bank or the financial institution. Lyons (1982,72). It can be found in Arabic words like: ” qadam “in Arabic this word has two different meaning the first one is the part of the body i.e. foot ,while the second one is a unit for measuring the length.

Polysemy is a kind of ambiguity happens when we have two related senses for the same thing like the word glass in “I empted the glass” here we have two explanations for the same word, glass, the first is the container itself and the second is the contents inside the container. This notion was proposed by Breal (1978) and by the theory of meanings ( fodor1963 and Katz 1967) where meanings of the word are known depend on adequate or sufficient condition and necessarily without going back to the context. Furthermore, the entity may be either a full member of a specific category or not. Moreover, the similarity between two meanings or senses of the same word, the senses can be countable through counting the similar features or senses between words so a word like this will be ambiguious if it has more than one definition depending on those senses or features.(Wilkins,1995). Polysemy in Arabic words can be found in words like: “shari:k” that has different senses like partner in crime, marriage partner…est.

Humor language
There are many ways for dealing with humor language and jokes, some of them relies on the funny actions, while some relies on comedy of errors. in Linguistics, jokes neither dealing with funny actions nor with errors, but they are relies on linguistic features or attributes for their effects (Zalabeascoa 1996, p. 253).Jokes in this case are called Language-dependent jokes or puns, and they are classified either referential if the joke doesn’t depend on the words themselves rather on the meaning of the words only, or verbal humor when jokes depends on the form of the words not on the meaning. This classification is based on the qualities exhibits(Attardo. 1994,a)
This study uses semantic relation among words such as polysemy and homonymy to analyze the ambiguity inside jokes. A sample of fifteen jokes are gathered to achieve the goals of the study and apply the theory. This study is analyzed in this way:

1.Reviewing related literature.

2.collecting and coding data.

3. Transcriping, and translating data.

4.Identifying the ambiguious words and analyzing data.
4.Applying the mentioned theory on data.

5.Answering the research questions.

6.Making conclusion and recommendations.

Attardo, S .1994.Linguistc Theories of Humor. Berlin Mouton de Gruyter, Humor research, 4
 Cavanagh, P. 2012. “Whats up with Top Down Processing?” Cambridge University Press.

Abdu Ameer (2010) , Ahmad. Homonymy in English and Arabic : A Contrastive study: Bablyon University
Frawly, W. (1992). Linguistic semantics. Routledge
Grice, H. Paul. 1975. “Logic and conversation.” In: Cole, P., and J.L. Morgan (eds.). Syntax and semantics, vol. 3, Speech acts. New York: Academic Press, 41-59.

Hetzron, Robert. 1991. “On the structure of punchlines.” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 4
Ibrahim, Wayees.2005.” AMBIGUITY” College of Basic Education Researchers Journal Vol. 2, No. 4
Katz, j.j. and j.A Fodor 1963. The Structure of a Semantic Theory, Language, Academic Press: New York.

Lew, Robert. 1996. “Exploitation of linguistic ambiguity in Polish and English verbal jokes.” Papers and Studies in Contrastive Linguistics
Lew, Robert 1996 “An ambiguity-based theory of the linguistic verbal joke in English”. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Adam Mickiewicz University
Lyons, J. (1995). Linguistic semantics: An introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Lyon J.(1982). Language and linguistics.Cambridge University Press.

Oaks, Dallin D. 1994.”Creating structural ambiguities in humor, Getting English grammar to cooperate” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research
Raskin, Victor. 1985.” Semantic mechanisms of humor” Synthese Language Library 24

Shultz, T. R., ;Horibe, F. 1974.” Development of the appreciation of verbal jokes”. Developmental Psychology
Wikipedia. (2018).”Homonymy”. en. Wikipedia. Org/ wiki/ User: Homograph


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