Ambiguity and Vagueness: An Overview

To appear in The Handbook of Semantics, edited by Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger and Paul Portner.

Ambiguity and vagueness are two varieties of interpretive uncertainty which are often discussed together, but are distinct both in their essential features and in their significance for semantic theory and the philosophy of language. Ambiguity involves uncertainty about mappings between levels of representation with different structural characteristics, while vagueness involves uncertainly about the actual meanings of particular terms. This article examines ambiguity and vagueness in turn, providing a detailed picture of their empirical characteristics and the diagnostics for identifying them, and explaining their significance for theories of meaning. Although this article continues the tradition of discussing ambiguity and vagueness together, one of its goals is to emphasize the ways that these phenomena are distinct in their empirical properties, in the factors that give rise to them, and in the analytical tools that can be brought to bear on them.