Sunday, August 07, 2005

Choose your words wisely

A new study looks at "Do Speakers Avoid Ambiguities During Dialogue?" I was curious about the topic, but I found the press release could have been clearer in looking at ambiguities in public speaking!

It starts with an example: if someone told you to "put the apple in the basket on the table," what would you do? Depending on how many apples and baskets are in your kitchen, it might not be clear. Would you move the apple in the basket to the table, or move the apple to the basket on the table?

The researchers say some studies have shown that speakers choose their sentences based, in part, on how easy those sentences are to produce for themselves while not taking ease of comprehension into account.

"An ambiguous phrase is often easier to construct than an unambiguous one, so some people will speak ambiguously even if they are likely to be misunderstood," the statement says.

To learn more about "optional disambiguating words" you can read the full report in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.

What about my coverage of this report - hopefully not too ambiguous!

1 comment:

David Collin said...

Yes, there are challenges in all forms of communication. We can edit and hone our written communications, but if it's ambiguous we may never get feedback. Conversation gives us cycles of feedback about what we're saying, but we're having to make more up on the fly. What I think is under-appreciated is how much what we understand comes from a shared culture that we only learn over a long period of time. A dictionary is not enough. Also, we only understand things we hear by tolerating the ambiguity of utterances--such as a sentence--as the explanation unfolds. We don't understand the meaning of something being said word by word. It's all a neat trick.