How to Distinguish Ambiguity and Vagueness in Polysemy Research – From NLP Perspective



In this article, we delve into the intricate task of distinguishing between ambiguity and vagueness within the context of polysemy research, with a specific focus on the perspective of NLP. We provide a comprehensive overview of the theoretical underpinnings of polysemy, examining how it relates to ambiguity and vagueness.

Subsequently, we explore the practical implications for NLP, offering insights into the methodologies, techniques, and resources that can aid in the disentanglement of these linguistic phenomena. Through this interdisciplinary exploration, we aim to shed light on the complexities of polysemy disambiguation and vagueness resolution, paving the way for more accurate and nuanced natural language processing.


Polysemy, characterized by the coexistence of multiple related meanings within a single word, has long been a subject of fascination and scrutiny in the fields of cognitive linguistics and natural language processing (NLP). Understanding and disambiguating polysemous words are pivotal tasks for NLP systems, as they directly impact the accuracy and effectiveness of various language understanding applications. In this article, we embark on a journey to distinguish between ambiguity and vagueness within the realm of polysemy research, with a specific lens on the challenges and insights offered by the field of NLP.

Theoretical Foundations of Polysemy

To appreciate the nuances of distinguishing ambiguity from vagueness within polysemy, we must first delve into the theoretical foundations of polysemy itself. Polysemy arises when a single lexical item exhibits multiple related senses that share a common semantic thread. These senses are often interconnected, which sets polysemy apart from homonymy, where distinct words have unrelated meanings.

The challenge in polysemy research lies in unraveling the fine-grained distinctions between these senses, as well as discerning whether the observed polysemy is a result of true ambiguity or vagueness.

Ambiguity and Polysemy: An NLP Perspective

In the context of NLP, the disambiguation of polysemous words is crucial for various applications, such as machine translation, sentiment analysis, and information retrieval. However, distinguishing between ambiguity and vagueness within polysemy is not always straightforward.

Contextual Clues

NLP models, particularly those built on deep learning architectures, rely on contextual clues to disambiguate polysemous words. These models analyze the surrounding words and phrases to determine the most likely sense of a polysemous word based on context. This contextual analysis often helps distinguish ambiguity, where the word has distinct, unrelated meanings, from vagueness, where the word’s sense is imprecise but related.

Linguistic Resources

Lexical resources such as WordNet and FrameNet provide valuable information for NLP systems to distinguish between polysemy, ambiguity, and vagueness. These resources offer sense inventories and semantic frames that aid in understanding the various senses of a word and their relationships.

Word Sense Disambiguation

NLP researchers have developed specialized techniques for word sense disambiguation (WSD) to tackle the polysemy challenge. These techniques leverage machine learning algorithms and large corpora of text to assign the correct sense to a polysemous word in a given context.

Vagueness and Polysemy

Vagueness, often conflated with polysemy, presents its own set of challenges in NLP. While polysemy involves multiple related senses, vagueness pertains to imprecise, fuzzy boundaries in meaning. In some cases, polysemous words may exhibit vagueness in one or more of their senses, making the distinction even more intricate.

Gradable Polysemy

Some polysemous words exhibit gradable polysemy, where the meaning lies on a continuum. For instance, the word “tall” can represent a range of heights, introducing vagueness into its interpretation.

Fuzzy Logic

NLP researchers have explored the application of fuzzy logic to model and handle vagueness in language. Fuzzy logic allows for the representation of degrees of truth, enabling NLP systems to capture the imprecise nature of vague concepts.


Distinguishing between ambiguity and vagueness within polysemy research is a complex yet vital endeavor, particularly from the perspective of natural language processing.

As NLP systems continue to evolve and strive for human-level language understanding, resolving polysemy and vagueness becomes increasingly crucial. By leveraging contextual clues, linguistic resources, and specialized techniques like word sense disambiguation, NLP researchers are making significant strides in disentangling these linguistic phenomena. This interdisciplinary exploration serves as a testament to the symbiotic relationship between cognitive linguistics and NLP, fostering a deeper understanding of the complexities of polysemy and its associated challenges.