Reviews on Tolerance of Ambiguity in English Learning

Topics: Linguistics, Ambiguity tolerance, Language acquisition Pages: 8 (2918 words) Published: June 29, 2013
2.1 Reviews on Tolerance of Ambiguity
The problem of defining TOA is considerable as it involves psychological working and thus can not be directly observed and can only be inferred from what one actually does. Fortunately, the field of psychology provides us with insight and theoretical framework for exploring this concept. In our attempt to define TOA, we are faced with a double task: to designate what tolerance is and to interpret the meaning of ambiguity. McLain (1993: 184) postulates that tolerance suggests “begrudging acceptance” whereas intolerance suggests “rejection” and adds that tolerance “extends along a continuum from rejection to attraction”. This seems rather vague and it reflects the elusive character inherent in the term “tolerance”. Defining ambiguity is also not easy. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines ambiguous as “adj: 1. doubtful or uncertain, inexplicable; 2. capable of being understood in two or more possible senses.” Similarly, ambiguity can mean “wavering of opinion, hesitation, doubt, uncertainty, as to one’s course” or it can mean “capable of being understood in two or more ways, double or dubious signification.” Most often ambiguity is used to refer to situations, which are classified into three basic types by Budner (1962: 30): 1) A completely new situation in which there are no familiar cues; 2) A complex situation in which there are a great number of cues to be taken account; 3) A contradictory situation in which different elements or cues suggest different structures. Budner defines these types, respectively, as situations where cues are nonexistent or insufficient, where cues are too numerous, and where cues suggest contradictory structures. So he views ambiguous situations or ambiguous stimuli as those that are not adequately structured or categorized by the perceiver because they lack sufficient cues. Norton (1975: 610) finds that psychologists have developed eight different categories that defined ambiguous situations. They include: 1) Multiple meanings: there are at least two meaning whether the person is aware or unaware of them, or the meanings are clear or unclear; 2) Vagueness, incompleteness, or fragmented: parts of the whole are missing; 3) A probability: the situation can be analyzed as a function of some probability; 4) Unstructured: the situation has little or no information; 5) Lack of information: the situation has little or no information; 6) Uncertainty: a state of uncertainty is created in the mind of the person; 7) Inconsistencies & contradictions: a situation in which portions of the information appear to disagree with each other; and 8) Unclear: any situation perceived as unclear. In short, ambiguous situations may be marked by novelty, complexity, insolubility and lack of structure. In fact, in English, there are a number of words that can express the notion of“ambiguity”, such as vague, fuzzy, uncertain, inexplicit, indefinite, indefinable, undefined, indeterminate, undecided, indistinct, and so on. Throughout the whole paper, in order to be consistent with the term “tolerance of ambiguity”, the word “ambiguity” is used to cover all the notions mentioned above and substitute all of them. Ambiguity is one of the main characteristics of a second/foreign language learning situation in general (Brown, 1987; Chapelle & Roberts, 1986). Chapelle and Roberts (Chapelle & Roberts, 1986: 27), for example, thinks that an L2 situation can be considered ambiguous because of the characteristics it shares with each of the four kinds of ambiguous situations: first, the grammatical, lexical, phonological and cultural cues are unfamiliar and therefore insufficient for learners to construct a meaningful interpretation. Second, these cues may be perceived as being too numerous to interpret, resulting in a “complex” situation. Third, a learner may interpret these multiple language cues as contradicting each other, rendering the situation “insoluble”. And lastly, because...
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