Ambiguities In Newspaper Headlines

Project and Seminar Material for English Language

Ambiguities In Newspaper Headlines


This project analyses semantic ambiguous headlines stating their communicative effectiveness with regards to print media. Using data from Vanguard and Daily Trust newspapers, the study discovered that ambiguities are prevalent in the newspaper headlines as a result of various manipulations on sentences and lexical choice. This leads to the possibility of multiple meanings and interpretation of the headlines.

Chapter One


1.1 Background To The Study

The crux of this research is semantic ambiguity as it affects communication effectiveness of media headlines of print media. Semantic ambiguity is concerned with meaning relations at sentence level which is a sub-field in the study of semantics that deals with the influence of one word upon another in sentences. Other related terms are tautology, redundancy, paraphrase, anomaly. Ambiguity is defined as a grammatical phenomenon in which an expression can be given more than one interpretation and could be caused by syntactic and semantic factors. Semantic ambiguity is a situation in which an expression can be given more than one interpretation based on the meaning of a word or words which in themselves can be misinterpreted. Syntactic ambiguity on the other hand is caused by the grammatical construction of the phrase or sentence which bring about misinterpretation.

A headline like, “Fashola meets ex-girlfriend in Paris” from Vanguard newspaper of June 4, 2013 could be ambiguous and as such could be misinterpreted. The word ‘meets’ has several meanings and denotes a lot of things. It means among others (1) to come face to face with someone coincidentally or unexpectedly (2) to converge or come in contact and finally touch or have sexual intercourse with someone (3) to come together in conflict (4) to gather for a formal discussion. The construction has therefore distorted a direct translation of the sentence to mean Fashola, saw his former girlfriend in Paris coincidentally.

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