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Exploring Ambiguity and Intention: Higher Learning for First-Year Readers and Writers

Exploring Ambiguity and Intention: Higher Learning for First-Year Readers and Writers F r o m t h e C l a s s r o o m Exploring Ambiguity and Intention: Higher Learning for First-Year Readers and Writers Johanna Schmertz In How to Read a Page, I. A. Richards (1959) argues that a “systematic ambi- guity” is embedded in language. The phrase “systematic ambiguity” seems paradoxical on its surface, suggesting a sort of planned chaos, but Richards explains his paradox by observing that our most useful words and concepts are often the most vague, because they cover so much territory. This aspect of language enables us to speak with the expectation of being understood, but it also provides the greatest source of misunderstanding. Rather than regarding the ambiguity of language as a liability, however, Richards (1959: 24) argues that we need to see it as a resource, as “the very hinges of all thought.” Ambi- guity sets the engines of interpretation going while prompting reflection on the process of interpretation itself. Moments of ambiguity can provide the text’s most “teachable” moments. This proved to be the case when students in my first-year com - position classes viewed a particular scene of John Singleton’s 1995 film Higher Learning. Ironically, I initially http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Pedagogy Duke University Press

Exploring Ambiguity and Intention: Higher Learning for First-Year Readers and Writers

Pedagogy , Volume 6 (1) – Jan 1, 2006

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Copyright
© 2006 Duke University Press
ISSN
1531-4200
eISSN
1533-6255
DOI
10.1215/15314200-6-1-123
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

F r o m t h e C l a s s r o o m Exploring Ambiguity and Intention: Higher Learning for First-Year Readers and Writers Johanna Schmertz In How to Read a Page, I. A. Richards (1959) argues that a “systematic ambi- guity” is embedded in language. The phrase “systematic ambiguity” seems paradoxical on its surface, suggesting a sort of planned chaos, but Richards explains his paradox by observing that our most useful words and concepts are often the most vague, because they cover so much territory. This aspect of language enables us to speak with the expectation of being understood, but it also provides the greatest source of misunderstanding. Rather than regarding the ambiguity of language as a liability, however, Richards (1959: 24) argues that we need to see it as a resource, as “the very hinges of all thought.” Ambi- guity sets the engines of interpretation going while prompting reflection on the process of interpretation itself. Moments of ambiguity can provide the text’s most “teachable” moments. This proved to be the case when students in my first-year com - position classes viewed a particular scene of John Singleton’s 1995 film Higher Learning. Ironically, I initially

Journal

PedagogyDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2006

References