Determinants of translation ambiguity: A within and cross-language comparison

Tamar Degani, Anat Prior, Chelsea M. Eddington, Ana B.Areas Luz Da Fontes, Natasha Tokowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ambiguity in translation is highly prevalent, and has consequences for secondlanguage learning and for bilingual lexical processing. To better understand this phenomenon, the current study compared the determinants of translation ambiguity across four sets of translation norms from English to Spanish, Dutch, German and Hebrew. The number of translations an English word received was correlated across these different languages, and was also correlated with the number of senses the word has in English, demonstrating that translation ambiguity is partially determined by within-language semantic ambiguity. For semantically-ambiguous English words, the probability of the different translations in Spanish and Hebrew was predicted by the meaning-dominance structure in English, beyond the influence of other lexical and semantic factors, for bilinguals translating from their L1, and translating from their L2. These findings are consistent with models postulating direct access to meaning from L2 words for moderately-proficient bilinguals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-307
Number of pages18
JournalLinguistic Approaches to Bilingualism
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
TD was supported by NSF-BCS-1052283, a Language Learning Dissertation Grant and the EUFP7 grant CIG-322016. AP was supported by EUFP7 grant IRG-249163. CME was supported by NSF DDIG 11-547 and the NIH MNTP R90DA023420. NT was supported by NIH-RO1-HD075800 and PSI2012-37623 awarded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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