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Isay, R.A. (1977). Ambiguity in Speech. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 25:427-452.

(1977). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 25:427-452

Ambiguity in Speech

Richard A. Isay, M.D.


Ambiguity in speech during analysis is one modality for the expression of unconscious conflict and one manifestation of transference. Four types of ambiguity are illustrated. Each ambiguity communicates an unconscious wish or intention and the defense against this wish or intention. In each type of ambiguity, transference manifestations are expressed in the form of speech and not alone by its content, as we are accustomed

to identifying the transference. Each type of ambiguity within the analysis expresses fear of responsibility and recrimination for libidinal or aggressive intentions. In some patients, the combinative ambiguity or malapropism expresses the fear of reprisal through the transformation into a self-inflicted injury. The pronominal ambiguity may express a feared and wished-for fusion with the analyst. The analyst's ambiguous interpretations are properly used to encourage associations, but at times may reflect lack of understanding and be a manifestation of countertransference.

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