# Why do we have type-token ambiguity?

We can think of many things as having types and tokens, for example we can easily separate the idea of a 'number' and all the many quantities that use that number, why do we struggle to separate the idea of a type from a token? For example if I ask someone to tell me how many digits are in the numeral '111' they may say '1' or '3', The word letter is also ambiguous in this way, We have the letter 'A' and the different letter 'B' but yet 'Boot' is still called a 'four letter word'. Why do we not simply define the 'letter' to be the unique symbols 'A', 'B' etc, and refer to each token simply as a 'token' or 'occurrence' of the letter, similarly for digits, it seems strange that Logicians and linguists have not simply make this distinction clear.

• When we count the letters of a word or the digits of a number we usually consider the number of symbols occurring in them, repetitions included. Thus "111" has four digits (also if it needs only one numeral to be written). The idea of type-token is well reflected into the difference between different typographical ways of writing the symbol "a" in a written text: we read it as "a" irrespective of the fact that is written with Arial or Courier. Aug 23, 2022 at 8:48
• But in practice the distinction is quite complex: we have an abstract (the symbol) that we identify in multiple (sometimes slightly) different "incarnations" that in turn may occur many time in different part of the text. Aug 23, 2022 at 8:48
• Why do we have pervasive ambiguity, period, in natural languages? So as not to overload them with words most of which will be rarely, if ever, used, and strictures that most speakers will not observe anyway. Moreover, natural languages constantly evolve by shifting meanings to cover novel situations, which proliferates ambiguities, and context serves just fine to distinguish shades of meaning without exploding the vocabulary, supplemented by clarifications where necessary. Logicians and linguists have no awesome powers to function as word police even if they tried. And they did try, in vain. Aug 23, 2022 at 10:13
• @MauroALLEGRANZA did you mean three digits, or am I being stupid? Aug 23, 2022 at 16:48