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Polysemy ( or ; from grc-gre, πολύ-, , "many" and , , "sign") is the capacity for a word or phrase to have multiple related meanings. Polysemy is thus distinct from
homonymy In linguistics, homonyms, broadly defined, are words which are homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of pronunciation) or homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of spelling), or both. For example, acc ...
—or
homophony In music, homophony (;, Greek language, Greek: ὁμόφωνος, ''homóphōnos'', from ὁμός, ''homós'', "same" and φωνή, ''phōnē'', "sound, tone") is a Texture (music), texture in which a primary Part (music), part is supported by o ...
—which is an accidental similarity between two or more words (such as ''
bear Bears are carnivora Carnivora is an order of placental Placentalia is one of the three extant subdivisions of the class of animals Mammalia Mammals (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Ita ...

bear
'' the animal, and the verb ''to bear''); while homonymy is a mere linguistic coincidence, polysemy is not. In deciding between polysemy or homonymy, it might be necessary to look at the history of the word to see if the two meanings are historically related.
Dictionary writers
Dictionary writers
often list polysemes under the same entry; homonyms are defined separately.


Polysemes

A polyseme is a word or phrase with different, but related
senses Sense relates to any of the systems and corresponding organs involved in sensation, i.e. the physical process of responding to Stimulus (physiology), stimuli and providing data for perception. During sensation, sense organs collect stimuli for Tran ...
. Since the test for polysemy is the vague concept of the relatedness, judgments of polysemy can be difficult to make. Because applying pre-existing words to new situations is a natural process of language change, looking at words'
etymology Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English ''The'' () is a grammatical article Article often refers to: * Article (grammar) An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identi ...
is helpful in determining polysemy but not the only solution; as words become lost in etymology, what once was a useful distinction of meaning may no longer be so. Some seemingly unrelated words share a common historical origin, however, so etymology is not an infallible test for polysemy, and dictionary writers also often defer to speakers' intuitions to judge polysemy in cases where it contradicts etymology. English has many polysemous words. For example, the verb "to get" can mean "procure" (''I'll get the drinks''), "become" (''she got scared''), "understand" (''I get it'') etc. In linear or vertical polysemy, one sense of a word is a subset of the other. These are examples of
hyponymy and hypernymy In linguistics, hyponymy (from Greek language, Greek ὑπό, ''hupó'', "under", and ὄνυμα, ''ónuma'', "name") is a semantics, semantic relation between a hyponym denoting a subtype and a hypernym or hyperonym denoting a supertype. In oth ...
, and are sometimes called autohyponyms. For example, 'dog' can be used for 'male dog'. Alan Cruse identifies four types of linear polysemy: * autohyponymy, where the basic sense leads to a specialised sense (from "drinking (anything)" to "drinking (alcohol)") * automeronymy, where the basic sense leads to a subpart sense (from "door (whole structure)" to "door (panel)") * autohyperonymy or autosuperordination, where the basic sense leads to a wider sense (from "(female) cow" to "cow (of either sex)") * autoholonymy, where the basic sense leads to a larger sense (from "leg (thigh and calf)" to "leg (thigh, calf, knee and foot)") In non-linear polysemy, the original sense of a word is used figuratively to provide a different way of looking at the new subject. Alan Cruse identifies three types of non-linear polysemy: *
metonymy Metonymy () is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. Etymology The words ''metonymy'' and ''metonym'' come from the Greek language, Greek , , "a cha ...
, where one sense "stands for" another (from "hands (body part)" to "hands (manual labourers)") *
metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of ...
, where there is a resemblance between senses (from "swallowing (a pill)" to "swallowing (an argument)") * other construals (for example, from "month (of the year)" to "month (30 days)") There are several tests for polysemy, but one of them is
zeugma Zeugma may refer to: *Zeugma and syllepsis, figures of speech * Zeugma (Commagene), an ancient settlement in Commagene (eastern Anatolia) * Zeugma (Dacia), an ancient settlement in Dacia, mentioned by Ptolemy * Zeugma (literary journal), ''Zeugma'' ...
: if one word seems to exhibit zeugma when applied in different
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary. Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
s, it is likely that the contexts bring out different polysemes of the same word. If the two senses of the same word do not seem to ''fit,'' yet seem related, then it is likely that they are polysemous. This test again depends on speakers' judgments about relatedness, which means that it is not infallible, but merely a helpful conceptual aid. The difference between
homonyms In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the me ...
and polysemes is subtle.
Lexicographers This list contains people who contributed to the field of lexicography, the theory and practice of compiling dictionaries. __NOTOC__ A *Maulvi Abdul Haq (India/Pakistan, 1872–1961) Baba-e-Urdu, English-Urdu dictionary *Ivar Aasen (Norway, 1813 ...

Lexicographers
define polysemes within a single dictionary
lemma Lemma may refer to: Language and linguistics * Lemma (morphology), the canonical, dictionary or citation form of a word * Lemma (psycholinguistics), a mental abstraction of a word about to be uttered * Headword, under which a set of related dict ...
, numbering different meanings, while homonyms are treated in separate entries (or lemmata).
Semantic shift Semantic change (also semantic shift, semantic progression, semantic development, or semantic drift) is a form of language change Language change is variation over time in a language A language is a structured system of communication u ...
can separate a polysemous word into separate homonyms. For example, ''
check Check or cheque, may refer to: Places * Check, Virginia Check is an unincorporated community in Floyd County, Virginia, Floyd County, Virginia, United States. Check is located on U.S. Route 221 northeast of Floyd, Virginia, Floyd. Check has a pos ...
'' as in "bank check" (or ''Cheque''), ''check'' in chess, and ''check'' meaning "verification" are considered homonyms, while they originated as a single word derived from
chess Chess is a board game Board games are tabletop game Tabletop games are game with separate sliding drawer, from 1390–1353 BC, made of glazed faience, dimensions: 5.5 × 7.7 × 21 cm, in the Brooklyn Museum (New Yor ...

chess
in the 14th century. Psycholinguistic experiments have shown that homonyms and polysemes are represented differently within people's mental
lexicon A lexicon is the vocabulary A vocabulary is a set of familiar words In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, pra ...

lexicon
: while the different meanings of homonyms (which are semantically unrelated) tend to interfere or compete with each other during comprehension, this does not usually occur for the polysemes that have semantically related meanings. Results for this contention, however, have been mixed. For
Dick Hebdige Dick Hebdige (born 1951) is an expatriate British media theorist Media studies is a discipline (academia), discipline and field of study that deals with the content, history, and effects of various media (communication), media; in particular, th ...
polysemy means that, "each text is seen to generate a potentially infinite range of meanings," making, according to Richard Middleton, "any homology, out of the most heterogeneous materials, possible. The idea of ''signifying practice''—texts not as communicating or expressing a pre-existing meaning but as 'positioning subjects' within a ''process'' of
semiosis Semiosis (, ), or sign process, is any form of activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology behavior may refer to all basic human actions, economics may study human economic ac ...
—changes the whole basis of creating social meaning". Charles Fillmore and Beryl Atkins' definition stipulates three elements: (i) the various senses of a polysemous word have a central origin, (ii) the links between these senses form a network, and (iii) understanding the 'inner' one contributes to understanding of the 'outer' one. One group of polysemes are those in which a word meaning an activity, perhaps derived from a verb, acquires the meanings of those engaged in the activity, or perhaps the results of the activity, or the time or place in which the activity occurs or has occurred. Sometimes only one of those meanings is intended, depending on
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary. Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
, and sometimes multiple meanings are intended at the same time. Other types are derivations from one of the other meanings that leads to a verb or activity.


Examples

; ;Man :# The human species (i.e., man vs. other organisms) :# Males of the human species (i.e., man vs. woman) :# Adult males of the human species (i.e., man vs. boy) :#(As a verb) to operate or constitute a vehicle or machine (To man a ship) This example shows the specific polysemy where the same word is used at different levels of a
taxonomy Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to a specific classification scheme. Originally used only about biological ...
;Bank :# :# the physical building where a financial institution offers services :# to deposit money or have an account in a bank (e.g. "I bank at the local credit union") :# a steep slope (as of a hill or the rising ground bordering water) :# to incline an airplane laterally :# a supply of something held in reserve: such as "banking"
brownie pointsBrownie points in modern usage are an imaginary social currency, which can be acquired by doing goodness and value theory, good deeds or earning favor in the eyes of another, often one's spouse. Conjectures for etymology Girlguiding A popular etymo ...

brownie points
:# a
synonym A synonym is a word, morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful lexical item in a language. A morpheme is not a word. The difference between a morpheme and a word is that a morpheme bound and free morphemes, sometimes does not stand alone ...
for 'rely upon' (e.g. ''"I'm your friend, you can ''bank'' on me"''). It is different, but ''related,'' as it derives from the theme of security initiated by 1. :However: 1 is borrowed from Italian ''banco'', a money lender's bench, while a river ''bank'' is a native English word. Today they can be considered
homonym In linguistics, homonyms, broadly defined, are words which are homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of pronunciation) or homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of spelling), or both. For example, acco ...
s with ''completely different'' meanings. But originally they were polysemous since Italian borrowed the word from a Germanic language. The Proto-Germanic cognate for "bank" is *bankiz. A river bank is typically visually bench-like in its flatness.


Related ideas

A lexical conception of polysemy was developed by B. T. S. Atkins, in the form of lexical implication rules. These are rules that describe how words, in one lexical context, can then be used, in a different form, in a related context. A crude example of such a rule is the pastoral idea of "verbizing one's nouns": that certain nouns, used in certain contexts, can be converted into a verb, conveying a related meaning. Another clarification of polysemy is the idea of predicate transfer—the reassignment of a property to an object that would not otherwise inherently have that property. Thus, the expression "''I am parked out back''" conveys the meaning of "parked" from "car" to the property of "I possess a car". This avoids incorrect polysemous interpretations of "parked": that "people can be parked", or that "I am pretending to be a car", or that "I am something that can be parked". This is supported by the
morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical objects such as nebulae, galaxies ...
: "''We are parked out back''" does not mean that there are multiple cars; rather, that there are multiple passengers (having the property of being in possession of a car).


See also


References


Further reading

*AlBader, Yousuf B. (2015)
Semantic Innovation and Change in Kuwaiti Arabic: A Study of the Polysemy of Verbs
* * * * * * *Jamet, Denis (Ed.) (2008)
Polysemy
, 1st issue of ''Lexis, E-Journal in English Lexicology''.


External links

* * {{Authority control Lexical semantics Psycholinguistics Homonymy Semantic relations