Polysemy Polysemy comes from Neo-Latin polysemia, which comes from Greek polusemous [poly- (many) + sema (sign)] giving us a linguistic term, “having many meanings” or multiple meanings. Most of lex. items in English are polysemantic. Ex. : – family – She lost both of her parents. – parent – Envy is the parent of all evils. My family comes from Scotland. The cat family includes lions & tigers. (????????? ????????) A family of languages, etc. There are monosemantic words: Ex. : a lorry, a loudspeaker Different meanings of one & the same word are closely interrelated.
Polysemy is a result of: 1. Shifts in application (????? ? ????????????) Ex. : adj. red: red ink (is really red), red hair, red deer, red cabbage, red Indian 2. Specialization: Ex. : partner Basic meaning; a type of relationship between 2 or more people. – business partner – marriage partner – partner in crime 3. Metaphorical extension (a fundamental feature of any language) Ex. : leaf of a tree – leaf of a book, hands of a person – hands of a clock Polysemy has been complicated by the tendency of words to pick up the meanings from other dialects, languages & slang. Ex. : executive
BrE – one who acts under the direction of somebody – ??????????? AmE – a manager now: AmE meaning is more widely used. New & old meanings become interrelated, form a hierarchy. They have some common semantic features, which preserve the integrity of the word. First, we have count/mass alternations for nouns, which can serve several functions: (13) Animal/meat: a. The lamb is running in the field. b. John ate lamb for breakfast. (14) Object/Stuff an object is made up: a. There is an apple on the table. b. There is apple in the salad. (15) Stuff/Kind: a. There was cheese on the table. b. Three cheeses were served. 16) Stuff/Portions: a. The restaurant served beer, and so b. we ordered three beers. Plant/food alternation: (17) a. Mary watered the fig in the garden. b. Mary ate the fig. We have alternations between containers and contained: (18) a. Mary broke the bottle. b. The baby finished the bottle. Figure/Ground reversal: (19) a. The window is rotting. b. Mary crawled through the window. Product/producer alternation, e. g. newspaper, Honda: (20) a. The newspaper fired its editor. b. John spilled coffee on the newspaper. Process/result alternation: (21) a. The company’s merger with Honda will begin next fall. b.
The merger will lead to the production of more cars. Alternations involving location: (22) Building/institution, e. g. university, bank (see above) (23) Place/people: a. John traveled to New York. b. New York kicked the mayer out of office. (24) Capital/government, e. g. Washington accused Havana not to do enough for the victims. Being able to distinguish between polysemy words and homonym words is not easy. Dictionaries treat cases of multiple meanings either as polysemy or as homonymy, but in fact it is not always easy to decide which one we are dealing with, and dictionaries sometimes differ in their decisions.
Are “table” (furniture) and “table” (arrangement of data) two different words, or the same word with two meanings? Dictionaries usually go for the latter solution, on the grounds of a shared etymology. On the other hand, “a pupil” (in school) and the “pupil” (of the eye) are usually listed as different words; although in fact they have the same historical origin. And contrast this with the following cases of meaning variation, which illustrate polysemy: (6) a. The bank raised its interest rates yesterday. b. The store is next to the newly constructed bank. c.
The bank appeared first in Italy in the Renaissance. (7) a. John crawled through the window. b. The window is closed. c. The window is made of security glass. (8) a. The farm will fail unless the drought ends soon. b. It is difficult to farm this land. (9) a. The store is open. b. The thief tried to open the door. There are two important differences: 1. First, it is immediately obvious to speakers that the meanings of a polysemous expression are related to each other. This is typically not the case for homophonous expressions, even though they may be historically related as well (cf. ome of the examples above). 2. Second, polysemy is regular. For example, we find the three meanings illustrated with bank in (6) (specific institution, building that houses the institution, and the type of the institution) with university as well. Similarly, we find the three meanings of window illustrated in (7) (path, opening, and concrete object that can close an opening) with door. Polysemy is rarely a problem for communication among people. We are so adept at using contextual cues, that we select appropriate senses of words effortlessly and uncounsiously.
The sheer number of senses listed by some sources as being available to us usually comes as a surprise: out of approximately 60000 entries in webster’s seventh dictionary 21488 or almost 40 % have two or more senses. Moreover the most commonly used words tend to be polysemious. The verb run, for example, has 29 senses in webster’s furter divided into nearly 125 subsenses. These systematic aspects make polysemy an important field of study of synchronic and generative linguistics. Polysemy is a pivotal concept within disciplines such as media studies and linguistics.