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English Lexicology Polysemy and Homonymy. Week 9 Instructor: Liu Hongyong. Polysemy and homonymy. Polysemy refers to the phenomenon that a word has more than one meaning. face: the front of the head a surface of a thing a person's countenance a person
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English LexicologyPolysemy and Homonymy Week 9 Instructor: Liu Hongyong
Polysemy and homonymy • Polysemy refers to the phenomenon that a word has more than one meaning. face: the front of the head a surface of a thing a person's countenance a person • Homonymy refers to the phenomenon that two or more words have the same form, but have different meanings. lie: make an untrue statement. lie: put oneself in a resting position.
Polysemous • When a word is first coined, it is always the case (true) that it has only one meaning (monosemic). • But in the course of development, the same symbol may be used to express new meanings. The result is polysemy. • Polysemy shows the economy and efficiency of human languages. If it is impossible for one word to possess several senses, one would have to learn a large number of words to express ideas.
Two approaches to polysemy How does a word acquire new meanings? In What way are the meanings related to each other? Diachronic approach (历时） Synchronic approach（共时）
Diachronic approach • At the time when the word was created, it was endowed with only one meaning. • This first meaning is the primary meaning. • With the development of the language, more and more meanings become associated with the word. • These later meanings are called derived meaning, as they are derived from the primary meaning.
We can get the derived meanings by extension, narrowing, analogy, transfer, etc. Example: face a person (Derived Meaning) self-respect (Derived Meaning) outward appearance (Derived Meaning) the front of the head (Primary Meaning) countenance (Derived Meaning) the surface of a thing (Derived Meaning)
Diachronic approach • There are also instances in which the primary meaning gave birth to new meanings, and then the primary meaning disappeared. suffering (derived meaning) painpenalty (primary meaning) disease (derived meaning)
Synchronic approach • The development of the meaning of “gay” • Joyous, merry, happy • Bright, brilliant • Given to social life and pleasure • Wanton, licentious • homosexual • Synchronically, polysemy is viewed as the coexistence of several meanings of the same word in a particular period of time, say, Modern English. • The basic (most frequently occurring) meaning of a word is called the central meaning. The other meanings are secondary meaning. gay happy (secondary meaning) gayhomosexual (central meaning)
Synchronically, we are interested in the interrelation between the central meaning and the secondary meaning. • In most cases, the primary meaning (diachronically) and the central meaning (synchronically) coincide. • However, sometimes a derived meaning can become the central meaning.
Two processes leading to polysemy • There are two important processes in the development of meaning: • Radiation (发散) • Concatenation(串联)
Radiation • Radiation is a process in which the primary meaning stands in the center, and the derived meanings radiate from it in every direction like rays. • All the derived meanings can be traced back to the primary meaning. 7 6 2 1 5 3 4
Concatenation • Concatenation is a process in which the meaning of a word moves gradually from its primary meaning by successive shifts, like the links of a chain, until there is no connection between the meaning that is finally developed and the primary meaning. • Unlike radiation where each of the derived meaning is directly related to the primary meaning, concatenation is a process where each of the later meaning is related only to the preceding one. 1 5 6 2 3 4
Example: candidate A a person dressed in white A+B a white robed applicant for office (because the Romans wore white robes when standing for office) B a person taking an examination bridging context There is no connection between A and B, because the middle link (A+B) has vanished. The primary meaning A has also vanished. Now the derived meaning has become the central meaning.
Homonymy (同形/同音不同义） • In English, there are many pairs or groups of words, which have different meanings, but have the same spelling or the same pronunciation. • Such words are called homonyms. tear: n. tear: vt.
Types of homonymy • Perfect homonyms; Homographs; Homophones • Perfect homonyms: words identical in both sound and spelling, but different in meaning lie: vi. lie: vi. bank: n. bank: n. bear: n. bear: vt.
Types of homonymy • Homographs: words identical only in spelling but different in sound and meaning. bow: vi. to bend one’s head as a greeting bow: n. the device used for shooting arrows sow: n. female pig sow: vi. to scatter seeds perfect: v. /- ’-/ perfect: adj. /’- -/
Types of homonymy • Homophones: words identical only in sound but different in spelling and meaning. son deer right sun dear write pair stationary pear stationery
Differentiation of perfect homonyms from polysemous words • Both perfect homonyms and polysemous words have this property: the same form (spelling and pronunciation), but different meanings. • How can we differentiate them? the same lexeme which has several different meanings having different sources perfect homonyms polysemous words developed from the same source different lexemes which have the same form
The use of polysemy and homonymy • One of the most common writing techniques is “punning”, using puns to achieve certain literary effect, such as humor, irony, etc. Polysemous words and homonyms are often used as puns. • Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland “how is bread made?” “I know that!” Alice cried eagerly. “You take some flour-.” “Where do you pick the flower?” the White Queen asked. “In a garden, or in the hedges?” “Well, it isn’t picked at all,” Alice explained: “it’s ground-.” “How many acres of ground?” said the White Queen.