Words do not only have meanings, but they also have meaning relation to one another. The words can be related morphologically, by word formation rules, and semantically. In semantic, there are at least nine types of meaning relation. They are synonymy, antonymy, homonymy, polysemy, hypernymy, hyponymy, meronymy, holonymy, and troponymy. In this paper will be discussed the term Homonymy and Polysemy.

The word Homonymy comes from the Greek word homonumos. It consists of two words “homos” which means “common”, and “onoma” which means “name” (Wikipedia). Therefore, homonumos means having the same name.  In other words, homonymy is examined as two or more distinct words or concept sharing the same name. Moreover homonymy is divided into two types; homophone and homograph.

Homophone is two or more words that are pronounced the same but share different meaning. In http://people.sc.fsu.edu, English homophone is classified into some groups based on the number of the member, those are, triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets, sextet, and septet. These are some example of homophones in English:

  • Triplets

Aye: spoken formal used to say yes, especially when voting

Eye: one of the two parts of the body that you see with

I:  Subject (First Person Singular)

The other examples are: bight, bite, byte; braise, brays, braze; meat, meet, mete

  • Quadruplets

Carat: a unit for measuring the weight of jewels, equal to 200 milligram s

Caret: the mark (⁁) or used in writing and printing to show where something is to be added

Carrot: a plant with a long thick orange pointed root that you eat as a vegetable

Karat: a measurement used for showing how pure gold is, on a scale from 1 to 24, which is pure gold

  • Quintuplets

Seau: a “pottery pail” popularly used in 18th century table settings, but now on backorder

Sew: to use a needle and thread to fasten pieces of cloth together, or to attach something such as a button to clothes

So: used to emphasize a quality or describe a particular degree of a quality

Soe: a kind of large wooden tub

Sow: to plant or scatter seeds on a piece of ground

  • Sextets

Air: the mixture of gases surrounding the Earth that we breathe

Are: the present tense plural form of “be”

E’er: Contraction of ever.

Ere: preposition, conjunction old use poetic, before

Err: to be more careful, safe; to make a mistake

Heir: someone who will legally receive or has received money, property etc. from someone else after that person’s death; the person who will take over a position or job after you, or who does things or thinks in a similar way

  • Septet

Raise: to move or lift something to a higher position, place, or level.

Rays: a narrow beam of light from the sun or from something such as a lamp

Rase: a verb meaning “to erase”

Raze: to completely destroy a town or building

Rehs: the plural of reh, a mixture of sodium salts found as an efflorescence in India

Réis: the plural of real, a currency unit of Portugal and Brazil

Res: the plural of re, a name for one step of the musical scale

The term “homophone” may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters or groups of letters that are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter or group of letters. For example:

  • Aisle: a long passage between rows of seats in a theater, airplane, church etc., or between rows of shelves in a store
  • I’ll: the short form of “I will”
  • Isle: a word for an island, used in poetry or in names of islands

The word “I’ll” in the example above is actually not a word, but a group of letters standing from “I will”.

The other type of homonymy is called homograph. The word homograph comes from the Greek “humos” which means “the same” and “grapho” which means “write” (Wikipedia). Therefore homograph is a word sharing the same writing form with another word but has a different meaning. For example:

bear (verb) – to support or carry

bear (noun) – the animal

The two words above are identical in spelling and pronunciation (i.e. they are also homophones), but differ in meaning and grammatical function. Therefore, it will be difficult to differentiate the two words in speaking as well as in writing. Contrary, the flowing words are example of two words spelt identically but pronounced differently. Here confusion is not possible in spoken language but can occasionally occur in written language only.

sow (verb) – to plant seed

sow (noun) – female pig

The important thing to note is that in homograph the two words do not have any relation in meaning. It is contrast with the term polysemy, when the two words have same writing form and different concept or meaning, but the meanings are still related. Here are some examples of polysemy from Wikipedia.com:

Wood:                         –     a piece of a tree

–          a geographical area with many trees

Newspaper:     –     The newspaper fired its editor. (The company that publishes the newspaper)

–           John spilled coffee on the newspaper. (The physical newspaper)

–          The newspaper has decided to change its format. (The newspaper as an edited work)

–          John used to work for the newspaper that you are reading. (The newspaper as an institution, a tangible object, and a piece of information)

Man:                –     The human species (i.e., man vs. animal)

–          Males of the human species (i.e., man vs. woman)

–          Adult males of the human species (i.e., man vs. boy)

However, the difference between homonymy and polysemy is subtle. Therefore, lexicographers define polysemy within a single dictionary lemma, numbering different meanings, while homonyms are treated in separate lemmata.

From the explanation above, we can conclude that a word is polysemous if it can be used to express different meanings. The difference between the meanings can be obvious or subtle and still related. Whereas, two or more words are homonyms if they either sound the same (homophones), have the same spelling (homographs), or both, but do not have related meanings. In other words, if you hear (or read) two words that sound (or are written) the same but are not identical in meaning, you need to decide if it’s really two words (homonyms), or if it is one word used in two different ways (polysemy).












Polysemy & Homonymy afv.gr


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