Polysemy Versus Homonymy
- Salvador ValeraSalvador ValeraDepartment of English and German Philology, University of Granada
Polysemy and homonymy are traditionally described in the context of paradigmatic lexical relations. Unlike monosemy, in which one meaning is associated with one form, and unlike synonymy, in which one meaning is associated with several forms, in polysemy and homonymy several meanings are associated with one form.
The classical view of polysemy and homonymy is as a binary opposition whereby the various meanings of one form are described either as within one word (polysemy) or as within as many words as meanings (homonymy). In this approach, the decision is made according to whether the meanings can be related to one or two different sources. This classical view does not prevail in the literature as it did in the past. The most extreme revisions have questioned the descriptive synchronic difference between polysemy and homonymy or have subsumed the separation as under a general use of one term (homophony) and then established distinctions within, according to meaning and distribution. A more widespread reinterpretation of the classical opposition is in terms of a gradient where polysemy and homonymy arrange themselves along a continuum. Such a gradient arranges formally identical units at different points according to their degree of semantic proximity and degree of entrenchment (the latter understood as the degree to which a form recalls a semantic content and is activated in a speaker’s mind). The granularity of this type of gradient varies according to specific proposals, but, in the essential, the representation ranges from most and clearest proximity as well as highest degree of entrenchment in polysemy to least and most obscure proximity and lowest degree of entrenchment in homonymy.