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Гос филология / Гос филология / 6. The problem of homonymy and polysemy

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a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings (in other words, are both homographs and homophones),,

The traditional classification of Homonyms recognises.

  • Perfect Homonyms – words identical both in sound form & spelling but different in meaning.

E.g. 1. ruff – ёрш, ruff - рюшь. 2. pike-щука, pike- пика, копье.

  • Homophones – words identical in sound but different in spelling/meaning.

e.g. blue – blew

night – knight

  • Homographs – words identical in spelling but different in sound/meaning.

e.g. tear [tıe] – tear [tεe]

minute [minit] – [mainjut]

lead [li:d] – [led]

There are other ways of classifying Homonyms. All the cases of Homonyms may be

divided into 2 classes: full, Homonymy or the Homonymy of words having identical paradigmes & partial Homonymy or the Homonymy of word-forms.

e.g. light(легкий) – light(светлый) → full Homonyms

found(to find) – found(основывать) → partial Homonyms

According to Prof. Smirnitsky’s classification all Homonys may be divided into:

  • Lexical which differ only in lexical meaning: seal – тюлень, seal – печать;

  • Lexico-grammatical which differ in lexical & grammatical meaning: e.g. blue – blew;

  • Grammatical – differ only in gram. Meaning:

e.g. word forms of one & the same word & are studied in Grammar. Ask-asked-asked.

Homonyms belonging to one & the same part of speech are called simple. Complex homonyms are those belonging to different parts of speech.

4) The problem of Homonymy & Polysemy

One of the most debatable problems in semasiology is the problem between Polysemy & Homonymy, i.e. between different meanings of a polysemantic word & the meanings of two or more different homonymous words. To solve a problem a number of criteria may be applied: etymological (1) & semantic criteria (2) & formal criteria of distribution (3), spelling (4) & pronunciation (5).

(1). if we apply the Etymological criterion, then all cases of sound convergence of 2 or more words may be simply regarded as cases of Homonymy.

2. OE sund > sound¹ (straight);

OE gesund > sound² (healthy);

Latin sonus > Fr> E sound³ (smth you can hear).

(2) Syncronically Homonyms differ in graphic form – spelling (homophones) e.g. flour – flower; night – knight or differ in sound form homographs, the criterion of spelling may be applied to homophones & the phonetic criterion to homographs.

(3) The semantic criterion. It implies that the difference between Polysemy & Homonymy is actually reduced to differentiation between related & unrelated meanings. If two or more vocabulary items identical in forms, i.e. if they have some common semantic components – related meanings they’re treated as 2 or more lexico-semantic variants of a polysemantic word. If two or more vocabulary items identical in form have unrelated meanings, have no common semantic components, they are treated as homonyms: e.g. board(доска, питание, комитет).

(4) Here we can use the Distribution Criterion. It’s undoubtedly helpful but mainly in cases of lexico-grammatical & grammatical Homonymy.

E.g. 1. the rose is beautiful (N + Vlink + Adj.)

2. He rose to his feet. (Pr.+ Verb+ Prep.+Noun).

But it fails in cases of Lexical Homonymy, i.e. perfect homonyms are different in meaning. E.g. it’s a warm spring (весна); it’s a warm spring (ручей).

There are cases of Lexical Homonymy when none of the criteria is of any avail. In such case the demorcation line between Polysemy & Homonymy is rather fluid. Sometimes only the combination of several criteria may solve the problem. Besides, linguists try to develop new, more efficient criteria & methods of differantiation homonyms = Coordinative Method.

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