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Polysemy (Greek polys - many and sema - meaning), is a plurality of meaning. It is a semantic universal characteristic of most words in many languages but it is more characteristic of the English vocabulary due to the monosyllabic character of English words and the predominance of root words. The greater the relative frequency of the word, the more polysemic it is.
The way in which a simple set of words may be made to express a complex variety of meaning is illustrated by the use made of names denoting parts of human body.
The word foot, for instance, is applied as name for the lowest part of a bed, of a dam, of a mountain, of a stocking, of a monument, of a page, of a wall, of a ladder, of a sail, etc. It is the name of a unit of measure equal to 12 inches; it also means the basic unit of verse meter.
Different meanings of a word are referred to as lexico-grammatical variants of the word. They may be defined as variants characterized by paradigmatic and syntaginatic peculiarities, different valency, different syntactical functions; very often they belong to different lexico-grammatical groups oft he same part of speech.
e.g. nth qc:ic;Jy (intransitive verb)
run a factory (iranaitiye verb) ,
All the lexieo-gramrnatical variants of the word taken together form its semantic structure or semantic paradigm. Thus, in the semantic structure of (.lib word *youth' three lexico-gramrnatical variants can be distinguished:
- the slate of being young - an abstract uncountable noun replaced by the pronoun 'it';
- a young man - a countable personal noun, having the plural form 'youths', that can be substituted by the pronoun 'he' in the singular and the pronoun 'they' in the plural;
- young meii and women - a collective noun, having only one form, that of the singular, substituted by the pronoun ‘they.'
The main source of the development of regular polysemy is I metaphoric and metonymic transference of meaning, which is commonplace and appears to be fundamental in living languages.
e.g. table - a piece of furniture; table - the food put on the table (metonymy)
deep well-deep knowledge (metaphor) "
Degradation and elevation of meaning play a certain role in making words polysemantic.
Word 'stoty'. Tor example, got additional meaning due to the degradation of meaning when the word became more negative than positive in its uses.
e.g. Don't tell me stories, (lies)
The opposite process - the elevation of meaning - may lead to polysemy as well.
The adjective 'noble' meaning 'of high, aristocratic origin' has acquired the meaning 'lofty, generous, magnanimous.'
The meaning is direct(or primary)when it nominates the referent without the help of the context, i.e. in isolation. The meaning is figurative(or secondary]when the object is named and at the same time characterized through its similarity with another object.
Polysemy is a phenomenon of language, not of speech. Polysemy does not interfere with the communicative function of the language because the situation and context cancel all the unwanted meanings.
In polysemy the secondary, derived meaning is connected with the primary meaning. There are two types of connection: radiationand concatenation.
Radiation is a semantic process in which the primary meaning stands at the centre and the secondary meanings proceed out of it in every direction like rays. In radiation all the secondary meanings are connected with the primary one.
The word power may serve as a highly illustrative example of radiation. It may. signify:
1 capacity of producing some effect: the power of gravity, the power of heat, the. power of water, it's beyond my power
2 control, authority: the power of the government, the power of the weak over the strong, the power of the law
3 physical strength; the power of muscles, his powers are failing
4 moral or intellectual force, vigour, energy: the power of spirit over the. fiesh
5 mechanical energy: steam power, kinetic power, water power
6 a person or institution of influence: e.g. The. press is a great power.
7 one of the great nations of the world: great power, sea power
Resides the above-mentioned meanings the word power has several technical meanings, but in all of them the primary meaning of power - 'the state of being able to do something, force, strength' is still present.
There is, however, anotherway in which word meanings develop -in such a way that each successive shift of meaning is connected with the" preceding one, riot with the primary meaning. This process is called concatepation (from Latin caiena -chain).
The Wold board is an illustrative example of this process. Ft may signify:
1 a piece of timber sawn thin: boards of the fence, hoards of the floor
2 en extended surface of wood: blackboard, notice board, springboard,, surfboard
3 a surface not necessarily of wood' cardboard, pasteboard
4 any niece of furniture resembling a table: dressing-board, side-hoard, iron board
5 the border or side of anything: the board of a ship
6 food served at table: free board, board and lodging
7 the committee that meets at the table: Board of Trade. Board of Directors, hoard of examiners, school board
8 an examination given by an examining board (often used in plural): pass the medical boards
In concatenation the meaning of a word may move gradually away from its primary meaning by successive shifts of meaning, until, in many cases, there is not a shadow of connection between the sense that is finally developed and the primary meaning. In this case we speak about the split or disintegration of polysemy. The split of polysemy results in homonyms.