Автор: Муминов Аман Муминович

Рубрика: 5. Общее и прикладное языкознание

Опубликовано в

I международная научная конференция «Филология и лингвистика в современном мире» (Москва, июнь 2017)

Дата публикации: 01.05.2017

Статья просмотрена: 8 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Муминов А. М. A new approach to distinction between polysemy and homonymy [Текст] // Филология и лингвистика в современном мире: материалы I Междунар. науч. конф. (г. Москва, июнь 2017 г.). — М.: Буки-Веди, 2017. — С. 40-41.

The present article is devoted to the study of distinction between polysemy and homonymy. Comparing points of views for the difference between polysemy and homonymy the author concluded that this problem has not solved yet. The investigation showed that the semantic definition of words may be in most cases the criterion for the distinction between polysemy and homonymy. Another criterion for the border-line of polysemy and homonymy may be the substitution of different meanings of words by the synonyms.

Key words: demarcation, criteria, approach, synchronic, semantic definition, meaning, semantic component, substitute, compiling dictionaries, polysemy, homonymy

The problem of distinction between polysemy and homonymy is a subject of discussion among the linguists (V. Abayev, G. Y. Knyazeva, A. Y. Shaykevich, G. Torjinskaya, M. A. Kashcheyeva [1–7] and others). The settlement of this problem is very crucial for compiling dictionaries.

V. Abayev [1.] gave etymological criterion for the difference of homonymy and polysemy. He says homonyms are words, which have different sources and coincide phonetically. For example: race1 (O. N. ras), race.2 (F. race).

M. A. Kashcheyeva [2.] argues that «... the trouble of today is, however, that lexical homonyms often enough come together with polysemy. There is no hard and fast line of demarcation between the meanings of a polysemantic word and lexical homonymy. For instance, there is hardly any semantic connection in Modern English between nail1коготь and nail2 — гвоздь. Notwithstanding the fact is that both of them may be traced back to different meanings of one and the same word».

Polysemy and homonymy are semantic phenomena that can be met in our everyday language. Working out the distinction between polysemy and homonymy linguists usually write that polysemantic words possess two or more related meanings but homonyms possess two or more unrelated meanings.

Dictionaries’ definition of these phenomena is based on two criteria: first, the word’s etymology, second, the word’s core or basic meaning. One single entry is given for the meanings of polysemantic words in a dictionary as the compilers believe that these meanings have originated from the same historical source and connected with the core meaning, i. e. they share one semantic component. But each homonym receives a separate entry in a dictionary and they have arisen from different historical sources and do not possess a shared core meaning.

This article argues for various weaknesses in this approach. We think that the historical origin of a word cannot always be criterion for distinction between polysemy and homonymy. It is also unclear how far back in history one must go in order to define the correct origin of the word. Besides, most of us know, language learners don’t always have access to etymological information.

Thus, the theories and research aimed at distinguishing between polysemy and homonymy are conflicting. The approach used by dictionaries for the distinction between polysemy and homonymy is also debatable.

Spelling of words can’t be also enough as a criterion for the distinction between polysemy and homonymy because, for example, «here» and «hear» come from different roots, and «run» as in «I want to run away» and «run» as in «he runs the company now» come from the same root.

So, spelling is also cannot be a border-line for synchronic difference between homonymy and polysemy.

Our investigation showed that the semantic definition of words may be in most cases the criterion for the distinction between polysemy and homonymy. The analysis of the definitions of words supports our point of view. For example:

  1. Table:

1) table1 — piece of furniture consisting of a flat top with (usu. four) supports (called legs);

2) table2 — (sing, only) people seated at a table;

3) table3 — (sing, only) food provided at a table;

4) table4 — list of orderly arrangement of facts, information, etc. (use in columns).

We'll explain the second and the third meanings of the word «table» by substituting them with the help of the definition of the first meaning:

1) table2 — people seated at a piece of furniture;

2) table3 — food served at a piece of furniture. So these two meanings of the word «table» are the meanings of one word «table» because they can be substituted by the first meaning. The fourth meaning «таблица» can't be substituted by the first meaning (list — number of names, persons, words written or printed) This gives us the right that the fourth meaning of the word «table» is the homonym to the previous three meanings.

Another example:

  1. Beam:

1) beam1 — long horizontal piece of squared timber or of steel supported at both ends, used to carry the weight of a building etc.;

2) beam2 — horizontal cross timber in a ship, joining the sides and supporting the desk (s), the greatest width of a ship;

3) beam3 — crosspiece of a balance, from which the scales hang;

4) beam4 — ray or stream of light.

The first, second and third meanings of the word «beam» are defined by the common semantic component and may be defined with the words «horizontal and «timber» and they are transformed by the first meaning of the word. But the fourth meaning of this word has no common semantic component with the first, second and third meanings (stream — steady flow (of light): light — that which makes thing visible). So, the fourth meaning is a homonym to previous meanings.

We would like to point out another criterion for the border-line of polysemy and homonymy. We think the substitution of different meanings of words by the synonyms may also help to differ homonyms from polysemantic words.

For example:

1) voice1 — sounds uttered in speaking (sound);

2) voice2 — mode of uttering sounds in speaking (sound); voice3-the vibration of the vocal cords in sounds uttered («sound»);

3) voice4 — the form of the verb that express the relation of the subject to the action.

We consider that voice1 — voice2 — voice3 are not homonyms although they have different meanings because they can be substituted by the synonym «sound» as far as voice4 is concerned, it is a homonym because it cannot be substituted by the word «sound»

In summary it is necessary to point out that more detail study of the border-line of polysemy and homonymy helps to improve compiling dictionaries and quality of learning foreign languages.


  1. В. И. Абаев О подаче омонимов в словаре. Вопросы языкознания, 1957. — № 3. — С. 31–4.
  2. M. A. Kashcheyeva, I. A. Potapova, N. S Tyurina Practical English Lexicology. – Prosveaschenu, 1977.
  3. Князева Г. Ю. Источники омонимии в английском языке Текст. / Г. Ю. Князева // Ученые записки 1 МГПИИЯ. М., 1959. — Т. 29. — С. 283–298.
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  5. Т. И. Красикова Развитие омонимии в среднеанглийский период // Вестник Московского государственного областного университета. Серия: Лингвистика. 2010. № 1. с. 62–64.
  6. Г. Ф. Торжинская. Пути развития генетически не связанной омонимии в английском языке XVIII-XX вв. [Текст]: Автореферат дис. на соискание ученой степени кандидата филологических наук. (02.04) / Моск. гос. пед. ин-т иностр. яз. им. Мориса Тореза. — Москва: 1972. — 20 с.
  7. А. Я. Шайкевич Дистрибутивно-статистический анализ текстов: Автореф. Дис. д-ра филол. наук. Л., 1982.
Основные термины (генерируются автоматически): polysemy, meanings, semantic component, different meanings, M. A. Kashcheyeva, homonymy, common semantic component, semantic definition, words, word «table», polysemantic words, distinction, core meaning, unrelated meanings, criterion, A. Y. Shaykevich, G. Y. Knyazeva, V. Abayev, different historical sources, previous meanings.


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