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Theme- The semntic structure of polysemntic words Homonyms Synonymys ntonyms Pln- 1

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Lecture 10 (2 hours)

Theme: The semantic structure of polysemantic words

Homonyms, Synonymys, Antonyms


1. Definition of  polysemantic words

2. Definitions and classifications  of Homonyms, synonyms and antonyms

3. The origin of homonyms

Polysemy is characteristic of most words in many languages, however different they may be.

But it is more characteristic of the English vocabulary as compared with Russian due to the monosyllabic character of English and the predominations of root words. The greater the relaive frequency of the word the greater the number of variants that constitute its semantic structure, i.e. the more polysemantic it is. This regularity is of course a statistical not e rigid one.

In a simple code each sign has only one meaning, and each meaning is associated with only one sign. This one-to one relationship is not realized in natural languages. When several related meanings are associated with the same group of sounds within one part of speech, the word is called polysemantic, when two or more unrelated meanings are associated with the same form-the words are homonyms (разные по значению, но одинаковые по звучанию и написанию слова), when two or more different forms are associated with the same or nearly the same denotative meanings-the words are synonyms.

Let's concentrate on homonyms, i.e. words identical in sound and spelling but different in meaning, distribution and origin are called homonyms. The term is derived from Greek homonymous (homos 'the same' and onoma 'name') and thus expresses very well the sameness of name combined with the difference in meaning.

There is an obvious difference between the meanings of the symbol fast in such combinations as run 'quickly' and stand fast 'firmly'. The difference is even more pronounced if we observe cases where fast is a noun or a verb as in the following proverbs: A clean fast is better than a dirty breakfast; Who feasts till he is sick, must fast till he is well. Fast as an isolated word, therefore, may be regarded as a variable that can assume several different values depending on the conditions of usage, or, in other words, distribution. In speech, as a rule only one of all the possible values is determined by the context, so that no ambiguity (двусмысленность) may normally arise.  There is no danger, for instance, that the listener would wish to substitute the meaning 'quick' into the sentence: It is absurd to have hard and fast rules about anything (Wilde), or think that fast rules here are 'rules of diet'.  Combinations when two or more meanings are possible are either deliberate puns (преднамеренные каламбуры), or result from carelessness. Both meanings of liver, i.e. 'a living person' and 'the organ that secretes bile' (содержит желчь) are, for instance, intentionally present in the following play upon words: "Is life worth living?" "It depends upon the liver".

Classification of Homonyms. The most widely accepted classification is that recognizing homonyms proper, homophones and homographs.  Homonyms proper are words identical in pronunciation and spelling, like fast and liver above. Other examples are: back n 'part of the body' : back adv 'away from the front': back v 'go back';  ball n 'a round object used in games': ball n 'a gathering of people for dancing'. The important point is that homonyms are distinct words: not different meanings within one word.

Омонимия и полисемия

По отношению к словам, относящимся к одинаковым частям речи, в языкознании часто различают омонимию и полисемиюОмонимия — это случайное совпадение слов, в то время как полисемия — наличие у слова разных исторически связанных значений. Например, слова «бор» в значении «сосновый лес» и «бор» в значении «химический элемент» являются омонимами, так как первое слово — славянского происхождения, а второе возникло от персидского «бура» — названия одного из соединений бора. В то же время, например, слова «эфир» в смысле органического вещества и «эфир» в смысле «радиовещание и телевидение» лингвисты называют значениями одного слова, то есть полисемией, поскольку оба происходят от др.-греч. αἰθήρ — горный воздух.

Однако другая часть лингвистов проводит границу между полисемией и омонимией по-иному. А именно, если большинство людей видит в двух совпадающих словах общий оттенок смысла (как говорят лингвисты, «общий семантический элемент»), то это — полисемия, а если не видит, то это — омонимия, даже если слова имеют общее происхождение. Например, в словах «коса» (инструмент) и «коса» (причёска) замечаемым большинством людей общим семантическим элементом является «нечто длинное и тонкое».

Наконец, некоторые лингвисты считают омонимами все отдельные значения многозначных слов. В этом случае полисемия является частным случаем омонимии.

Совпадающие слова, относящиеся к разным частям речи, все или почти все российские лингвисты безусловно относят к омонимам. Примером таких омонимов являются «течь» (протекать) и «течь» (протекание).


  1.  Омонимы полные (абсолютные) — омонимы, у которых совпадает вся система форм. Например, наряд (одежда) — наряд (распоряжение)горн (кузнечный) — горн (духовой инструмент).
  2.  Омонимы частичные — омонимы, у которых совпадают не все формы. Например, ласка (животное) и ласка (проявление нежности) расходятся в форме родительного падежа множественного числа (ласок —ласк).
  3.  Омонимы грамматические, или омоформы — слова, совпадающие лишь в отдельных формах (той же части речи или разных частей речи). Например, числительное три и глагол три совпадают лишь в двух формах (к трём — мы трём, три яблока — три сильнее!).

Homophones are words of the same sound but of different spelling and meaning: air: heir; arms: alms (милостыня); knight: night; not: knot (узел) and many others.

In the sentence The play-wright on my right thinks it right that some conventional rite should symbolize the right of every man to write as he pleases the sound complex [r a i t] is a noun, an adjective, an adverb and a verb, has four different spellings and six different meanings. The difference may be confined to the use of a capital letter as in bill and Bill, in the following examole: "How much is my milk bill?" "Excuse me, Madam, but my name is John". On the other hand, whole sentence may be homophonic: The sons raise meat: The sun's rays meet. To understand these one needs a wider context. If you hear the second in the course of a lecture in optics, you will understand it without thinking of the possibility of the first.

Homographs are words different in sound and in meaning but accidentally identical in spelling: bow [b o u]: bow [b a u]; lead [l i: d]: lead [l e d] and many more.

The origin of homonyms

The intense development  of homonymy in the English language is obviously due not to one single factor but to several interrelated causes, such as the monosyllabic character of English and its analytical structure.

The abundance of homonyms is closely connected with such a characteristic feature of the English language as the phonetic identity of word and stem or, in other words, the predominance of free forms among the most frequent roots. It is quite obvious that if the frequency of words stands in some inverse relationship to their lenth, the monosyllabic words will be the most frequent. Moreover, as the most frequent words are also highly polysemnatic, it is only natural that they develop meanings which in the course of time may deviate very far from the central one. When the intermediate links fall out, some of these new meanings lose all connections with the rest of the structure and start a separate existence. The phenomenon is known as disintegration or split of polysemy.

Different causes by which homonymy may be brought about are subdivided into two main groups:

1. homonymy through convergent (сходящиеся) sound development, when two or three words of different origin accidentally coincide in sound; and

2. homonymy developed from polysemy through divergent sense development. Both may be combined with loss of endings and other morphological processes.

In Old English the words zesund 'healthy' and sund 'swimming' were separate words both in form and in meaning. In the course of time they have changed their meaning and phonetic form, and the latter accidentally coincided: OE sund-MOdE sound 'strait'-пролив; OE zesund - ModE sound 'healthy'. The group was joined also accidentakky by the noun sound 'what is or may be heard' with the corresponding verb that developed from French and ultimately from the Latin word sonus, and the verb sound 'to measure the depth' of dubious (сомнительный)  etimology.

Such homonyms may be partly derived from one another but their common point of origin lies beyond the limits of the English language.

Synonyms are words only similar but not identical in meaning. This definition is correct but vague. F.e horse and animal are also semantically similar but not synonymous.

Slay is the synonym to kill but it is elevated and more expressive involving cruelty and violence. The way synonyms function may be seen from the following example: Already in this half-hour of bombardment hundreds of men would have been violently slain, smashed, torn, gouged, crushed, multilated (Aldington).

The synonymous words smash and crush are semantically very close, they combine to give a forceful representation of the atrocities of war. Even this preliminary example makes it obvious that the still very common definitions of synonyms as words of the same language having the same meaning or as different words that stand for the same notion are by no means accurate and even in a way misleading. By the very nature of language every word has its own history, its own peculiar motivation, its own typical contexts. And besides there is always some hidden possibility of different connotation and feeling in each of them.

A more precise linguistic definition of synonym  should be based on a workable notion of the semantic structure of the word and of the complex nature of every separate meaning in a polysemantic word. Connotation are not necessarily present in every word. The basic of a synonymic opposition is formed by the first of the above named components, i.e. denotational component. It will be remembered that the term opposion means the relationship of partial defference between two partially similar elements of a language. A common denotational component forms the basis of the opposition in synonymic group. All the other components can vary and thus form the distinctive features of the synonymic oppositions.

Synonyms can therefore be defined in terms of linguistics as two or more words of the same language, belonging to the same part od speech and possessing one or more identical or nearly identical denotational meanings, interchangeable, at least in some contexts without any considerable alteration in denotational meaning, but differing in morphemic, phonetic shape, shades of meaning connotations, style, valency and idiomatic use.

The verb experience, undergo, sustain and suffer, for example, come together, because all four render the notion of experiencing smth. The verb and the noun experience indicate actual living through smth and coming to know it first-hand rather than from hearsay. Undergo applies chiefly to what smb or amth bears or is subjected to, as in to undergo an operation, to undergo changes.

Synonyms the, are interchangable under certain conditions, specific to each group. This seems to call forth an analogy with phonological neutralization. Now, it will be remembered that neutralization is the absence in some contexts of a phonetic contrast found elsewhere or formerly in the language. It appears we are justified in calling semantic neutralization the suspension of an otherwise functioning semantic opposition that occurs in some lexical contexts.

And yet suffer in this meaning ('to undergo'), but not in the example above, is characterized by connotations implying wrong or injury. No semantic neutralization occurs in phrases like suffer atrocities, suffer heavy losses. The implication is of course caused by the existence of the main intransitive meaning of the same word, not synonymous with the group, i.e. 'to feel pain'. Sustain as an element of this group differs from both in shade of meaning and style. It is an official word and it suggest undergoing affliction (бедствие) without giving way.

Synonyms may also differ in emotional colouring which may be present in one element of the group and absent in all or some of the others.

Antonyms may be defined as two or more words of the same language belonging to the same part of speech and to the same semantic field, identical in style and nearly identical in distribution meanings render contradictory or contrary notions.

Contradictory notions are mutually opposed and denying one another, e.g. alive means 'not dead' and impatient means 'not patient'. Contrary notions are also mutually opposed but they are gradable, e.g. old and young are the most distant elements of a series like: old: middle-aged: young, while hot and cold form a series with the intermediate cool and warm, which form a pair of antonyms themselves.

Another classification  of antonyms is based on a morphological approach: root words form absolute antonyms (right: wrong), the presence of negative affixes creates derivatinal antonyms (happy: unhappy).

Antonyms have traditionally been defined as words of opposite meaning.

Unlike synonyms, antonyms do not differ in style, emotional colouring or distribution. They are interchangeable at least in some contexts.

Antonyms form mostly pairs, not groups like synonyms: above: below; absent: present; alike: different etc.

The methodological significance of the antonymic, synonymic, conversive and other semantic relations between lexical items becomes clear if we remember that the place that each unit occupies in the lexical system and its function is derived from the relations it contracts with other units.

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