Polysemy is the ability of a word to have different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used . Polysemy occurs in most words.
Polysemous words or polysemous words are, therefore, words that have more than one meaning.
examples of polysemy
Wing : forelimb of birds and support for holding an object
(with common origin in the Latin word ansa,ae )
Astro : Celestial body and famous person
(with common origin in the Greek word ástron )
Bala : firearm projectile and sugar treat
(with common origin in the French word balle )
Head : part of the human body and leader of the group
(with common origin in the Latin word capitia )
Column : backbone and supporting pillar
(with common origin in the Latin word columna )
Dama : lady of nobility and game piece
(with common origin in the French word dame )
Cat : mammalian animal and attractive person
(with common origin in the Latin word cattus )
To depart : to break and go away
(with common origin in the Latin word partere )
Polysemy occurs due to several reasons, the main ones being:
- The use of figurative language, with metaphors and metonyms;
- The translation of specific language into current language;
- The influence of foreign words and neologisms.
Polysemy is related to semantics, the part of grammar that studies the meaning of words and the interpretation of that meaning.
Polysemy and monosemy
Polysemy and monosemy are opposite concepts.
Examples of monosemous words :
- stethoscope (medical instrument);
- enneagon (polygon with nine angles);
- volcanologist (expert in volcanology).
Monosemous words exist in a smaller number and are usually very specific, referring to very particular aspects of reality, such as technical words.
Polysemy and homonymy
The difference between polysemy and homonymy is difficult to define and has been the subject of many studies, with no consensus among linguists.
The classic differentiation is that polysemy refers to a single word with several meanings, possibly relating to each other, and that homonymy refers to two different words, with different and independent origins and meanings, but which have the same spelling and pronunciation.
Making this distinction in practice is not easy. Although it raises many questions and discussions among language scholars, for the speaker it is only important to understand that a word can have different meanings and that different words, with different meanings, can have the same form.
Examples of homonymy
Good dictionaries present cases of polysemy in the same entry and cases of homonymy in different entries.