Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

POLYSEMY [Stress: ‘po-ly-semy’], also multiple meaning. A term in LINGUISTICS for words or other items of language with two or more SENSES, such as walk in The child started to walk and They live at 23 Cheyne Walk. Such senses may be more or less distant from one another: walk (action), walk (street) are relatively close, but crane (bird), crane (machine) are much farther apart. It is generally agreed, however, that in each case only one word is being discussed, not two that happen to have the same form (to which the name HOMONYMY is given). There is an extensive grey area between the concepts of polysemy and homonymy. A word like walk is polysemous (went walking, went for a walk, walk the dog, Cheyne Walk), while a word like bank is homonymous between at least bank for money and bank of a river. Dictionaries usually put polysemous words with all their senses in one article and homonymous words in two or more articles, dividing each into senses and subsenses as appropriate. In doing this, lexicographers generally take the view that homonymy relates to different words whose forms have converged while polysemy relates to one word whose meanings have diverged or radiated. See JANUS WORD, RADIATION, SEMANTIC CHANGE.