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    Polysemy in Present day English. The semantic st..

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Polysemy - the ability of words to have more than one meaning. A word having several meanings is called polysemantic. Words having only one meaning are called monosemantic (terms, nouns, plurals). The greater the frequency of a word the more polysemantic is. The commoner the word the more meanings it has.

Each of the individual meanings may have its own types of meanings: connotational, part-of-speech, etc.

Diachronic Approach to Polysemy - growth and development in the semantic structure of the word. The word retains its previous meaning(s) and at the same time acquires (a) new one(s). Some of the old meanings may become obsolete or disappear.

ME a table (primary meaning) and OE tabule (a flat slab of stone or wood).

A table – 1)people seated at a table for a meal; 2)food provided at a table – secondary, derived meaning.

Primary meaning – the first meaning with which the word appeared in the language.

Secondary meaning – could appear only after the primary meaning.

Derived meaning – could not have appeared before primary meaning was in existence and is dependent on it.

Synchronic Approach to Polysemy - coexistence of various meanings at the same historical period of the development of the language.

A table - a piece of furniture – basic/central meaning.

A table - 1) people seated at a table for a meal; 2) food provided at a table – minor/marginal meanings.

Basic/ central meaning – the meaning that first occurs to us whenever we see or hear a word, occurs in different contexts, has the highest frequency.

Minor/ marginal meaning – less frequent, observed only in certain contexts.

Synchronic and Diachronic Approaches to Polysemy


Middle English – 1) the revolving motion of celestial bodies - primary meaning and central meaning 2) a complete overthrow of the established government – secondary and minor meaning.

Modern English – 1) a complete overthrow of the established government - secondary and central meaning.