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Биология Polysemy and homonymy.
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Origin of homonyms.

1) Diverging meaning of polysemantic word: flower – flour;

2) Convergent sound development of 2 or more words: OE lufu (n) lufian (v) – MnE love (n/v);

3) Split of polysemy.Historical homonyms result from breaking up of the polysemy (one polysemantic word splits into 2 or more separate words): to bear – a) to sustain; b) to give birth; plant – растение/завод; pupil – зеница/школьник;

4) Borrowings.Etymological homonyms – words of different origin which have come to be alike in sound form or spelling. Borrowed and native words can coincide in their forms thus producing homonyms.

E. g. VICE: 1) vitim (Lat.) – wrong, immoral habit; 2) vitis (Lat.) – тиски; 3) vice (Lat.) – “instead of”: the vice-president.

One of the most debatable problems in semasiology is the demarcation line between homonymy and polysemy, i.e. between different meanings of one word and the meanings of two homonymous words. Synchronically the differentiation between homonymy and polysemy is a rule wholly based on the semantic criterion; it is usually held that, if a connection of the various meanings is apprehended by the speaker, these are to be considered as making up the semantic structure of a polysemantic word, otherwise it is a case of homonymy, not polysemy. Thus the semantic criterion implies that the difference between polysemy and homonymy is actually reduced to the differentiation between related and unrelated meanings.

The formal criteria: distribution and spelling. The criterion of distribution suggested by some linguists is undoubtedly helpful, but mainly in cases of lexico-grammatical and grammatical homonymy. For example, in the homonymic pair paper « — (to) paperv the noun may be preceded by the article and followed by a verb; (to) papercan never be found in identical distribution. This formal criterion can be used to discriminate not only lexico-grammatical but also grammatical homonyms, but it often fails in cases of lexical homonymy, not differentiated by means of spelling.

Homonyms differing in graphic form, e.g. such lexical homonyms as knight — nightor flower — flour,are easily perceived to be two different lexical units as any formal difference of words is felt as indicative of the existence of two separate lexical units. Conversely lexical homonyms identical both in pronunciation and spelling are often apprehended as different meanings of one word.

We have to admit that no formal means have yet been found to differentiate between several meanings of one word and the meanings of its homonyms.


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