Lexical ambiguity: Polysemy and homonymy

Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 789.

In contrast to the notion of sense relations, polysemy and homonymy refer to similarities rather than differences between meanings. A word is polysemous when it has more than one meaning (e.g. plain). Words that have the same written or spoken form but different meanings are called homonyms (e.g. bank). Homophones have the same pronunciation but different meanings (e.g. plain - plane), whereas words that are spelled the same but have different meanings are referred to as homographs (e.g. dove). Very often, the distinction between polysemy and homonymy cannot be drawn precisely. A criterion for distinguishing polysemous and homonymic expressions is a historical or conceptual relationship between the words: Words that have the same historical origin or are related conceptually are said to be polysemous.

Exercises on polysemy and homonymy

Homophones: flower vs. flour

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