Classification of Homonyms in English

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  • Topic: Homonym, Linguistics, Homograph
  • Pages : 12 (3168 words )
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  • Published : November 17, 2011
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1. Determination of Homonymy

2. Classification of Homonyms

A. The standard way of classification (given by I.V. Arnold)

a) Homonyms proper

b) Homophones

c) Homographs

B. Classification given by A.I. Smirnitsky

a) Full homonyms

b) Partial homonyms

C. Other aspects of classification

3. Sources of Homonymy

4. Problems of Homonymy

a) Distinguishing homonymy from polysemy

b) Different meanings of the same homonym in terms of distribution

c) Difference between patterned and non-patterned homonymy




Language processing considerations have often been used to explain aspects of language structure and evolution. According to Bates and MacWhinney, this view "is a kind of linguistic Darwinism, an argument that languages look the way they do for functional or adaptive reasons". However, as in adaptationist accounts of biological structures and evolution, this approach can lead to the creation of "just so" stories. In order to avoid these problems, case-by-case analyses must be replaced by statistical investigations of linguistic corpora. In addition, independent evidence for the relative "adaptiveness" of certain linguistic structures must be obtained. We will use this approach to study a linguistic phenomenon – homonymy. That seems to be maladaptive both intuitively and empirically and has been frequently subjected to informal adaptationist arguments. A statistical analysis of English homonyms then uncovered a reliable bias against the usage of homonyms from the same grammatical class. A subsequent experiment provided independent evidence that such homonyms are in fact more confusing than those from different grammatical classes. In a simple code each sign has only one meaning, and each meaning is associated with only one sign. This one-to-one relationship is not realized in natural languages. When several related meanings are associated with the same group of sounds within one part of speech, the word is called polysemantic, when two or more unrelated meanings are associated with the same form – the words are homonyms. The intense development of homonymy in the English language is obviously due not to one single factor but to several interrelated causes, such as the monosyllabic character of English and its analytic structure. The abundance of homonyms is also closely connected with such a characteristic feature of the English language as the phonetic identity of word and stem or, in other words, the predominance of free forms among the most frequent roots. It is quite obvious that if the frequency of words stands in some inverse relationship to their length, the monosyllabic words will be the most frequent. Moreover, as the most frequent words are also highly polysemantic, it is only natural that they develop meanings, which in the course of time may deviate very far from the central one. In general, homonymy is intentionally sought to provoke positive, negative or awkward connotations. Concerning the selection of initials, homonymy with shortened words serves the purpose of manipulation. The demotivated process of a shortened word hereby leads to re-motivation. The form is homonymously identical with an already lexicalized linguistic unit, which makes it easier to pronounce or recall, thus standing out from the majority of acronyms. This homonymous unit has a secondary semantic relation to the linguistic unit. Homonymy of names functions as personified metaphor with the result that the homonymous name leads to abstraction. The resultant new word coincides in its phonological realization with an existing word in English. However, there is no logical connection between the meaning of the acronym and the meaning of the already existing word, which explains a great part of the humor it produces. In the course of time the number of homonyms on the whole increases, although occasionally the...
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