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the existence of more than one meaning for a given word, that is, the capability of a word to convey different information about objects and phenomena of extralinguistic reality. For example, the Russian word gorlo has four meanings: “throat” (the front part of the neck), “gullet” (the cavity behind the mouth), “neck” (the narrowed upper part of a bottle), and “estuary” (a narrow water passage). In many languages, including Russian, there are more polysemous words than words with one meaning. It is customary to differentiate polysemy from homonymy, since the meanings of a polysemous word are associated with common semantic elements (semantic attributes) and form a certain semantic unity (the semantic structure of the word).

In polysemy, a distinction is made between primary and secondary (derived) meanings; these meanings are sometimes referred to as literal and figurative, respectively. Primary meanings, as a rule, are least affected by context. With time, the relationship between the primary and secondary meanings may change. Different types of polysemy exist for different types of words; for example, there is relatively regular and irregular polysemy. Russian words designating populated areas, such as a city, village, or settlement, can also mean “the inhabitants of a populated area,” that is, they follow a definite [regular] semantic formula; secondary [figurative] meanings, for example, the application of names of animals (lion, fox) to people, are individual [irregular]. The unique combination of meanings designated by a single word is to a large extent what determines the uniqueness of the word stock of a given language. The grammatical forms of a word and syntactic constructions may also be polysemous.


Vinogradov, V. V. “Osnovnye tipy leksicheskikh znachenii slova.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1953, no. 5.
Akhmanova, O. S. Ocherki po obshchei i russkoi leksikologii. Moscow, 1957.
Kurylowycz, J. “Zametki o znachenii slova.” In Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from Polish, English, French, and German.)
Ullmann, S. The Principles of Semantics, 2nd ed. Glasgow, 1959.




an important concept in logic, logical semantics, semiotics, and linguistics. Polysemy was originally a linguistic concept, but it is natural that the concept should have found application in all the above-mentioned fields. Polysemy is the existence of different senses and/or meanings for a single word, expression, or phrase; the term also denotes the existence of different interpretations for a single sign or combination of signs. The term is usually applied when the different senses, meanings, or interpretations are to some extent interrelated.