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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



identically sounding language units that, unlike polysemous units, lack common semantic elements.

Derivational and syntactic markers are not decisive objective criteria for distinguishing homonymy from polysemy. Lexical homonyms may arise as a result of the identical pronunciation of words of different origin (for example, Russian rys’, “trot,” and rys’, “lynx”) or as a result of a complete divergence in the meanings of a polysemous word (for example, Russian mir, “world,” and mir, “peace”). They may also be the result of parallel word formation from the same stem (for example, Russian troika, “troika,” and troika, “C” [a grade in school]).

The interpretation of a homonym, like the meanings of polysemous words, is determined by context. However, the absence of common semantic elements in homonyms makes it impossible to combine their meanings, with the exception of unintentional or deliberate ambiguity. The existence of borderline cases makes it difficult to determine whether a word is polysemous or whether it is a homonym. Some linguists restrict the concept of homonymy to only the first of the above types and relegate the concept of homonymy to the history of a language. Some linguists consider all the separate meanings of polysemous words to be homonyms. The distinction between homonymy and polysemy is highly important in lexicography.


Smirnitskii, A. I. “K voprosu o slove: Problema ‘tozhdestva slova’.” Trudy instituta iazykoznaniia, vol. 4. Moscow, 1954.
Akhmanova, O. S. Ocherki po obshchei i russkoi leksikologii. Moscow, 1957.
Kurylowicz, J. “Zametki o znachenii slova.” Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962.
Shmelev, D. N. Problemy semanticheskogo analiza leksiki. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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