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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
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For Ellison and Hawkes then, Soja and Massey present complementary ideas that conceptualise 'space' in terms of both temporal and historic encounter and experience and as that which exists alongside and through the polysemic meaning-making inherent in the landscape.
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Ambiguous or polysemic since clauses have more than one meaning and the conditions for this ambiguity are to be found both at the syntactic and at the semantic level.
Thus, linguistic units such as affixes create polysemic categories based on family resemblance relationships.
This highlights the polysemic, ambiguous, multivalent nature of art.
In any case, Atkinson might have been minded to dispense with the concept of 'text entirely as a less tangible, less theoretically fraught term might be appropriate - as evinced in Text: The Genealogy qf an Anticlisciplinary Object (1992), in which John Mowitt effectively argues for a more multi-layered, polysemic approach to non-literary works such as film.
The utterance depicts an interesting polysemic speech unit, which may represent any question, depending on the situation and the conversation topic.
Postmodern theory is polysemic and draws on different aspects of knowledge according to the perceptions and episteme of the researchers and participants (Taylor, 2005).