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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
While his aim is to introduce dozens of medieval thinkers to twentieth-century scholars, he dedicates the first volume of his three-volume opus to "the four senses of Scripture." He states that for many centuries, Christian scholars took it for granted that passages of Scripture contained multiple meanings, and their polysemous depth can never be fully probed because a new interpretation of one passage reflects on other passages, thus demonstrating that language is a bottomless well in which divinity deposited its wisdom for those who are able to draw from it.
While it is important not to read too much into visual signs or theatric props (63)--especially due to the fact that symbolic meaning is negotiated, contested, and polysemous in its reception--one cannot overstate the presence of iconic Bibles in this body of films.
It is worth repeating that this chemistry is bisexual and polysemous, revealing the fissures inherent in friendship, brotherhood, the hegemonic dominance of patriarchal heterosexuality, as well as being interpretable as precisely that, which may account for the film's wide appeal among audiences, who can respond to the film in either fashion.
There are a number of polysemous verbs that fall into more than one category.
It is worth pointing out that ma is a polysemous concept.
shift creates a new meaning that is closely related, or polysemous to
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The poem's ending--Odpowiednie dac rzeczy--slowo!--is ambiguous and polysemous. It may appear that it "only" charges artists with the task of precision in naming or identifying the nature of things.
A contronym or autantonym is a polysemous word where one of the meanings is the antonym of another--that is, a word which is its own opposite [10].
He also uses typographical innovations for polysemous effect.
Opening up biopolitics to the polysemous nuances of animacy, a term Chen draws from her linguistic training to encompass the vicissitudes of liveness and agency, allows for the clear thematic organization of her book despite what may seem a daunting task in terms of the scope of her many interventions and interlocutors.