Semiotics 1980 pp 255-266 | Cite as

A Semiotic Account of Polysemy and Homonymy

  • Alexandre Kimenyi


It has always been a problem in linguistic theory to decide when two or more similar signs are polysemous or homonymous. A red flag, for instance; can mean danger or nonsale of gasoline. A ring can signify wedding, engagement, graduation, reward, etc. In these cases is it the same sign that stands for several things “polysemy”, or is it just an accident that signs which stand for these things happen to look like “homonymy”? In the English dictionary, there is one lexical entry, bachelor with four different meanings: (1) unmarried person, (2) somebody with a college degree, (3) young knight serving another knight, (4) young fur seal without a mate during the breeding time. But there are two lexical entries, bank l and bank 2: meaning bank of the river, and where the money is deposited, respectively. This paper shows that within a semiotic theory as outlined by Peirce the problem doesn’t arise, because the theory offers devices that can help the lexicographer to tell when the linguistic sign would be listed in the dictionary as polysemous or homonymous. Before this approach is outlined, we shall first discuss problems that are related to the polysemy/homonymy issue.


Native Speaker Semantic Feature Lexical Item Lexical Entry Semiotic System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandre Kimenyi
    • 1
  1. 1.French & Italian DepartmentCalifornia State University, SacramentoSacramentoUSA

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