Semantic Feature in the English Language Homonyms Research Paper

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Semantic Feature in the English Language: Homonyms

The objective of this study is to examine homonyms in the English language and their specific features. Homonyms are words that are identical in sound but which can be differentiated in them meaning. Modern English is reported to be significantly rich in words and word forms that are homonymous. It has been reported, "Languages where short words abound have more homonyms than those where longer words are prevalent. Therefore it is sometimes suggested that abundance of homonyms in Modern English is to be accounted for by the monosyllabic structure of the commonly used English words." (Ibragimov, 2009, p.1) Words as well as other linguistic units may be homonymous. Ibragimov reports the argument that homographs represent a phenomenon that should be separated from homonymy in sound language linguistics however, this is not possible to accept since the educational and cultural written English effects result in a national form of expression based in generalizations and furthermore that the everyday speaker of English does not functionally categorize written and oral forms of English. In fact, just the opposite occurs because to analyze from the view of phonemes would be foreign in nature meaning it is necessary that the linguist considers pronunciation and spelling of words in the analysis of identity of form and diversity of content. Cabanillas (1999) states in the work entitled "The Conflict of Homonyms: Does It Exist?" that it has long been questioned whether "the conflict of homonyms can be considered the cause of different linguistic phenomena." (p.107) The semantic ambiguity of lexical forms is reported in the work of Brown (2008) entitled "Polysemy in the Mental Lexicon to be "pervasive" in nature since a great many "if not most, words have multiple meanings." (Brown, 2008, p.1)

I. Homonyms

It is reported "When analyzing different cases of homonymy we find that some words are homonymous in all their forms, i.e. homonymy of the paradigms of two or more different words as, e.g., in seal! -- 'a sea animal' and seal2 -- 'a design printed on paper by means of a stamp'. The paradigm "seal, seal's, seals, seals'" is identical for both of them and gives no indication of whether it is sea or seal that we are analyzing. In other cases, e.g. seal -- 'a sea animal' and (to) seal -- 'to close tightly', we see that although some individual word-forms are homonymous, the whole of the paradigm is not identical." (Ibragimov, 2006, p.1) The following paradigms are considered in Ibragimov's (2006) study:

Figure 1 -- Paradigms of Homonyms



seal seal seal's seals sealed seals' sealing, etc.

Source: Ibragimov (2006)

Ibragimov (2006) reports that it is easy to observe that

"only some of the word forms (e.g. seal, seals, etc.) are homonymous, whereas others (e.g. sealed, sealing) are not. In such cases, we cannot speak of homonymous words but only of homonymy of individual word-forms or of partial homonymy. This is true of a number of other cases, e.g. compare find [famdj, found [faund], found [faund] and found [faundj, founded ['faundidj, founded [faundid]; know [nou], knows Jnouz], knew [nju:], and no [nou]; nose [nouz], noses [nouzizj; new [nju:J in which partial homonymy is observed. Consequently all cases of homonymy may be classified into full and partial homonymy, homonymy of words and homonymy of individual word-forms." (p.1)

II. Reasons for Studying Homonyms

There is good reason to undertake the study of homonyms because this area of inquiry is one of the lexicology branches undergoing significant development in contemporary times and homonyms serve to provide a reflection in language simplification trending. Modern information technology is rife with homonyms as are other fields of study and application therefore examination of what differentiates homonymsin use of polysemantic words is little understood.

III. Homonyms Classification

Modern English is such that has a vocabulary that is very extensive in that the number of words cited in the dictionary data is approximately 400,000. The question is posed by Ibragimov as to whether "this enormous word-stock is composed of separate independent lexical units, or may it perhaps be regarded as a certain structured system made up of numerous interdependent and interrelated sub-systems or groups of words. This problem may be viewed in terms of the possible ways of classifying vocabulary items. Words can be classified in various ways." (Ibragimov, 2006, p.1)

Attempts to examine the inner structure of the vocabulary results in the knowledge that despite "its heterogeneity the English word stock may be analyzed into numerous sub-systems the members of which have some features in common, thus distinguishing them from the members of other lexical sub-systems. Classification into monosynaptic and polysemantic words is based on the number of meanings the word possesses. More detailed semantic classifications are generally based on the semantic similarity (or polarity) of words or their component morphemes." ((Ibragimov, 2006, p.1)

In analyzing the semantic similarity of morphemes it is discovered that lexical groups comprised by words with root-morphemes that area semantically and phonemically identical are generally described as "word families or word clusters." ((Ibragimov, 2006, p.1) It is reported that the term is such that makes implications of links between members of the group and for example: "lead, leader, leadership; dark, darken, darkness; form, formal, formality…" (Ibragimov, 2006, p.1) It is reported that members of a word family "as a rule belong to different parts of speech and are joined together only by the identity of root-morphemes." ((Ibragimov, 2006, p.1)

III. Classification of Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

The classification of homonyms is that homonyms are "words identical in pronunciation and spelling" whereas Homophones are words "of the same sound but of different spelling and measuring." (Ibragimov, 2006, p.1) An example of the Homophone is illustrated as follows:

"The millwright on my right thinks it right that some conventional rite should symbolize the right of every man to write as he pleases." The sound complex [rait] is noun, adjective, adverb, and verb, has four different spellings and six different meanings." ((Ibragimov, 2006, p.1) The difference is such that may be "confined to the use of a capital letter (bill and Bill) in the example stated as follows in the work of Ibragimov (2006)

IV. Homographs

Homographs are words, which sound different, have different meanings, but are spelled identically. Some examples are the following words:

Bow (bou)

Bow (bau)

Row (rouj)

Row (rau) (Ibragimov, 2006, p.1)

Stated specifically in Ibragimov's work is the following about homographs and homonymy:

"It has been often argued that homographs constitute a phenomenon that should be kept apart from homonymy as the object of linguistics is sound language. This viewpoint cans hardly be accepted. Because of the effects of education and culture, written English is a generalized national form of expression. An average speaker does not separate the written and oral form. On the contrary, he is more likely to analyze the words in Terries of letters than in terms of phonemes with which he is less familiar. That is why a linguist must take into consideration both the spelling and the pronunciation of words when analyzing cases of identity of form and diversity of content." ((Ibragimov, 2006, p.1)

V. Research Findings

Ibragimov cites the work of Smirnitsky (1977) in the work entitled "A.I. Homonyms in English" as a source validating this belief in academic research of earlier years. Titone (1998) in the work entitled "Hemispheric Differences in Context Sensitivity During Lexical Ambiguity Resolution" reports three experiments which sought to examine the "influence on contextual constraint on lexical ambiguity resolution in the cerebral hemispheres." (2006, p.1)

Titone reports a "cross-modal priming variant of the divided visual field task was utilized in which subjects heard sentences containing homonyms and made lexical decisions to targets semantically related to dominant and subordinate meanings." (p.1) Findings in the experiment conducted state that "…priming in both hemispheres of dominant meanings for homonyms embedded in neutral sentence contexts." Experiments 2 and 3 respectively are reported to have shown "priming in both hemispheres of dominant and subordinate meanings for homonyms embedded in sentence contexts that biased a central semantic feature of the subordinate meaning; and priming of dominant meanings in the left hemisphere (LH), and priming of the subordinate meaning in the right hemisphere (RH) for homonyms embedded in sentences that biased a peripheral semantic feature of the subordinate meaning." (Titone, 1998, p.1)

These findings are reported as consistent with "a context-sensitive model of language processing that incorporates differential sensitivity to semantic relationships in the cerebral hemispheres." (Titone, 1998, p.1)

VI. Two Classification Systems for Homonyms Proper

There have been proposals for a diversity of classification system for homonyms proper since homonymy in the English language has experienced development of an intense nature and one that is interrelated in this causes for example "the monosyllabic character of English and its analytic structure." ((Ibragimov, 2006, p.1) In fact there is little of inflections left in contemporary English as they are been replaced by "separate words of abstract character (prepositions, auxiliaries, etc.) stating the relations that once expressed…[continue]

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