The representation of polysemy in the mental lexicon and its processing
Laconcha Pérez, Yaiza
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Polysemy, the lexical semantic phenomenon in which a word form has different but related senses, is pervasive in natural languages. Examples of polysemy encompass regular polysemy and idiosyncratic forms, such as paper and atmosphere respectively. Nonetheless, regardless of its abundance in languages, it was not until 1980, with the appearance of cognitive grammar, that polysemy was given considerable attention. While this phenomenon does not seem to pose a problem in everyday communication, it has proved to be notably difficult to treat both theoretically and empirically (Falkum & Vicente, 2015, p. 3). At present, there is discussion regarding the representation of polysemy in the mental lexicon and its processing. The purpose of this dissertation is to present the main theories which are currently being discussed by linguists on this topic. In order to achieve this aim, I start by defining and comparing polysemy to homonymy, the phenomenon by which one word form has, at least, two different and unrelated meanings. I explain the criteria and some of the tests which can be applied to distinguish them (e.g. etymological derivation, native intuition, pronominalization and ellipsis). Moreover, I define the types in which polysemy can be subdivided, emphasizing metonymically and metaphorically motivated polysemy. After polysemy has been distinguished from homonymy and its subdivisions have been explained, I move on to the main section of this paper: The representation and processing of polysemy in the mental lexicon. The representation is the information which is stored in the mental lexicon for the different types of word forms. The processing is how that information is accessed and used in language production and comprehension. This being explained, I discuss what I consider to be the two main approaches regarding this issue. On the one hand, the theory named Sense Enumeration approach which postulates that the related senses of polysemous words are both stored and processed like the unrelated senses of homonymous terms. On the other hand, the other main theory is the One Representation approach, which proposes that polysemous and homonymous terms differ in how their meanings are stored and processed. There are various views with different perspectives which lie within this theory. Then, I present empirical evidence which partially support both theories. However, I conclude my paper by taking a stance for the One Representation approach.