Polysemy in natural language : case studies on the structural description of polysemous lexemes in English, German and Turkish
Meaning seems at once the most obvious and the most obscure aspect of language
to be studied. Since most lexical items have several meanings the rules which combine them
into sentences will frequently yield several possibilities for interpretation. Potential ambiguity is
usually resolved unconsciously in speakers' minds, but may occasionally cause an obstacle in
communication, and has therefore been considered a deficiency of language. One of the
goals of linguistic research is to illuminate the processes which occur in speakers' minds by
studying the organisational structure of concepts and the interrelations between them.
The aim of this study is to describe the structural properties of lexical items with
multiple meanings, in particular polysemous lexemes, by means of three case studies in
English, German and Turkish.
The first case study explores paradigmatic sense relations of identity and inclusion
(vertical relations). The study involves structural comparison between the nets of each of the
senses of a polysemous lexeme in English in contrast with its corresponding forms and
senses in German and Turkish. Findings suggest that communicative problems can arise due
to intra-domain specific ambiguity.
The second case study involves the structural description of a polysemous lexeme in
German. Theories of paradigmatic sense relations of opposition and exclusion (horizontal
relations) are used to investigate sense opposition at the micro-level which is a specific
phenomenon in polysemy. Unlike the first case study, collocational patterns are focused on by
looking into syntagmatic sense relations. Results show that theories of sense opposition at the
macro-level are applicable to sense opposition at the micro-level.
The third case study also deals with the structural description of a polysemous
lexeme, this time in Turkish. Besides the description of some disambiguation processes, the
study demonstrates that sense opposition at the micro-level exists in Turkish, and that
relevant theories are applicable just as in German.