Chapter 6 Sense Relations and Semantic Field


    Polysemy refers to the phenomenon in which one and the same word has more than one meaning.

1.1 Two approaches to polysemy

1) Diachronic approach: Polysemy is described as the result of the historical development of the semantic features of one and the same word.

2) Synchronic approach: Polysemy is viewed as the co-existence of various meanings of the same word at a particular point in time.

1.2   Two processes of development

1) Radiation:It is the semantic process in which the primary meaning stands at the centre and the secondary meaning radiates out of it. Though the secondary meanings are independent of one another, they can all be traced back to the primary meaning.

2)Concatenation: It is the semantic process in which the meaning of a word moves gradually away from its primary meaning in succession so that the present meaning seems to have no connection to the primary meaning.


  There are many pairs or groups of words, which, though different in meaning, are pronounced alike or spelled alike, or both. Such words are called homonyms.

2.1 Types of homonyms

1)Perfect homonyms: They are different words identical both in sound and spelling, though different in meaning.

2)Homographs: Homographs are different words identical in spelling, but different in sound and meaning.

3)Homophones:They are different words identical in sound but differentinspelling and meaning

2.2 origins of homonyms

  Origins of homonyms are change in sound and spelling, borrowing and shortening.


  Synonymy refers to the relationship of similarity or identity in meaning.Synonyms are the words which have the same or very nearly the same essential meaning.

3.1 Sources of synonyms

1) borrowing

2)dialects and regional English

3)figurative and euphemistic use of words
3.2 Discrimination of synonyms

1)Difference in denotation

2)Difference in the degree of a given quality

3)Differences in associative meanings

4)Differences in use

4. Antonymy

  Antonymy is used for oppositeness of meaning; words that are opposite are antonyms.

4.1 Types of antonyms

  1) Contraries:

  Contraries display a type of semantic contrast, illustrated by such pairs as rich and poor. Contraries are gradable, and the semantic contrast in a contrary pair is relative; i.e. there are often intermediate terms between the two opposites. So the negation of one does not necessarily mean the assertion of the other.

2) Contradictory terms

  Contradictory terms are also called complementarities. The meanings of these terms are mutually exclusive and no possiblities are allowed between them. the assertion of one is the negation of the other.

3)Relative terms

  They show a reciprocal social relationship and a contrast of direction. One of the two presupposes the other of the two.

4.2 Some characteristics of antonyms

1)Antonyms are classified on the basis of meaning

2)A polysemic word may have more than one antonym.

3)Antonyms can be analysed in terms of markedness. The meaning of one of the pair may be more general and more semantically inclusive than the meaning of the other of the two.

4.3 The use of antonyms

1) Antonyms can be used to define meanings of words.

2)Antonyms can be used for efficient expression of an opposite idea, etc.

3)Antonyms can be used for emphatic effect.


  Hyponymy refers to the relationship of semantic inclusion. Words with more specific meaning or narrower meaning are hyponyms, while words with more inclusive or general meanings are superordinate terms. The status either as superordinate or subordinate is only relative.

6.Semantic field

  Semantic field is a term to refer to the phenomenon that vocabulary is an integrated system interrelated in sense and can be divided into semantically related sets or fields. Words in each semantic field defines one another.