Tema 46- La palabra como signo lingüístico. Homonimia, sinonimia. Antonimia. Polisemia. "false friends". Creatividad léxica

Tema 46- La palabra como signo lingüístico. Homonimia, sinonimia. Antonimia. Polisemia. "false friends". Creatividad léxica

The linguistic sign:

A sign is everything that either by nature or by convention serves us to evoke an object or an idea. From the time of the Greeks, the sign is considered to be an entity constituted by the relationship between significance or meaning and significant. We can see in every act of human language that meanings are manifested through significants. The union of both constitute the linguistic sign.

We can consider linguistic signs words as well as morphemes, which are the smallest units with meaning.

The linguistic sign´ s arbitrariness:

The linguistic sign is arbitrary because the phonemes that conform it lack meaning and it is its peculiar articulation to form the significant what gives us a given acoustic image, which in each language has a specific meaning. That is why if a Spaniard and a French man hear the word /lo/, the second one will interpret it as a reference to water while the first one as a neutral pronoun or article.

A very small change of place of phonemes in the succession we pronounce, changes the significant and so the meaning.

The linguistic sign´ s linearity:

The difference between linguistic signs and other kinds of signs is that they are articulated in a temporal and successive order: S-U-N-D-A-Y. As a consequence of this linearity we can´ t have 2 signs at the same time and each one has its own value due to the contrast with the preceding and the following ones.

However, in signs of other codes f.i. a stop signal, a badge, we understand its meaning at once without having to follow a precise order in the perception of its elements.

The human language´ s double articulation: (According to André Martinet).

1. The first articulation refers to the morphemes, which are the smallest units in all spoken discourses with meaning: come-s.

2. The second articulation refers to the phonemes. If we go on dividing morphemes we find phonemes which are units without meaning: c-o-m-e-s.

Homonymy and Polysemy:

There are 2 main types of linguistic ambiguity due to lexical factors: homonymy and polysemy:

1. Homonyms: are different words which have the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings (and origins).

2. Polisemic words: One word having 2 or more different meanings but the same origin.

These 2 phenomena may apparently look very similar bout there are 2 criteria which help us to distinguish them:

1. We find Homonymy if the words which now show the same spelling and different meaning have different origins but were confused in a later period of the development of languages.

a) Seal: animal/ impressed mark

b) Race: contest/ ethnic group

c) Corn: maize/ hardening of the skin

d) Post: piece of timber or metal/ mail/ place where a soldier is stationed/ after

2. We find Polysemy if the native speaker has the feeling that the different meanings of a words are related or associated to each other, f.i: in the word mouth there is a metaphoric affinity among the different meanings of what the native speaker to be just one and the same word:

a) Board: broad flat piece of wood/ table / meals/ governing body/ group of people who administer a company

b) Mouth: opening in head for eating, speaking/ opening into any hollow (river, harbour, tunnel, bottle)/ end of anything placed between the lips (pipe, flute)

c) Eye: organ of sight/ look/view/ aperture/ slit in a needle

d) Fast: tightly (stuck fast)/ fully (fast asleep)/ abstinence from food/ quick


It refers to a sense relationship in which different words seem to have the same meaning and are in free variation in all or most contexts: autumn/fall, big/ large.

Close examination of words reveals that synonymy is always partial, rarely absolute (only in scientific terms) and there is a distinction in these words which prevents us from interchanging them in any context without altering their objective meaning, sentimental tone or evocative value.

Synonyms may be divided into 5 major goups:

1. Equivalents: that is, proper synonyms: to narrate/to relate, pail/ bucket

2. Historical synonyms: one of the synonyms is obsolete or archaic: abhorrency/ abhorrence, relief/welfare

3. Synonyms belonging to different varieties of English: (British, American) lift/ elevator, truck/ lorry.

4. Dialect or regional synonyms: clart/ mud, poke/ sack, flesher/ butcher, loch/ lake

5. Synonyms belonging to different styles or registers: beef/ complaint, nuts/ insane, turn down/ refuse, decease (professional)/ passing (literary)/ death, daddy/ father

Synonyms may also differ in the emotional response they evoke. Words in both lists are considered to be synonyms but the A words have more associations


Carpenter joiner

Statesman politician

Strong-minded stubborn

It has also to be pointed out that the number of near synonyms for any object or phenomenon indicates its relative significance in a culture: The Arabs distinguish many types of sand and the Irish have a dozen different words for potato:

– Chat (small not very tasty)

– Cutling (good for cutting and planting)

– Marley (tiny but tasty)

– Poreen (very tiny)


It is the general name applied to the sense relationship involving oppositeness of meaning.

It is useful to distinguish 3 types of antonymy or oppositeness:

1. Implicitly graded Antonyms: are pairs of items like big/ small, good/bad which can only be interpreted in terms of an established norm for comparison: A big boy is not bigger than a small boy because big is to be understood only in the context of boys. In English, the larger member of the pair is the unmarked or neutral member and so we can ask: How big is it? How old is it? How far is it? How high is it? without implying that the subject is big etc.

2. Complementarity: refers to the existence of such pairs as male/female, dead/ alive. The denial of one implies the assertion of the other. On the contrary, not being bad doesn´ t necessarily mean you are good.

3. Converseness: Is the relationship that holds between such related pairs as:

– John sold it to me / I bought it from John

– John lent the money to Peter/ Peter borrowed the money from Peter

The most frequently occurring converse verbs are: borrow/lend, command/serve, give/take, lease/rent, teach/learn, buy/sell

False friends:

Speakers of a second language may come across certain words looking similar to words in their own language and wrongly assume that the meaning is the same. Such words are called false friends. The confusion might be because:

a) of a chance similarity in the spelling

b) the original meaning has changed over the years in one or other language

c) the original words was borrowed from the start and used differently

1. actual/ present

2. ignore/not know

3. formidable/wonderful

4. adequate/ suitable

5. assist/ attend

6. argument/ subject

7. fabricate/ manufacture

8. sympathetic/ nice

9. reunion/meeting

10. remark/notice

11. professor/teacher

12. sensible/sensitive

13. lecture/talk

Lexical creativity: New creations of words in English

1. Clipping or Shortening:

It involves removing one or more syllables (often the unstressed ones) from a word. It is particularly frequent in informal speech and especially in the speech of children and young people.

a) Syllables may be removed from the beginning of the word: Telephone/phone, omnibus/ bus, aeroplane/ plane

b) Syllables may be removed from the end of the word: advertisement/ ad(vert), photograph/ photo, examination/ exam, publican house/ pub, zoological gardens/zoo, bicycle/bike.

It is very common in Christian names: William/ Will, Bill, Benjamin/Ben, Philip/Phil, some of them have a pet ending in –y or -ie: Victoria/ Vicky. Emilia/Emmy, in place names: The Trocadero/ The Troc, The Pavillion/ The Pav, The Victoria theatre/ The Vic and in medical words: doctor/ doc, veterinarian surgeon/ vet, laboratory/ lab.

c) Syllables may be removed from both ends of the word: influenza/ flu, refrigerator/ fridge, Elizabeth/Liz.

2. Blends or portmanteau words:

In a blend 2 words have been fused, only apart of each remains and the meaning and resulting form is a combination of those in the component words.

a) Formed by the first part of one word and the last part of the other:

– Smog = smoke + fog

– Brunch = breakfast + lunch

– Motel = motorist + hotel

– Breathalyser = breath + analyser

– Electrocute = electric +execute

– Eurovision = European + television

– Swatch = Swiss + watch

– Chunnel = Channel + tunnel

b) Formed by the beginning of the 2 words:

– Moped: motorized + pedal assisted bicycle

– Interpol = International + police

3. Back-formations:

Sightsee (s.o. sees sights), lip-read, baby-sit, sleep-walk (s.o. walks asleep, caretake, house-hunt, house-keep (s.o. keeps the house). These words come from such nouns as sightseeing and from a historical point of view cannot be describes as noun + verb compounds.

4. Onomatopoeic or echoic words:

They are newly created words produced by vocal imitation of sounds in nature: boom, cuckoo, murmur originated in French and Latin and were inherited by English and words like: papa/ mama originated in baby´ s speech and belong to parctically all languages. Other examples: buzz, fizz, purr, whirr, hiss, quack.

a) In English there is an association between sound and meanings affording a basis on which new words may be created specially in vulgar speech. Initial sound bl- is related to expression of disgust: blamed, blithering, bloody and there is undoubtedly a common quality in words beginning with fl- : flame, flare, flash, flicker or ending in –sh: ,mash, crash, splash, clash.

b) Reduplicatives or alliterative words: There are compounds in which 2 or more elements are either identical or only slightly different. They are rather informal or familiar.

1. The most common use is found in onomatopoeic words: tick-tock (of clock), ding-dong (door bell), hee-haw (donkey)

2. They can also suggest alternating movements: flip-flops, zig-zag, see-saw.

3. Instability and vacillation: shilly-shally, dilly-dally, helter-skelter

4. To intensify: tip-top

5. Acronyms:

They are words formed from the initial letters (or larger parts) of words. New acronyms are freely produced, particularly of organizations

a) Acronyms pronounced as sequence of letters:

1. The letters represent full words:

– Y.M.C.A. Young Men´ s Christian Association

– W.C. Water Closet

– B.B.C. British Broadcasting Corporation

– V.I.P. Very Important Person

– U.S.A. United States of America

– M.P. Member of Parliament

– D.I.Y. Do it yourself

2. The letters represent elements in a compound or just parts of a word:

– TV television

– GHQ General Headquarters

b) Acronyms pronounced as words:

– N.A.T.O. North Atlantic Treaty Organization

– U.N.E.S.C.O United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

– U.N.O. United Nations Organization

– O.P.E.C. Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

– V.A.T. Value Added Tax

– A.I.D.S. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

– N.A.S.A. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

6. Abbreviations:

Abbreviations in English are formed in 2 main ways:

1. The beginning of the word is given and at some point (after one letter or several letters) the word is cut off with a full stop because what is missing is not needed to understand the sense of the word:

– Syn. synonym

– Tan. tangent

– N. North

– Co. Company

– Yorks. Yorkshire

– Berks. Berkshire

2. Part of the middle of a word is omitted and only the first and last letters are used (and some other intermediate letter:

– Wt. weight

– Abp. Archbishop

– Hrs. hours

– Ltd. limited

– Yd. yard

Kinds of abbreviations:

1. Titles:

– Mr. Mister

– Rev. reverend

– Capt. captain

– Prof. professor

2. Latin words:

– Cf. confer (compare)

– Etc. etcetera

3. Measurements, weights, money, days of the week:

– In. inch(es)

– Yd. yard

– P. penny

– Oz ounce(s)

– Kg. Kilogram(s)

– Tues. Tuesday

– Feb. February