The synchronic treatment of English homonyms brings to the forefront a set of problems of paramount importance for different branches of applied linguistics: lexicography, foreign language teaching and information retrieval. These problems are: the criteria distinguishing homonymy from polysemy, the formulation of rules for recognising different meanings of the same homonym in terms of distribution, and the description of difference between patterned and non-patterned homonymy. It is necessary to emphasise that all these problems are connected with difficulties created by homonymy in understanding the message by the reader or listener, not with formulating one’s thoughts; they exist for the speaker though in so far as he must construct his speech in a way that would prevent all possible misunderstanding.
All three problems are so closely interwoven that it is difficult to separate them. So we shall discuss them as they appear for various practical purposes. For a lexicographer it is a problem of establishing word boundaries. It is easy enough to see that match, as in safety matches, is a separate word from the verbmatch ‘to suit’. But he must know whether one is justified in taking into one entry match, as in football match, and match in meet one’s match ‘one’s equal’.
On the synchronic level, when the difference in etymology is irrelevant, the problem of establishing the criterion for the distinction between different words identical in sound form, and different meanings of the same word becomes hard to solve. Nevertheless the problem cannot be dropped altogether as upon an efficient arrangement of dictionary entries depends the amount of time spent by the readers in looking up a word: a lexicographer will either save or waste his readers’ time and effort.
Actual solutions differ. It is a widely spread practice in English lexicography to combine in one entry words of identical phonetic form showing similarity of lexical meaning or, in other words, revealing a lexical invariant, even if they belong to different parts of speech. In our country a different trend has settled. The Anglo-Russian dictionary edited by V.D. Arakin makes nine separate entries with the word right against four items given in the dictionary edited by A.S. Hornby. The truth is that there exists no universal criterion for the distinction between polysemy and homonymy. The etymological criterion may lead to distortion of the present-day situation.
A more or less simple, if not very rigorous, procedure based on purely synchronic data may be prompted by analysis of dictionary definitions. It may be calledexplanatory transformation. It is based on the assumption that if different senses rendered by the same phonetic complex can be defined with the help of an identical kernel word-group, they may be considered sufficiently near to be regarded as variants of the same word; if not, they are homonyms. Consider the following set of examples:
1. A child’s voice is heard (Wesker).
2. His voice ... was ... annoyingly well-bred (Cronin).
3. The voice-voicelessness distinction ... sets up some English consonants in opposed pairs ...
4. In the voice contrast of active and passive ... the active is the unmarked form.
The first variant (voice1) may be defined as ‘sounds uttered in speaking or singing as characteristic of a particular person’, voice2 as ‘mode of uttering sounds in speaking or singing’, voice3 as ‘the vibration of the vocal chords in sounds uttered’. So far all the definitions contain one and the same kernel element rendering the invariant common basis of their meaning. It is, however, impossible to use the same kernel element for the meaning present in the fourth example. The corresponding definition is: “Voice — that form of the verb that expresses the relation of the subject to the action”. This failure to satisfy the same explanation formula sets the fourth meaning apart. It may then be considered a homonym to the polysemantic word embracing the first three variants. The procedure described may remain helpful when the items considered belong to different parts of speech; the verb voice may mean, for example, ‘to utter a sound by the aid of the vocal chords’:
This brings us to the problem of patterned homonymy, i.e. of the invariant lexical meaning present in homonyms that have developed from one common source and belong to various parts of speech. Is a lexicographer justified in placing the verb voice with the above meaning into the same entry with the first three variants of the noun? The same question arises with respect to after or before — preposition, conjunction and adverb.
English lexicographers think it quite possible for one and the same word to function as different parts of speech. Such pairs as act n — act v, back n — back v,drive n — drive v, the above mentioned after and before and the like, are all treated as one word functioning as different parts of speech. This point of view was severely criticised. It was argued that one and the same word could not belong to different parts of speech simultaneously, because this would contradict the definition of the word as a system of forms. This viewpoint is not faultless either; if one follows it consistently, one should regard as separate words all cases when words are countable nouns in one meaning and uncountable in another, when verbs can be used transitively and intransitively, etc. In this casehair1 ‘all the hair that grows on a person’s head’ will be one word, an uncountable noun; whereas ‘a single thread of hair’ will be denoted by another word (hair2) which, being countable, and thus different in paradigm, cannot be considered the same word. It would be tedious to enumerate all the absurdities that will result from choosing this path. A dictionary arranged on these lines would require very much space in printing and could occasion much wasted time in use. The conclusion therefore is that efficiency in lexicographic work is secured by a rigorous application of etymological criteria combined with formalised procedures of establishing a lexical invariant suggested by synchronic linguistic methods.
As to those concerned with teaching of English as a foreign language, they are also keenly interested in patterned homonymy. The most frequently used words constitute the greatest amount of difficulty, as may be summed up by the following jocular example: I think that this “that” is a conjunction but that that “that” that that man used was a pronoun.
A correct understanding of this peculiarity of contemporary English should be instilled in the pupils from the very beginning, and they should be taught to find their way in sentences where several words have their homonyms in other parts of speech, as in Jespersen’s example: Will change of air cure love? To show the scope of the problem for the elementary stage a list of homonyms that should be classified as patterned is given below: Above, prp, adv, a; act n, v; after prp, adv, cj; age n, v; back n, adv, v; ball n, v; bank n, v; before prp, adv, cj; besides prp, adv; bill n, v; bloom n, v; box n, v. The other examples are: by, can, case, close, country, course, cross, direct, draw, drive, even, faint, flat, fly, for, game, general, hard, hide, hold, home, just, kind, last, leave, left, lie, light, like, little, lot, major, march, may, mean, might, mind, miss, part, plain, plane, plate, right, round, sharp, sound, spare, spell, spring, square, stage, stamp, try, type, volume, watch, well, will.
For the most part all these words are cases of patterned lexico-grammatical homonymy taken from the minimum vocabulary of the elementary stage: the above homonyms mostly differ within each group grammatically but possess some lexical invariant. That is to say, act v follows the standard four-part system of forms with a base form act, an s-form (act-s), a Past Indefinite Tense form (acted) and an ing-form (acting) and takes up all syntactic functions of verbs, whereas act n can have two forms, act (sing.) and acts (pl.). Semantically both contain the most generalised component rendering the notion of doing something.
Recent investigations have shown that it is quite possible to establish and to formalise the differences in environment, either syntactical or lexical, serving to signal which of the several inherent values is to be ascribed to the variable in a given context. An example of distributional analysis will help to make this point clear. The distribution of a lexico-semantic variant of a word may be represented as a list of structural patterns in which it occurs and the data on its combining power. Some of the most typical structural patterns for a verb are: N+V+N, N+V+prp+N, N+V+A, N+V+adv, N+V+to+V and some others. Patterns for nouns are far less studied, but for the present case one very typical example will suffice. This is the structure: article+A+N.
In the following extract from “A Taste of Honey” by Shelagh Delaney the morpheme laugh occurs three times: I can’t stand people who faugh at other people. They'd get a bigger laugh, if they laughed at themselves. We recognise laugh used first and last here as a verb, because the formula is N+laugh+prp+N and so the pattern is in both cases N+V+prp+N. In the beginning of the second sentence laugh is a noun and the pattern is article+A+N.
This elementary example can give a very general idea of the procedure which can be used for solving more complicated problems.
We may sum up our discussion by pointing out that whereas distinction between polysemy and homonymy is relevant and important for lexicography it is not relevant for the practice of either human or machine translation. The reason for this is that different variants of a polysemantic word are not less conditioned by context than lexical homonyms. In both cases the identification of the necessary meaning is based on the corresponding distribution that can signal it and must be present in the memory either of the pupil or the machine. The distinction between patterned and non-patterned homonymy, greatly underrated until now, is of far greater importance. In non-patterned homonymy every unit is to be learned separately both from the lexical and grammatical points of view. In patterned homonymy when one knows the lexical meaning of a given word in one part of speech, one can accurately predict the meaning when the same sound complex occurs in some other part of speech, provided, of course, that there is sufficient context to guide one.
Проблема мотивации слов
The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word on the one hand, and its meaning on the other. There are three main types of motivation:
§ phonetical motivation,
§ morphological motivation,
§ semantic motivation.
When there is a certain similarity between the sounds that make up the word and those referred to by the sense, the motivation is phonetical. Examples are:bang, buzz, cuckoo, giggle, gurgle, hiss, purr, whistle, etc. Here the sounds of a word are imitative of sounds in nature because what is referred to is a sound or at least, produces a characteristic sound (cuckoo). Although there exists a certain arbitrary element in the resulting phonemic shape of the word, one can see that this type of motivation is determined by the phonological system of each language as shown by the difference of echo-words for the same concept in different languages. Within the English vocabulary there are different words, all sound imitative, meaning ‘quick, foolish, indistinct talk’: babble, chatter, gabble, prattle. In this last group echoic creations combine phonological and morphological motivation because they contain verbal suffixes -le and -er forming frequentative verbs. We see therefore that one word may combine different types of motivation. Words denoting noises produced by animals are mostly sound imitative. In English they are motivated only phonetically so that nouns and verbs are exactly the same.
The morphological motivation may be quite regular. Thus, the prefix ex- means ‘former’ when added to human nouns: ex-filmstar, ex-president, ex-wife. Alongside with these cases there is a more general use of ex-: in borrowed words it is unstressed and motivation is faded (expect, export, etc.). Re- is one of the most common prefixes of the English language, it means ‘again’ and ‘back’ and is added to verbal stems or abstract deverbal noun stems, as in rebuild, reclaim, resell, resettlement. Here again these newer formations should be compared with older borrowings from Latin and French where re- is now unstressed, and the motivation faded. From the examples given above it is clear that motivation is the way in which a given meaning is represented in the word. It reflects the type of nomination process chosen by the creator of the new word. Some scholars of the past used to call the phenomenon the inner word form.
In deciding whether a word of long standing in the language is morphologically motivated according to present-day patterns or not, one should be very careful. Similarity in sound form does not always correspond to similarity in morphological pattern. Agential suffix -er is affixable to any verb, so that V+-er means ‘one who V-s’ or ‘something that V-s’: writer, receiver, bomber, rocker, knocker. Yet, although the verb numb exists in English, number is not ‘one who numbs’ but is derived from OFr nombre borrowed into English and completely assimilated.
Many writers nowadays instead of the term morphological motivation, or parallel to it, introduce the term word-building meaning. In what follows the term will be avoided because actually it is not meaning that is dealt with in this concept, but the form of presentation.
The third type of motivation is called semantic motivation. It is based on the co-existence of direct and figurative meanings of the same word within the same synchronous system. Mouth continues to denote a part of the human face, and at the same time it can metaphorically apply to any opening or outlet: the mouth of a river, of a cave, of a furnace. Ermine is not only the name of a small animal, but also of its fur, and the office and rank of an English judge because in England ermine was worn by judges in court. In their direct meaning neither mouth nor ermine is motivated. As to compounds, their motivation is morphological if the meaning of the whole is based on the direct meaning of the components, and semantic if the combination of components is used figuratively. Thus,eyewash ‘a lotion for the eyes’ or headache ‘pain in the head’, or watchdog ‘a dog kept for watching property’ are all morphologically motivated. If, on the other hand, they are used metaphorically as ‘something said or done to deceive a person so that he thinks that what he sees is good, though in fact it is not’, ‘anything or anyone very annoying’ and ‘a watchful human guardian’, respectively, then the motivation is semantic.
An interesting example of complex morpho-semantic motivation passing through several stages in its history is the word teenager ‘a person in his or her teens’. The motivation may be historically traced as follows: the inflected form of the numeral ten produced the suffix -teen. The suffix later produces a stem with a metonymical meaning (semantic motivation), receives the plural ending -s, and then produces a new noun teens ‘the years of a person’s life of which the numbers end in -teen, namely from 13 to 19’. In combination with age or aged the adjectives teen-age and teen-aged are coined, as in teen-age boy, teen-age fashions. A morphologically motivated noun teenager is then formed with the help of the suffix -er which is often added to compounds or noun phrases producing personal names according to the pattern *one connected with...’.
The pattern is frequent enough. One must keep in mind, however, that not all words with a similar morphemic composition will have the same derivational history and denote human beings. E. g. first-nighter and honeymooner are personal nouns, but two-seater is ‘a car or an aeroplane seating two persons’, back-hander is ‘a back-hand stroke in tennis’ and three-decker ‘a sandwich made of three pieces of bread with two layers of filling’. When the connection between the meaning of the word and its form is conventional that is there is no perceptible reason for the word having this particular phonemic and morphemic composition, the word is said to be non-motivated for the present stage of language development.
Every vocabulary is in a state of constant development. Words that seem non-motivated at present may have lost their motivation. The verb earn does not suggest at present any necessary connection with agriculture. The connection of form and meaning seems purely conventional. Historical analysis shows, however, that it is derived from OE (ze-)earnian ‘to harvest’. In Modern English this connection no longer exists and earn is now a non-motivated word. When some people recognise the motivation, whereas others do not, motivation is said to be faded. Sometimes in an attempt to find motivation for a borrowed word the speakers change its form so as to give it a connection with some well-known word. These cases of mistaken motivation received the name of folk etymology. The phenomenon is not very frequent. Two examples will suffice: A nightmare is not ‘a she-horse that appears at night’ but ‘a terrifying dream personified in folklore as a female monster’.
Some linguists consider one more type of motivation closely akin to the imitative forms, namely sound symbolism. Some words are supposed to illustrate the meaning more immediately than do ordinary words. As the same combinations of sounds are used in many semantically similar words, they become more closely associated with the meaning. Examples are: flap, flip, flop, flitter, flimmer, flicker, flutter, flash, flush, flare; glare, glitter, glow, gloat, glimmer; sleet, slime, slush, where fl- is associated with quick movement, gl- with light and fire, sl- with mud. This sound symbolism phenomenon is not studied enough so far, so that it is difficult to say to what extent it is valid. There are, for example, many English words, containing the initial fl- but not associated with quick or any other movement: flat, floor, flour, flower. There is also nothing muddy in the referents of sleep or slender.