The Treatment of Polysemy and Homonymy in Monolingual General-purpose Dictionaries with Special Reference to "Isichazamazwi SesiNdebele"

  • E Ndlovu
  • S Sayi


This article focuses on the treatment of polysemy and homonymy in general-purpose monolingual dictionaries with special reference to "Isichazamazwi SesiNdebele". It was found that there are some inconsistencies in the treatment of polysemous and homonymous entries in this dictionary. The article shows that an overreliance on one criterion, particularly etymology, to distinguish polysemy and homonymy is often misleading and unreliable. Polysemy itself has its own inherent complexities, among these being the problem of determining the exact number of meanings of a polysemous lemma. When the meanings of a polysemous lemma are listed, the central or primary meaning, which is not always easily ascertainable, should come first. A holistic approach is proposed to distinguish polysemy and homonymy, which entails the use of the following criteria: etymology, relatedness vs unrelatedness of meaning, componential analysis, the identification of the central or core meaning and the test of ambiguity. Whatever results are obtained from a particular criterion, these findings must be compared with those of other criteria, and verified against native speakers' intuitive knowledge and introspective judgements. Keywords: Polysemy, Homonymy, Metaphor, Conceptual Meaning, Etymology, Homophones, Homographs, Lemma, Sense, Intuition, Introspection

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2224-0039
print ISSN: 1684-4904