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In linguistics, a word sense is one of the meanings of a
word A word is a basic element of language that carries an objective or practical meaning, can be used on its own, and is uninterruptible. Despite the fact that language speakers often have an intuitive grasp of what a word is, there is no cons ...
. For example, a
dictionary A dictionary is a listing of lexemes from the lexicon of one or more specific languages, often arranged alphabetically (or by radical and stroke for ideographic languages), which may include information on definitions, usage, etymologies, pr ...
may have over 50 different senses of the word "
play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content service * Play Framework, a Java framework * ...
", each of these having a different meaning based on the
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
of the word's
usage The usage of a language is the ways in which its written and spoken variations are routinely employed by its speakers; that is, it refers to "the collective habits of a language's native speakers", as opposed to idealized models of how a language ...
in a sentence, as follows: In each sentence different collocates of "play" signal its different meanings. People and
computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to Execution (computing), carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations (computation) automatically. Modern digital electronic computers can perform generic sets of operations known as C ...
s, as they read words, must use a process called
word-sense disambiguation Word-sense disambiguation (WSD) is the process of identifying which sense of a word is meant in a sentence or other segment of context. In human language processing and cognition, it is usually subconscious/automatic but can often come to consc ...
R. Navigli
''Word Sense Disambiguation: A Survey
', ACM Computing Surveys, 41(2), 2009, pp. 1-69.
to reconstruct the likely intended meaning of a word. This process uses
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to ...
to narrow the possible senses down to the probable ones. The context includes such things as the ideas conveyed by adjacent words and nearby phrases, the known or probable purpose and
register Register or registration may refer to: Arts entertainment, and media Music * Register (music), the relative "height" or range of a note, melody, part, instrument, etc. * ''Register'', a 2017 album by Travis Miller * Registration (organ), the ...
of the conversation or document, and the orientation (time and place) implied or expressed. The disambiguation is thus context-sensitive. Advanced semantic analysis has resulted in a sub-distinction. A word sense corresponds either neatly to a seme (the smallest possible unit of
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ...
) or a
sememe __NOTOC__ A sememe () is a semantic language unit of meaning, analogous to a morpheme. The concept is relevant in structural semiotics. A seme is a proposed unit of transmitted or intended meaning; it is atomic or indivisible. A sememe can be ...
(larger unit of meaning), and polysemy of a word of phrase is the property of having multiple semes or sememes and thus multiple senses.


Relations between senses

Often the senses of a word are related to each other within a
semantic field In linguistics, a semantic field is a lexical set of words grouped semantically (by meaning) that refers to a specific subject.Howard Jackson, Etienne Zé Amvela, ''Words, Meaning, and Vocabulary'', Continuum, 2000, p14. The term is also used in ...
. A common pattern is that one sense is broader and another narrower. This is often the case in technical jargon, where the
target audience A target audience is the intended audience or readership of a publication, advertisement, or other message catered specifically to said intended audience. In marketing and advertising, it is a particular group of consumer within the predetermined ...
uses a narrower sense of a word that a general audience would tend to take in its broader sense. For example, in casual use "
orthography An orthography is a set of conventions for writing a language, including norms of spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation. Most transnational languages in the modern period have a writing system, and most ...
" will often be glossed for a lay audience as "
spelling Spelling is a set of conventions that regulate the way of using graphemes (writing system) to represent a language in its written form. In other words, spelling is the rendering of speech sound (phoneme) into writing (grapheme). Spelling is one ...
", but in linguistic
usage The usage of a language is the ways in which its written and spoken variations are routinely employed by its speakers; that is, it refers to "the collective habits of a language's native speakers", as opposed to idealized models of how a language ...
"orthography" (comprising spelling,
casing Casing may refer to an enclosing shell, tube, or surrounding material. It may also refer to: * Cartridge (firearms), shell enclosing the explosive propellant in ammunition * Casing (borehole), metal tube used during the drilling of a well * Cas ...
, spacing, hyphenation, and other punctuation) is a hypernym of "spelling". Besides jargon, however, the pattern is common even in general vocabulary. Examples are the variation in senses of the term "wood wool" and in those of the word "bean". This pattern entails that
natural language In neuropsychology, linguistics, and philosophy of language, a natural language or ordinary language is any language that has evolved naturally in humans through use and repetition without conscious planning or premeditation. Natural languages ...
can often lack explicitness about
hyponymy and hypernymy In linguistics, semantics, general semantics, and ontologies, hyponymy () is a semantic relation between a hyponym denoting a subtype and a hypernym or hyperonym (sometimes called umbrella term or blanket term) denoting a supertype. In other ...
. Much more than
programming language A programming language is a system of notation for writing computer programs. Most programming languages are text-based formal languages, but they may also be graphical. They are a kind of computer language. The description of a programming l ...
s do, it relies on context instead of explicitness; meaning is
implicit Implicit may refer to: Mathematics * Implicit function * Implicit function theorem * Implicit curve * Implicit surface * Implicit differential equation Other uses * Implicit assumption, in logic * Implicit-association test, in social psychol ...
within a context. Common examples are as follows: * The word "diabetes" without further specification usually refers to
diabetes mellitus Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by a high blood sugar level (hyperglycemia) over a prolonged period of time. Symptoms often include frequent urination, increased thirst and increased app ...
. * The word "angina" without further specification usually refers to angina pectoris. * The word "tuberculosis" without further specification usually refers to
pulmonary tuberculosis Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease usually caused by ''Mycobacterium tuberculosis'' (MTB) bacteria. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs, but it can also affect other parts of the body. Most infections show no symptoms, in w ...
. * The word "emphysema" without further specification usually refers to
pulmonary emphysema Emphysema, or pulmonary emphysema, is a lower respiratory tract disease, characterised by air-filled spaces ( pneumatoses) in the lungs, that can vary in size and may be very large. The spaces are caused by the breakdown of the walls of the al ...
. * The word "cervix" without further specification usually refers to the
uterine cervix The cervix or cervix uteri (Latin, 'neck of the uterus') is the lower part of the uterus (womb) in the human female reproductive system. The cervix is usually 2 to 3 cm long (~1 inch) and roughly cylindrical in shape, which changes during ...
. Usage labels of "''
sensu ''Sensu'' is a Latin word meaning "in the sense of". It is used in a number of fields including biology, geology, linguistics, semiotics, and law. Commonly it refers to how strictly or loosely an expression is used in describing any particular c ...
''" plus a
qualifier In linguistics, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure which ''modifies'' the meaning of another element in the structure. For instance, the adjective "red" acts as a modifier in the noun phrase "red ball", prov ...
, such as "''sensu stricto''" ("in the strict sense") or "''sensu lato''" ("in the broad sense") are sometimes used to clarify what is meant by a text.


Relation to etymology

Polysemy entails a common historic root to a word or phrase. Broad medical terms usually followed by
qualifier In linguistics, a modifier is an optional element in phrase structure or clause structure which ''modifies'' the meaning of another element in the structure. For instance, the adjective "red" acts as a modifier in the noun phrase "red ball", prov ...
s, such as those in relation to certain conditions or types of anatomical locations are polysemic, and older conceptual words are with few exceptions highly polysemic (and usually beyond shades of similar meaning into the realms of being
ambiguous Ambiguity is the type of meaning in which a phrase, statement or resolution is not explicitly defined, making several interpretations plausible. A common aspect of ambiguity is uncertainty. It is thus an attribute of any idea or statement ...
). Homonymy is where two separate-root words ( lexemes) happen to have the same
spelling Spelling is a set of conventions that regulate the way of using graphemes (writing system) to represent a language in its written form. In other words, spelling is the rendering of speech sound (phoneme) into writing (grapheme). Spelling is one ...
and
pronunciation Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. This may refer to generally agreed-upon sequences of sounds used in speaking a given word or language in a specific dialect ("correct pronunciation") or simply the way a particula ...
.


See also

*
denotation In linguistics and philosophy, the denotation of an expression is its literal meaning. For instance, the English word "warm" denotes the property of being warm. Denotation is contrasted with other aspects of meaning including connotation. For ins ...
*
semantics Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and compute ...
– study of meaning * lexical semantics – the study of what the words of a language denote and how it is that they do this * word-sense induction – the task of automatically acquiring the senses of a target word *
word-sense disambiguation Word-sense disambiguation (WSD) is the process of identifying which sense of a word is meant in a sentence or other segment of context. In human language processing and cognition, it is usually subconscious/automatic but can often come to consc ...
– the task of automatically associating a sense with a word in context * lexical substitution – the task of replacing a word in context with a lexical substitute *
sememe __NOTOC__ A sememe () is a semantic language unit of meaning, analogous to a morpheme. The concept is relevant in structural semiotics. A seme is a proposed unit of transmitted or intended meaning; it is atomic or indivisible. A sememe can be ...
– unit of meaning * linguistics – the scientific study of language, which can be theoretical or applied. *
sense and reference In the philosophy of language, the distinction between sense and reference was an idea of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in 1892 (in his paper "On Sense and Reference"; German: "Über Sinn und Bedeutung"), reflecting the ...


References

{{Reflist


External links


"I don’t believe in word senses"
– Adam Kilgarriff (1997)
WordNet(R)
– a large lexical database of English words and their meanings maintained by the Princeton Cognitive Science Laboratory Lexical semantics Semantics Word-sense disambiguation Philosophical logic