Language is the human main source to communicate and it is a very complex capacity that entails many different aspects, one of them is the meaning of the words we use in order to express ourselves. Meaning depends on many factors and the linguistic branch that studies it is the semantics and pragmatics. Through studies in these fields we find the terms of homonymy and polysemy to denominate different phenomena that can occur in relation to the meaning of the words we use while perform language.
Oxford English Dictionary defines homonymy as the phenomenon in which `… two or more words having the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings and origins´. The field of homonymy can be divided into different subcategories: we can talk about homographs when two or more words coincide in their spelling but differ in the sound or in the meaning; on the other hand, homophony occurs when two or more words sound the same but they are spelt differently. But we can find cases in which these two characteristics coincide at the same time, that is what we call perfect homonymy- when two or more words coincide in their spelling and in their sound but differ in the meaning. We find another phenomenon which is polysemy that according to OED, it is ` the coexistence of many possible meanings for a word…´According to Falkum in `Generativity, Relevance and the Problem of Polysemy´, `[t]here are several different ways in which a word can have more than one meaning´.
Some general distinctions tells us that homonyms have different sources and different lexemes that share the same form while polysemy words are developed from the same source and the same lexeme but have different meanings. The confusion arises in the distinction between perfect homonyms and polysemy words. This may be because the definitions are very vague and lead many questions opened. In order to solve this obscurity surrounding the two phenomena two main branches have stated opposite theories; we are talking about the diachronic and the synchronic approaches. These two approaches coexist in the daily life and we can find an example in dictionaries that usually tend to choose one of these approaches in order to define a word. In general terms, diachronic dictionaries will include in the first place the etymology of the word and then will state the different meanings in the chronological use of the word along the time; synchronic dictionaries, on the other hand, will focus on the most common uses of the word and will slightly make reference to the etymology of the word.
With a more detailed explanation, diachronic approach defends the existence of a primary meaning, the etymological meaning. This meaning was the one which was attributed to a word and it existed on its own without any other meaning to refer to that specific word. However, due to the language development, other different meaning may have appeared what it is called the derived meaning. We can find the sources in the appearance...