Polysemy, Prototypes, and Radial Categories

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk

in The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199738632
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Polysemy, Prototypes, and Radial Categories


Cognitive models of polysemy reveal that vagueness, polysemy, and homonymy represent a cline of diminishing schematicity and increasing instances of salience. Polysemy is an instance of categorization, and category members form a user-dependent chain of related senses. The specific perspective taken by cognitive linguistics in the study of polysemy is to analyze polysemy as a form of categorization. This article describes four features that are crucial for the cognitive linguistic approach and its relation to polysemy: the flexibility of meaning, the prototype theory of semantic structure, the radial set model, and the schematic network model. Given the wide range of the material to be considered, it would be impossible to exhaust the topic at hand (polysemy, radial sets, and schematic networks). Even though classical polysemy refers first of all to lexis, cognitive linguistic tools make it possible to observe polysemic effects in phonology, morphology, and syntax.

Keywords: cognitive linguistics; polysemy; meaning; semantic structure; radial sets; schematic networks; prototype theory; syntax; categorization; phonology

Article.  13655 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Semantics

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