Paper has been my ruin: Conceptual relations of polysemous senses

Devorah E. Klein, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Polysemous words have different but related meanings (senses), such as paper meaning a newspaper or writing material. Six experiments examined the similarity of word senses using categorization and inference tasks. The experiments found that subjects did not categorize together phrases that used a polysemous word in different senses, though they did when the word was used in the same sense. Different senses of a word were categorized together no more than 20% of the time, only slightly more often than different meanings of homonyms. Pre-exposing subjects to a polysemous relation did not increase categorization of word senses that had that relation. Finally, induction from one sense of a word to a different sense was also weak. The results are consistent with the view that polysemous senses are represented separately, often with little semantic overlap, helping to explain previous results that using a word in one sense interferes with using it in another sense, even if the senses are related. Implications for lexical representations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-570
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Ambiguity
  • Lexical representation
  • Polysemy
  • Word meaning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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