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Monday 10 May 2021

The pleasure of the senses The charm of the double

The charm of the double

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The linguistic homonymy

Years ago, on the occasion of a Caprese conference entitled The indiscreet charm of the homonymy, I indicated at the beginning a series of considerations resulting from having recently completed the compilation of a dictionary of homonyms, of linguistic homonyms, of course (A voice just now. Directory of homonymous words of the Italian language, Zanichelli, 1994). 

I said of the charm coming from the surprise of finding connected to a single signifier more distinct meanings, a surprising, deceptive, inexplicable, even "unreasonable" charm, when one wanted to listen to an antiquated meaning of the adjective "indiscreet". 

The argument demanded, and demands, a strong attention from the scientific point of view since the linguists themselves do not completely agree on the meaning of the term 'namesake'. Most of them, paying attention to the structure of the signifier, indicate as "homonyms" those words which, with equal writing (homographs) and / or with identical pronunciation (homophones), have different meanings: always, however, that they are recognized as distinct etymological derivation. Only homographs and non-homophones are therefore homonymous 'pèsca' (the fruit) and 'pésca' (the act of fishing) in dependence on the different accent; 'hànno' (verbal entry to be ') and' ànno '(the twelve-month period) are homonyms only and not homographs, by virtue of the presence or absence of the initial silent consonant; 'sètte' (numeral adjective) and 'sètte' (plural of 'sètta') are homonymous words, at the same time homographs and homophones.

Double herm consisting of two equal heads of Dionysus and Menade
Double herm consisting of two equal heads of Dionysus and Menade, bronze, XNUMXnd cent. AD, Rome, National Museum.

Someone, Otto Ducháček (1962) for example, distinguishes three cases of semantic relationship: the etymological homonyms (real), the semantic homonyms (apparent) and the polysemic words. From the synchronic point of view, however, it is not at all easy (and not even possible at all) to decide with certainty when it comes to homonymy or polysemy (whether it is etymological homonyms or semantic homonyms), since linguistic awareness and opinion on this question, at times, they can also depend on who speaks, writes, listens or reads (on his / her language training, intelligence, experience) and both can change from one generation to another. In practice, therefore, it is difficult to maintain an absolute distinction between a polysemic lexeme and two or more homonymous lexemes: justification usually depends on use. From a theoretical point of view, however, one could consider that two or more lexemes are distinct, but homonymous, when their sememes do not have (or no longer have) any common nuclear figure. Patrizia Violi, in fact, examining the phenomenon of ambiguity due to the versatility of certain words that refer to more differentiated meanings, observes that a word can be considered polysemic as long as its various meanings maintain the identity of at least one specific sema, while it has real homonymy when the different senses of a term have no sema in common.

The extreme case of polysemy is that represented by Freud's hypothesis of the original words, which would have the opposite value; but in reality what seemed to Enudiasemia to Freud were based on bad etymologies. Suffice it to mention that of the Latin word sacer, which only apparently would have two opposite meanings, "sacred" and "cursed"; while in reality the value is unique and it is: "what cannot be touched", a value that well motivates and justifies the two symmetrical uses.

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