Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Coventry University, The Alan Turing Institute & Macmillan Education's online course, Understanding English Dictionaries. Join the course to learn more.

Looking for clues to identify meanings

Using the same corpus data as in the previous step, now we would like you to identify those clues in the context (syntactic, collocational, etc.) which led you to associate a given use of the noun ‘party’ with a given dictionary sense.

From a combination of introspection and corpus data, you have identified a number of different word senses for the noun ‘party’. But how did you know these were different meanings? What was it in the context that led you to associate a given instance in the corpus with a particular meaning? For example, the third line from the bottom of the concordance refers to ‘support for a political party’, and the words ‘support’ and ‘political’ are clues pointing to one of the meanings of ‘party’. Think about the other meanings you have identified, and make a list of all the clues which led you to associate a sentence in the concordance with a specific meaning. These clues may be grammatical or contextual.

This is essentially what lexicographers do when they are trying to identify the different meanings of a polysemous word in order to create a dictionary entry: they look for corpus evidence of any patterns which seem to be characteristic of a particular meaning. When we see ‘party’ modifying nouns such as ‘member’, ‘leader’, or ‘policy’, it’s clear that it’s referring to an organised political group. But if we see instances of people being ‘invited’ to a party, then we’re looking at a different meaning. This process of identifying the various meanings of a polysemous word is referred to by linguists as ‘word-sense disambiguation’.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Understanding English Dictionaries

Coventry University