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Dealing with disasters: the problem of polysemy

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Words often acquire new meanings. At one time, this was regarded as ‘weakening’. But the older meanings typically remain, alongside the newer ones. The result is polysemy. But these extra meanings raise a problem: how do hearers know which meaning is intended?This talk will analyse the polysemy process, with particular attention to words for catastrophic events, which typically ‘layer’ (become polysemous) fast. It will make some suggestions as to how speakers and hearers handle these multiple meanings.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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