Polysemy in the mental lexicon: Relatedness and frequency affect representational overlap.

Bernadet Jager, Matthew J. Green, Alexandra A. Cleland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Meaning relatedness affects storage of ambiguous words in the mental lexicon: unrelated meanings (homonymy) are stored separately whereas related senses (polysemy) are stored as one large representational entry. We hypothesized that word frequency could have similar effects on storage, with low-frequency words having high representational overlap and high-frequency words having low representational overlap. Participants performed lexical decision or semantic categorization to high- and low-frequency nouns with few and many senses. Results showed a three-way interaction between frequency, task type, and polysemy. Low-frequency words showed a polysemy advantage with lexical decision but a polysemy disadvantage with semantic categorization, whereas high-frequency words showed the opposite pattern. These results confirmed our hypothesis that relatedness and word frequency have similar effects on storage of ambiguous words.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-429
Number of pages5
JournalLanguage cognition and neuroscience
Issue number3
Early online date5 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

The reported research and the writing of this paper were sup-ported by a grant awarded by the Graduate School in the College of Life Sciences and Medicine in Aberdeen.


  • polysemy
  • lexical ambiguity
  • relatedness
  • word frequency
  • representational overlap


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