HOMONYMY AND SYNONYMY
1. It is known that every sign has a measure of autonomy
from its referent. For this reason it can signify, not one
thing (phenomenon, property or relation), but two, three or
more things, and conversely, two, three or more signs may
refer to one and the same thing (phenomenon, property or
relation). The absence of an indissoluble bond between the
sign and the referent provides the fundamental basis for the
existence of homonymy and synonymy, phenomena inherent in
any set of signs, including, no doubt, signs of the natural
2.0. Like any other language signs, paremia also posses
the properties described in § 1.
2.1. Not infrequently, "one and the same" saying acquires
vastly different meanings in different contexts. Thus, the
Russian colloquial saying Bud' zdorov' (lit. "Be
healthy!") is used in its normal sense when uttered after
someone sneezes or after the words "I am going". But the
same collocation used in the sentence: A on bud' zdorov:
kosaya sazhen' v plechah (which translates roughly as
"He is all right: a husky broad-shouldered fellow")
expresses approbation and admiration and differs sharply
from the above meaning of wishing somebody good health.
2.2. At the same time locutions totally different in lexical
composition and even in syntactic and paremiological
structure often have the same meaning. Cf. the Russian folk
saying Out gets the tail, in sticks the beak, out gets
the beak, in sticks the tail and the "winged"
indivisible phrase Trishka's kaftan from Krilov's fable of
the same name. Both describe the same typical situation. A
similar relationship obtains between the two popular Russian
proverbs: You cannot wash a black dog white and No
matter how well you feed the wolf, he will look towards the
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5.1.0. Paremia, then, like other language signs, posses
the properties of homonymy and synonymy, and this must be
taken into account in recording and analysing paremiological
5.1.1. To avoid homonymy, it is not sufficient (in a
dictionary or collection) to just cite a folk saying or a
quotation, it is necessary to indicate to which
paremiological type it belongs, i.e. whether it is a
proverb, a proverbial phrase, an omen, a riddle, a
superstitious belief, a riddle question, etc., because that
will provide a pointer to the correct understanding of its
meaning. Alternatively, one should give the locution in its
normal context, since homonymy is usually removed in
5.1.2. As for synonyms, explanation could be dispensed with
inasmuch as locutions are models of situations they denote.
However when the general meaning is unmotivated (which is
the case almost exclusively with proverbs, proverbial
phrases and riddles) explanation is in order.
*This is summary of a
paper presented to the 1972 "Summer school on Secondary
Modeling Systems" at the Tartu University.
- See Ittmann J. "Sprichwörter der
Nyang", 245. Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen-Sprachen,
Band XXII. Berlin 1931.
Translated by E. Filippov
*First published in Proverbium 24,