The Truth About Chickens and Bats Ambiguity Avoidance Distinguishes Types of Polysemy

Hugh Rabagliati, Jesse Snedeker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Words mean different things in different contexts, a phenomenon called polysemy. We talk about lines of both people and poetry, and long distances or times. Polysemy lets a limited vocabulary capture the great variety in our experiences, while highlighting commonalities. But how? Are polysemous senses contextually-driven modifications of core meanings, or must each sense be separately memorized? We provide evidence for both accounts: Core meanings are used when senses follow a regular pattern (e.g., animal names for foodstuffs; noisy/tasty chicken), while separate representations are used when senses are idiosyncratically related (e.g., sheet of/drinking glass). Polysemy-type predicts participantsʼ ability to avoid referential ambiguity when naming aloud pictures that are sometimes accompanied by same-name foils (e.g., both types of chicken/glass). Participants fail to avoid ambiguity for idiosyncratically-related foils, indicating separate meanings, but succeed for regularly-related foils, indicating a common core. We discuss implications for the relationship between word meanings and concepts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1354-1360
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number7
Early online date30 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • meaning
  • language
  • psycholinguistics
  • linguistics
  • semantic memory


Dive into the research topics of 'The Truth About Chickens and Bats Ambiguity Avoidance Distinguishes Types of Polysemy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • AMLaP 2011

    Hugh Rabagliati (Speaker)

    Sep 2011

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

Cite this