Does polysemy support radical contextualism? On the relation between minimalism, contextualism and polysemy

Guido Löhr (Corresponding author)

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10 Citations (SciVal)


Polysemy has only recently entered the debate on semantic minimalism and contextualism. This is surprising considering that the key linguistic examples discussed in the debate, such as ‘John cut the grass’ or ‘The leaf is green’ appear to be prime examples of polysemy. Moreover, François Recanati recently argued that the mere existence of polysemy falsifies semantic minimalism and supports radical contextualism. The aim of this paper is to discuss how the minimalism-contextualism debate relates to polysemy. This connection turns out to be far from clear-cut. This is partly due to the fact that the term ‘polysemy’ is used in a number of different ways in the literature, which will be reviewed in this paper. Finally, I discuss and reject Recanati’s claim that the existence of polysemy supports radical contextualism against moderate versions and semantic minimalism. I show that minimalism has a number of plausible options to account for polysemy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-92
Number of pages25
Issue number1
Early online date7 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


This publication is funded by the DFG-Graduiertenkolleg ‘Situated Cognition’, GRK-2185/1 and Ruhr Universität Bochum, Research School PLUS, funded by Germany’s Excellence Initiative [DFG GSC 98/3], Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. I thank François Recanati, Agustin Vicente, Emma Borg and Robin Carston for discussing my ideas about polysemy with me.

FundersFunder number
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftGSC 98/3
Ruhr-Universität Bochum


    • Polysemy
    • contextualism
    • meaning
    • minimalism
    • radical contextualism


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