SkELL: Homonymy and Polysemy

One drawback when using SkELL is that it won’t differentiate between, say, lead/lead or the various senses of ‘rat’. The word sketch function will differentiate between parts of speech, but the easy-to-read concordance lines initially generated will have the various words, meanings, and senses jumbled up. However, this drawback can be exploited for the teaching of various kinds of homonyms and polysemous words.

There are several ways to do this, but I’ll only discuss one basic approach here. Take the word ‘sweet’. Maybe you have students familiar with the taste sense of the word, as in “The berries are rather sweet and juicy”. You could show them (or have them look up) the SkELL concordance lines for ‘sweet’. Have them mark off the sentences that they recognize as referring to sweet taste. This would leave several sentences that use ‘sweet’ in different senses, and your students could discuss what ‘sweet’ might mean in those other sentences.

skell sweet
Screenshot: Partial SkELL output for ‘sweet’

In the screenshot above, for instance, lines 9, 10, 19, and 20 appear to be describing something about people’s personalities. Discuss with your students what it could mean to describe a person as ‘sweet’.

Alternatively, students could use a dictionary to look up all/several of the senses of ‘sweet’, and then try to categorize the SkELL sentences according to each sense.

Regardless of how exactly you approach it, there are a lot of ways to exploit this drawback for teaching and learning purposes.

Any other SkELL tips?

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