Homonym

Homonym

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In linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that often but not necessarily share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings. Thus homonyms are simultaneously homograph
Homograph
A homograph is a word or a group of words that share the same written form but have different meanings. When spoken, the meanings may be distinguished by different pronunciations, in which case the words are also heteronyms. Words with the same writing and pronunciation A homograph (from the ,...

s (words that share the same spelling, irrespective of their pronunciation) and homophone
Homophone
A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose and rose , or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms...

s (words that share the same pronunciation, irrespective of their spelling). The state of being a homonym is called homonymy. Examples of homonyms are the pair stalk (part of a plant) and stalk (follow/harass a person) and the pair left (past tense of leave) and left (opposite of right). A distinction is sometimes made between "true" homonyms, which are unrelated in origin, such as skate (glide on ice) and skate (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as mouth (of a river) and mouth (of an animal).

In non-technical contexts, the term "homonym" may be used (somewhat confusingly) to refer to words that are either homographs or homophones. In this looser sense, the words row (propel with oars) and row (argument) are considered homonyms, as are the words read (peruse) and reed (waterside plant).

Etymology


The word homonym comes from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 ὁμώνυμος (homonumos), meaning "having the same name", which is the conjunction of ὁμός (homos), meaning "common, same" and ὄνομα (onoma) meaning "name". Thus, it refers to two or more distinct concepts sharing the "same name" or signifier. Note: for the h sound, see rough breathing and smooth breathing.

Related terms

Term Meaning Spelling Pronunciation
Homonym Different Same Same
Homograph Different Same Same or different
Homophone Different Same or different Same
Heteronym Different Same Different
Heterograph Different Different Same
Polyseme Different but related Same Same or different
Capitonym Different when
capitalized
Same except for
capitalization
Same or different

Several similar linguistic concepts are related to homonymy. These include:
  • Homograph
    Homograph
    A homograph is a word or a group of words that share the same written form but have different meanings. When spoken, the meanings may be distinguished by different pronunciations, in which case the words are also heteronyms. Words with the same writing and pronunciation A homograph (from the ,...

    s
    (literally "same writing") are usually defined as words that share the same spelling, regardless of how they are pronounced.Some sources restrict the term "homograph" to words that have the same spelling but different pronunciations. See, for example, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, p. 215 (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999) and The Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th Edition) (entry for "homograph"). If they are pronounced the same then they are also homophone
    Homophone
    A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose and rose , or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms...

    s (and homonyms) – for example, bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (the skin of a tree). If they are pronounced differently then they are also heteronyms
    Heteronym (linguistics)
    In linguistics, heteronyms are words that are written identically but have different pronunciations and meanings. In other words, they are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, row and row are heteronyms, but mean and mean are not...

     – for example, bow (the front of a ship) and bow (a type of knot).

  • Homophone
    Homophone
    A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. The words may be spelled the same, such as rose and rose , or differently, such as carat, caret, and carrot, or to, two, and too. Homophones that are spelled the same are also both homographs and homonyms...

    s
    (literally "same sound") are usually defined as words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled.Some sources restrict the term "homophone" to words that have the same pronunciation but different spellings. See, for example, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, p. 202 (Wiley-Blackwell, 1999) and The Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th Edition) (entry for "homograph"). If they are spelled the same then they are also homographs (and homonyms); if they are spelled differently then they are also heterographs (literally "different writing"). Homographic examples include rose (flower) and rose (past tense of rise). Heterographic examples include to, too, two, and there, their, they’re.

  • Heteronym
    Heteronym (linguistics)
    In linguistics, heteronyms are words that are written identically but have different pronunciations and meanings. In other words, they are homographs that are not homophones. Thus, row and row are heteronyms, but mean and mean are not...

    s
    (literally "different name") are the subset of homographs (words that share the same spelling) that have different pronunciations (and meanings).Some sources do not require that heteronyms have different pronunciations. See, for example, the archived Encarta dictionary entry (which states that heteronyms "often" differ in pronunciation) and the "Fun with Words" website (which states that heteronyms "sometimes" have different pronunciations). That is, they are homographs which are not homophones. Such words include desert (to abandon) and desert (arid region); row (to argue or an argument) and row (as in to row a boat or a row of seats - a pair of homophones). Heteronyms are also sometimes called heterophones (literally "different sound").

  • Polysemes
    Polysemy
    Polysemy is the capacity for a sign or signs to have multiple meanings , i.e., a large semantic field.Charles Fillmore and Beryl Atkins’ definition stipulates three elements: the various senses of a polysemous word have a central origin, the links between these senses form a network, and ...

    are words with the same spelling and distinct but related meanings. The distinction between polysemy and homonymy is often subtle and subjective, and not all sources consider polysemous words to be homonyms. Words such as mouth, meaning either the orifice on one's face, or the opening of a cave
    Cave
    A cave or cavern is a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter. The term applies to natural cavities some part of which is in total darkness. The word cave also includes smaller spaces like rock shelters, sea caves, and grottos.Speleology is the science of exploration and study...

     or river
    River
    A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

    , are polysemous and may or may not be considered homonyms.

  • Capitonym
    Capitonym
    A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning when it is capitalized, and usually applies to capitalization due to proper nouns or eponyms. It is a portmanteau of the word capital with the suffix -onym. A capitonym is a form of homograph and – when the two forms are pronounced differently – also...

    s
    are words that share the same spelling but have different meanings when capitalized (and may or may not have different pronunciations). Such words include polish (to make shiny) and Polish
    Polish language
    Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

    (from Poland); march (organized, uniformed, steady and rhythmic walking forward) and March (the third month of the year in the Gregorian Calendar). However, both polish or march at the beginning of sentences still need to be capitalized.

Further examples


A further example of a homonym, which is both a homophone and a homograph, is fluke. Fluke can mean:
  • A fish, and a flatworm
    Flatworm
    The flatworms, known in scientific literature as Platyhelminthes or Plathelminthes are a phylum of relatively simple bilaterian, unsegmented, soft-bodied invertebrate animals...

    .
  • The end parts of an anchor
    Anchor
    An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, that is used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the vessel from drifting due to wind or current. The word derives from Latin ancora, which itself comes from the Greek ἄγκυρα .Anchors can either be temporary or permanent...

    .
  • The fins on a whale
    Whale
    Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

    's tail.
  • A stroke of luck
    Luck
    Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense...

    .
  • A popular brand of Multimeter
    Multimeter
    A multimeter or a multitester, also known as a VOM , is an electronic measuring instrument that combines several measurement functions in one unit. A typical multimeter may include features such as the ability to measure voltage, current and resistance...

    .

All four are separate lexeme
Lexeme
A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics, that roughly corresponds to a set of forms taken by a single word. For example, in the English language, run, runs, ran and running are forms of the same lexeme, conventionally written as RUN...

s with separate etymologies
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

, but share the one form, fluke.*

Similarly, a river bank, a savings bank, a bank of switches, and a bank shot in pool share a common spelling and pronunciation, but differ in meaning.

The words bow and bough are interesting because there are two meanings associated with a single pronunciation and spelling (the weapon and the knot); there are two meanings with two different pronunciations (the knot and the act of bending at the waist), and there are two distinct meanings sharing the same sound but different spellings (bow, the act of bending at the waist, and bough, the branch of a tree). In addition, it has several related but distinct meanings – a bent line is sometimes called a 'bowed' line, reflecting its similarity to the weapon. Thus, even according to the most restrictive definitions, various pairs of sounds and meanings of bow and bough are homonyms, homographs, homophones, heterophones, heterographs, and are polysemous.
  • bow – a long wooden stick with horse hair that is used to play certain string instrument
    String instrument
    A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...

    s such as the violin
    Violin
    The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

  • bow – to bend forward at the waist in respect (e.g. "bow down")
  • bow – the front of the ship (e.g. "bow and stern")
  • bow – the weapon which shoots arrows (e.g. "bow and arrow")
  • bow – a kind of tied ribbon (e.g. bow on a present, a bowtie)
  • bow – to bend outward at the sides (e.g. a "bow-legged" cowboy)
  • bough – a branch on a tree. (e.g. "when the bough breaks...")
  • – a long staff, usually made of tapered hard wood or bamboo
  • beau – a male paramour

Homonymy in historical linguistics


Homonymy can lead to communicative conflicts and thus trigger lexical (onomasiological
Onomasiology
Onomasiology is a branch of linguistics concerned with the question "how do you express X?" It is in fact most commonly understood as a branch of lexicology, the study of words .Onomasiology, as a part of lexicology, starts from a concept which is taken to be priorOnomasiology (from — to name,...

) change. This is known as homonymic conflict.

See also

  • Heterography and homography
  • Synonym
    Synonym
    Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

    s, different words with identical or very similar meanings (conceptual inversion of "homonym")