Etymology in the Morning

Several similar linguistic concepts are related to homonymy. The term ‘homonym’ is ambiguous because there are a number of ways that two meanings can share the ‘same name’ and because the term is used in different ways by educated speakers, and these variant meanings are recorded by dictionaries. The terms homograph and homophone are however usually defined the same way as meaning “same spelling” and “same sound” respectively, and heteronym and homonym can be seen as respective subclasses of these.

  • Homographs are words that share the same spelling regardless of how they are pronounced. Homographs may be pronounced the same, in which case they are also homophones – for example, bark (the sound of a dog) and bark (the skin of a tree). Alternatively they may be pronounced differently, in which case they are also heteronyms – for example, bow (the front of a ship) and bow (a type of knot). (“Homograph” also has a specialized meaning in typography, where it may be used as a synonym for homoglyph.)
  • Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation regardless of how they are spelled. Homophones may be spelled the same (in which case they are also homographs) or spelled differently (in which case they are heterographs). Homographic examples include tire (to become weary) and tire (on the wheel of a car). Heterographic examples include totootwo, and theretheirthey’re.
  • Heteronyms can be seen as the subclass of homographs (words that share the same spelling) that have different pronunciations. That is, they are homographs which are not homophones. This means words that are spelled the same but with different pronunciations (and meanings). 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). Note that the latter meaning also constitutes a homophone. Heteronyms are also sometimes called heterophones. (“Heteronym” also has a specialized meaning in poetry; see Heteronym (literature).)
  • Homonyms can be seen as the subclass of homophones that are spelled the same, which is logically the same as the subclass of homographs that are pronounced the same. This means words that are spelled and pronounced the same (but have different meanings).
  • Polysemes 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 or river, are polysemous and may or may not be considered homonyms.
  • Capitonyms 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 (from Poland).

In derivation, homograph means “same writing”, homophone means “same sound”, heteronym means “different name”, and heterophone means “different sound”.

( copied from wikipedia )

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