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Society for Pure English, Tract 02 On English Homophones   By:

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Transcriber's Note: Phonetic characters are represented by the following symbols: [e] = upside down "e" = schwa [er] = italicized inverted "e" = r colored schwa [a] = lower case alpha [o] = open "o" (appears as upside down "c") = open mid back rounded vowel [ng] = "eng" character = velar nasal [n.] = "n" with inferior dot = devoiced "n" [=u] = "u" with macron [s] = "esh" (or long "s") character = voiceless palatoalveolar (or postalveolar) fricative [z] = "ezh" (or "yogh") character = voiced palatoalveolar (or postalveolar) fricative [ts] = t "esh" = voiceless palatoalveolar (or postalveolar) affricate [dz] = d "ezh" = voiced palatoalveolar (or postalveolar) affricate









[Sidenote: Definition of homophone.]

When two or more words different in origin and signification are pronounced alike, whether they are alike or not in their spelling, they are said to be homophonous, or homophones of each other. Such words if spoken without context are of ambiguous signification. Homophone is strictly a relative term, but it is convenient to use it absolutely, and to call any word of this kind a homophone.[1]

[Footnote 1: Homophone is a Greek word meaning 'same sounding', and before using the relative word in this double way I have preferred to make what may seem a needless explanation. It is convenient, for instance, to say that son and heir are both homophones, meaning that each belongs to that particular class of words which without context are of ambiguous signification: and it is convenient also to say that son and sun and heir and air are homophones without explaining that it is meant that they are mutually homophonous, which is evident. A physician congratulating a friend on the birth of his first born might say, 'Now that you have a son and heir, see that he gets enough sun and air'.]

Homophony is between words as significant sounds, but it is needful to state that homophonous words must be different words, else we should include a whole class of words which are not true homophones. Such words as draft , train , board , have each of them separate meanings as various and distinct as some true homophones; for instance, a draught of air, the miraculous draught of fishes, the draught of a ship, the draft of a picture, or a draught of medicine, or the present draft of this essay, though it may ultimately appear medicinal, are, some of them, quite as distinct objects or notions as, for instance, vane and vein are: but the ambiguity of draft , however spelt, is due to its being the name of anything that is drawn ; and since there are many ways of drawing things, and different things are drawn in different ways, the same word has come to carry very discrepant significations.

Though such words as these[2] are often inconveniently and even distressingly ambiguous, they are not homophones, and are therefore excluded from my list: they exhibit different meanings of one word, not the same sound of different words: they are of necessity present, I suppose, in all languages, and corresponding words in independent languages will often develop exactly corresponding varieties of meaning. But since the ultimate origin and derivation of a word is sometimes uncertain, the scientific distinction cannot be strictly enforced.

[Footnote 2: Such words have no technical class name; they are merely extreme examples of the ambiguity common to most words, which grows up naturally from divergence of meaning. True homophones are separate words which have, or have acquired, an illogical fortuitous identity.]

[Sidenote: False homophones.]

Now, wherever the same derivation of any two same sounding words is at all doubtful, such words are practically homophones: and again in cases where the derivation is certainly the same, yet, if the ultimate meanings have so diverged that we cannot easily resolve them into one idea, as we always can draft , these also may be practically reckoned as homophones... Continue reading book >>

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