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Wiktionary: Homophones

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 (flower) and rose (past tense of "rise"), 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.[1] The term "homophone" may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters or groups of letters that are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter or group of letters.

The Greek prefix, homo- (ὁμο-), means the "same", while phōnḗ (φωνή) means "sound". Graph in homograph means "writing" (γραφή).

In word play and gamesEdit

Homophones are often used to create puns and to deceive the reader (as in crossword puzzles) or to suggest multiple meanings. The last usage is common in poetry and creative literature. An example of this is seen in Dylan Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood: "The shops in mourning" where mourning can be heard as mourning or morning. Another vivid example is Thomas Hood's use of 'birth' & 'berth' and "told' & 'toll'd' (tolled) in his poem "Faithless Sally Brown":

His death, which happen'd in his berth,
At forty-odd befell:
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton toll'd the bell.

In some accents, various sounds have merged in that they are no longer distinctive, and thus words that differ only by those sounds in an accent that maintains the distinction (a minimal pair) are homophonous in the accent with the merger. Some examples from English are:-

pin and pen in many southern American accents.
merry, marry, and Mary in many western American accents.
The pairs do, due and forward, foreword are homophonous in most American accents but not in most British accents.
The pairs talk, torque, and court, caught are distinguished in rhotic accents such as Scottish English and most dialects of American English, but are homophones in many non-rhotic accents such as British Received Pronunciation.

Homophones of multiple words or phrases (as sometimes seen in word games) are also known as "oronyms". This term was coined by Gyles Brandreth and first published in his book The Joy of Lex (1980), and it was used in the BBC programme Never Mind the Full Stops, which also featured Brandreth as a guest.

Examples of "oronyms" (which may only be true homophones in certain dialects of English) include

"ice cream" vs. "I scream"
"euthanasia" vs. "youth in Asia"
"depend" vs. "deep end"
"the sky" vs. "this guy"
"four candles" vs. "fork handles"
"sand which is there" vs. "sandwiches there"
"example" vs. "egg sample"
"some others" vs. "some mothers"
"night rain" vs. "night train"
"semen" vs. "sea men"
"fishsticks" vs. "fish dicks"
"Uranus" vs. "your anus"

In his Appalachian comedy routine, American comedian Jeff Foxworthy frequently uses oronyms which play on exaggerated 'country' accents. Notable examples include, "Initiate: My wife ate two sandwiches, initiate (and then she ate) a bag o' tater chips." and "Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise (Man, there is) a lot of people here tonight." Innuendo "Hey dude I saw a bird fly innuendo" (In your window)

Use in psychological researchEdit

Pseudo-homophonesEdit

Pseudo-homophones are non-words that are phonetically identical to a word. Pseudo-homophone pairs are pairs of phonetically identical letter strings where one string is a word and the other is a non-word. For example, groan/grone and crane/crain are pseudo-homophone pairs, whereas plane/plain is a homophone pair since both letter strings are recognised words. Both types of pairs are used in lexical decision tasks to investigate word recognition.

Use as ambiguous informationEdit

Homophones where one spelling is of a threatening nature and one is not (e.g. slay/sleigh, war/wore) have been used in studies of anxiety as a test of cognitive models that those with high anxiety tend to interpret ambiguous information in a threatening manner.[2]

See also Edit

ReferencesEdit

  1. According to the strict sense of homonyms as words with the same spelling and pronunciation; however, homonyms according to the loose sense common in nontechnical contexts are words with the same spelling or pronunciation, in which case all homophones are also homonyms. Random House Unabridged Dictionary entry for "homonym" at Dictionary.com
  2. Mogg K, Bradley BP, Miller T, Potts H, Glenwright J, Kentish J (1994). Interpretation of homophones related to threat: Anxiety or response bias effects? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 18(5), 461-77

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