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A homograph (from the Greek: ὁμός, homós, "same" and γράφω, gráphō, "write") is a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning. 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 (i.e. homographs and homophones) are considered homonyms. However, in a looser sense the term "homonym" may be applied to words with the same writing or pronunciation. Homograph disambiguation is critically important in speech synthesis, natural language processing and other fields. Identically-written different senses of what is judged to be fundamentally the same word are called polysemes; for example, wood (substance) and wood (area covered with trees).
- bear (verb) – to support or carry
- bear (noun) – the animal
In (1) the words are identical in spelling and pronunciation (i.e. they are also homophones), but differ in meaning and grammatical function.
- sow (verb) – to plant seed
- sow (noun) – female pig
(2) is an example of two words spelt identically but pronounced differently. Here confusion is not possible in spoken language but can occasionally occur in written language.
|Word||Example of first meaning||Example of second meaning|
|lead||Gold is heavier than lead.||The mother duck will lead her ducklings around.|
|close||"Will you please close that door!"||The tiger was now so close that I could smell it...|
|wind||The wind howled through the woodlands.||Wind your watch.|
Modern study of Old Chinese has found patterns that suggest a system of affixes.1 One pattern is the addition of the prefix /*ɦ/, which turns transitive verbs into intransitive or passives in some cases:2
|All data from Baxter, 1992.2|
|塞||*sɨk||(v.) block||*sɨks||border, frontier|
|All data from Baxter, 1992.2|
Many homographs in Old Chinese also exist in Middle Chinese. Examples of homographs in Middle Chinese are:
|別||/bĭɛt入/||(v.) part||/pĭɛt入/||differentiate, other|
|上||/ʑĭaŋ上/||rise, give||/ʑĭaŋ去/||above, top, emperor|
|Reconstructed phonology from Wang Li on the tables in the article Middle Chinese. Tone names in terms of level (平), rising (上), departing (去), and entering (入) are given. All meanings and their respective pronunciations from Wang et al., 2000.3|
Many homographs in Old Chinese and Middle Chinese also exist in modern Chinese varieties. Homographs which did not exist in Old Chinese or Middle Chinese often come into existence due to differences between literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters. Other homographs may have been created due to merging two different characters into the same glyph during script reform (See Simplified Chinese characters and Shinjitai).
Some examples of homographs in Cantonese from Middle Chinese are:
|上||[ɕœːŋ˩˧]||rise, give||[ɕœːŋ˨]||above, top, emperor|
- Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-521-22809-1.
- Baxter, William H. (1992). A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs). Berlin and New York: de Gruyter Mouton. pp. 218–220. ISBN 978-3-11-012324-1.
- Wang Li, et al. (2000). 王力古漢語字典. Beijing: 中華書局. ISBN 7-101-01219-1.