Homonyms in Colloquial and Literary Speech

Homonyms are words, morphems, as well as other language units, which are different in meaning, but alike in sounding and spelling. Homonyms exist in many languages. Russian is not an exception, that's why we will look into the homonyms of Russian language in this article.

The term "homonym" was first introduced by Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle.

Unlike polysemy, when words have different but historically connected meanings, homonymy is completely accidental word coincidence.

According to generally used classification, homonyms can be complete (absolute), partial and grammatic.

Those, whole system of forms of which coincide, belong to complete homonyms. For example: наряд (одежда) /attire (clothes)/– наряд (караульная или гарнизонная служба) /gang (guard  or garrison duty)/, рысь (бег лошади) /piaffe (horse running/ – рысь (животное) /lynx (animal)/, ручка (инструмент для письма) /pen (device for writting)/– ручка (двери, шкафчика) /knob (door-handle)/, ключ (дверной) /key (door key)/ – ключ (источник воды) /fountainhead (source of water)/ – ключ (музыкальный знак) /clef (music signature)/, лук (оружие) /bow (weapon)/ – лук (овощ) /onion (vegetable)/.

Those words, not all forms of which coincide, belong to partial homonyms. For example: сОрок (number 40) and сорОк (magpie, name of a bird in genitive case plural), ласка (животное) /vair (aniamal)/ – ласка (нежность) /caress (tenderness)/, they dispart in form of genitive case: "ласок – ласк".

Grammatic homonyms include words, which coincide only in some forms (same or different parts of speech). For example: три (three, number) – три (verb "тереть" /to rub/, which corresponds to the number "три" only in one form), мечи (орудия) (swords, devices) – мечи (form of the verb "метать" /dart/).

It is necessary to pay attention to the fact that in colloquial speech often sound homonyms appear, which are also called homophones. These are words, which sound alike, though are written in different ways: отварить (варить) /to decoct (to cook)/ and отворить (to open), гриб (растение) /mushroom (a plant)/– грипп (вирус, болезнь) /flu (virus, disease)/.

Such stylistic device as homonymy enjoys wide popularity among poets, who create interesting puns and plays on words with its help.

An example of such homonymyc play on words can be found in following lines by A. S. Pushkin:

А что же делает супруга /And what is the wife doing?/ (noun of feminine gender "супруга" /wife/ in nominative case singular)

Одна, в отсутствии супруга /Alone, in husband's absence/ (noun "супруг" /husband/ of masculine gender in genitive case singular).

Homonyms usage can be also obsereved in works of the poet V. Ya. Bryusov.

Закрыв измученные веки,

Миг отошедший берегу (verb "беречь" /to save/ in the first form singular),

О, если бы так стоять вовеки

На этом тихом берегу (noun "берег" /shore/ in prepositional case singular).

On a par with particular sound significancy of homonyms, as in the example of Bryusov's poem, we should pay attention to how poet plays with homonyms and what character they acquire while this. The author of the abovementioned lines rhymes homonyms, underlining the meaning of these words by this. Contrast between homonyms' similar sounding and different meanings, which usually gives pointed comic tone in puns, in Bryusov's poems leads conversely to seriuosness and profoundness of content. Seriousness and profoundness of these words-homonyms become even more obvious due to intensification this contrast by the homonyms' position. Indeed, homonyms "берегу" (derived from the verb "беречь" /save/) and "берегу" (derived from the noun "берег" /shore/) enrich one another and inform with deep meaning by their assonant opposition and contrast.

More concrete word "берег" /shore/ widens its meaning and content at this, acquiring some abstract shade due to the word "берегу" (derived from the verb "беречь" /save/), and vice versa, abstract verb "беречь" /to save/ obtains mor concrete shade from the noun "берег" /shore/.

As we have noticed, homonymy is widely spread both in our colloquial speech and literature, and poetry in particular. We often use homonyms without even noticing this. However, writers and poets, as distinct from us, use words-homonyms intentionally for the purpose of achieving special stylistic effects in their works.

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