What are the homonyms of fair

Comments on homonymy *

B. Trnka

The comparison of the ability to load and combine the phonemes in some European languages, which Professor Mathesius presented in his treatise, shows that the stock of phonemes available to the individual languages ​​is differently used. Slavic languages ​​e.g. B. are less economical than z. B. English or French. This can already be seen from the fact that in those languages ​​the word meaning is very often only given by the sequence of two or even three or more syllables (which usually alone have no meaning), while in the last-mentioned languages ​​the words are often only expressed consist of one syllable. 1 Since most words in English are monosyllabic, English speakers are used to associating meaning with single syllables. The foreign polysyllabic words which permeate broader strata of the people are therefore often shortened, eg choc (chocolate), pram (perambulator), flue (influenza) etc. This tendency of English to monosyllabic, which to belongs to its characteristic features depends on the relatively large carrying capacity (and in comparison with other Germanic languages ​​on the larger number) of the phonemes.

The combinations of phonemes that function as words in a given language are regularly associated with different meanings, e.g. English. hand, leaf, room, die dye, sea see, fair. If the meanings of a word are linked by transitional meanings, they are considered to be a single “word” in language consciousness, e. B. hand, leaf, room, and one speaks about the polysemy of words. But if the meanings of the phoneme combination are so different that they have no common ideas, then it is homonymy, e.g. ?. engl. dai, si :, feg, ai. There can be no transitional conceptions between the meanings “die” and “color”, “sea” and “see”, “eye” and “I”, and although they are bound together with the conception of the same series of phonemes, they remain in the consciousness of language different "words". It should be noted here briefly that a polysemantic word can pass into a homonym pair, e.g. B. engl. to: too, born: borne; and vice versa, it is not excluded a priori that a pair of homonyms can become a polysemantic word through so-called folk etymology. For this reason alone, synchronistic research must be strictly separated from diachronistic research. The ambiguities which can be found in some treatises on homonymy are caused precisely by the confusion between the two standpoints, the synchronistic and the diachronistic. As in other language areas, synchronic research must serve as the basis for diachronistic research.

Homonymy has its origin either in the aggregation (or apostasy) of the phonemes or in the borrowing of words. The Engl. so sow, knight night, two to belong to the first type, engl. fair, franz. ton, cechisch role have only become homonymic by borrowing foreign loanwords of the same name. The homonyma of the last group can be called hybrid. In some languages, all homonyms are hybrid, e.g. B. in Turkish, as Professor J. Rypka kindly informed me. The question of the origin of the homonyma is also of interest for the synchronistic approach to language, and one must separate the hybrid homonyma from the others, provided that the loanwords are not perceived as native.

Apart from the origin of homonyms, they can be divided into two large groups. First, in those which are homonymic in all associated forms, e.g. B. French louer, engl. knight night, the dye; and second, in those which do not remain homonymic in all forms of the same word, e.g. B. engl. minor miner, fair, lie (! ay or lied in the simple past). The homonyma of the first group can be called complete, those of the second incomplete. In the first case, the meaning of the homonym intended by the speaker can be grasped from the semasiological context. In the second case, the meaning intended by the speaker is evident not only from the context, but also regularly from the syntactic connection, e.g. B. engl. the rose: he rose, Czech ziti trâvu (transgr.): ziti klidnym zivotem (not transgr.). The complete homonyma only belong to one grammatical word category, whereas the incomplete homonyma can belong to different word categories. As Gilliéron proved from the material of the living French dialects, there is a tendency in the development of language to replace the homonyma, which I call complete, with synonymous expressions, provided they belong to the same sphere of thought. The task of static linguistics remains to investigate what role homonymy plays in the field of stylistics of a given language and by what means it is avoided in individual word combinations in sentences.

The relatively larger or smaller number of homonyma in different languages ​​justifies us to conclude that a word individual has a relatively different semasiological independence in the sentence. In English z. B. is the meaning of a sequence of phonemes, which makes up a word, based more firmly on the other members of the same sentence than z. B. in Cechic, in which it is already relatively definite in the isolated position. The psychological course of understanding is therefore different in the languages ​​which are called analytical and synthetic. The English speaker is much more inclined than a Czech speaker to associate the same combination of sounds with different meanings depending on the context of the words in the sentence, and the danger of homonymy has never been an obstacle to borrowing a foreign word of the same name. In Czech it is remarkable in this respect that in such loanwords (e.g. kólon, Gen. kóla; láze) the length of o, which has already lost its phonological function in Old Bohemian, becomes an emergency means. read words kolo Gen. kola, loze to divorce.

It is clear that the more firmly an element of meaning of language is incorporated into any combination, the more meanings it can have. The suffixes, which can never function independently, are regularly homonymous: e.g. B. the suffix -a in Czech can be used as an exponent of the Gen. Sg. Of the o-stems, Nom. Sg. Of the a-Stems, Nom. Acc. Pl. Of the neutral o-Stems and Nom. Sg. M. des Part. Praes. be used because the connection with the tribe suffices to express the desired relationship unequivocally. From the standpoint of the word, of course, there is no homonymy in this and in similar cases.

So far we have spoken of lexical homonymy. But there is also a morphological homonymy. I mean such cases as kiqz, l;>: dz in English, kosti in Czech, where the ending remains ambiguous even in connection with the stem. Here too, correct understanding is mostly conveyed through the syntactic context. In English, the correct meaning of the suffix often only indicates the word sequence, which plays only a minor role in the Slavic languages ​​(vergi, o teu v dum "the house of the father"; dum otcuv "the house of the fathers". In morphological homonymy, too, one must conclude that the closer the connection between the words in the sentence, the more the homonymy intervenes or can intervene in the morphological structure of language. 2

Homonymy also appears to be an important factor in the development of the phonological system of a language. The confluence or fall of phonemes which causes homonymy, for which phonology seeks explanation in the sound system, must be due to the prophylactic tendency to prevent the emergence of excessive homonyms. The property of the phonemes to distinguish individual words from one another is given in the phoneme concept, and the greater the risk of converting the various words into homonyms through the fall or confluence of phonemes, the more difficult it is for such phoneme changes to penetrate. because of the pressure of the reactions. Thus, in Ahd., the interdental fricative could immediately pass into the corresponding explosive because there was no d previously in the language, while in Old Saxon, where d was retained, the transition from p> d occurred much later. If the force producing the phoneme merging is very strong, a whole series of phonemes is shifted so that the threatening homonymy is prevented. The consonant shifts in Old Germanic and the so-called large vowel shifts in New English were probably caused by this tendency. From what has been said above it follows that the strength of the reaction of the system against the fall or confluence of the phonemes in different languages ​​depends on the degree of stability of the elements of meaning and of the words in the sentence context.


1. It is perhaps no coincidence that in Czech the open syllables differ more from the monosyllabic words in the phonetic structure than z. B. in English, in which the same monosyllabic combination can sometimes make up a word, sometimes just a syllable (e.g. tea, see, sow). - Unless they are prepositions or other “small” words, the monosyllabic vowel-final words in Cechic are characterized by a consonant combination, e.g. B. rty, mzda, dne, lze and others.

2. The question whether the lexical and morphological homonymy is made possible by different degrees of firmness of the words in the sentence, or vice versa, whether it itself causes the relatively different firmness, must be left open. Both phenomena are probably characteristics of a single, more general tendency in languages.

* From Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague, IV: 152-156 (1931).