August 14, 2009


What do you call words which have the same sound but have different meanings? My father used to say 'don't know, check dictionary'. I looked up the dictionary and found that the word is homophone.

But generally we use the word homonym. Homonyms are words with the same sound, can be same or different spellings, but with different meanings.

For example: knew and new, heir and air, pear and pair, deer and dear.

Why was I thinking of this?
I was reading something and the Mandarin news was on, on TV. Then I heard the word bao yu. I thought of abalone. In cantonese, abalone is bao yu. In Mandarin the yu sounds a little different. But, the news was not about abalone. It was about floods and destruction caused by torrential rain (bao yu).

In Chinese comedies, sometimes scriptwriters like to give characters names which have homonyms that are hilarious. I have no example in mind at the moment.

There is a HK drama on TV. It is more on the comedy side. In the story there is wacky but intelligent magistrate by the name of Shui Dong Lou (水東樓). In cantonese, Lou (building, 樓) and Liu (flow, 流) are homonyms; they have the same sound - Lau. I think the scriptwriter chose this name because he wants the name to be associated with a phrase in a well-known poem 'The water in the river flows east'. But since the show here is in Mandarin, the association is not so obvious.

1 comment:

Lam Chun See said...

That's why we Chinese have to be extra careful when we think of names for our children.