What is a Heterophone and Why is it Important?

Do you think a heterophone is a new product in mobile technology and communications? Can you guess what a heterophone is? Just as we learned that a homophone is one of two or more words that are pronounced the same, but differ in meaning, origin and sometimes spelling, we also have their opposite expression, the “heterophone” in place. If you are familiar with the term linguistics, then you understand that it is the scientific approach to the study of natural language. According to the Babylon Translation Dictionary, in linguistics, heterophones are words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meanings, such as desert (abandon) and desert (arid region). Heterophones are a type of homonym, and are also called heteronyms.

Heterophones may not be well known, but their pronunciations are articulated differently to emphasize its meaning. Although it has nothing to do with mobile services and wireless handheld devices, it is directly connected to communications. Here are a few more examples of heterophones that you probably used previously, but were unaware of their linguistic derivation:

1. Read (pronounced “reed”; a present tense verb to interpret writing), read (pronounced “red”; past tense verb of writing interpreted)

2. Minute (pronounced “my-newt”; an adjective meaning miniature, minuscule, small), minute (pronounced “mi-net “; a noun meaning moment, second or instant)

3. Produce (pronounced “produce”; a verb meaning to view, create, construct or generate), produce (pronounced “pro-duce”; a noun meaning crops and foodstuffs such as fruits and vegetables)

4. Sow (pronounced “so”; a verb meaning to plant or scatter seeds, spread or propagate), sow (pronounced “sau”; a noun meaning a female hog or the adult female of other animals, such as a bear)

5. Present (pronounced “pri-zent”; a verb meaning to bring or introduce socially); present (pronounced “pre-zent”; a noun meaning a gift, offering or to bestow)

Sometimes when you are reading a sentence that contains a heterophone, if you mispronounce the word, you are compelled to go back to reread the sentence in order to get the full flavor of the message. Although you may not remember what words are considered a heterophone, once you realize the context of the sentence structure, you will be able to adjust your pronunciations accordingly.

Due to incompatibility issues to insert reference pronunciation symbols within this article format, I had to improvise on how to pronounce each heterophone listed above for better clarity and understanding. However, feel free to look up each word in order to view the dictionary version of these pronunciations.



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