Vietnamese and English homophones Running head: Vietnamese and English homophones

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Running head: Vietnamese and English homophones

Vietnamese and English homophones: a contrastive analysis

Tran Thi Duyen An

HCMC University of Pedagogy

Homophones is an interesting phenomenon in linguistics which can cause some funny misunderstanding in communication both in English and in Vietnamese.

What is homophones? Let’s read the poem below:

They don’t look alike
They’re not spelled the same.
That’s how it is in the homophone game.
Homophones, homophones!
Can you find the homophones?

Oh, I went to the ocean to see the sea.
Homophones, homophones!
Last night a knight was looking at me.
Homophones, homophones!
Can you find the homophones?

Homophones are words that have same sound but different meanings. Because of some reasons, English is the language that have much more homophones than other languages ,but Vietnamese also have its own system of homophones. This paper aims at exploring homophones in English and Vietnamese in a contrastive view through three aspects: the degree of productivity, forms and functions. Then, some implications for language teaching are discussed. I hope that the information included in this paper will help to have a deeper look in the two language systems in homophones.

Homophones in English

According to Robert Bridges, when two or more words different in origin and signification are pronounced alike, whether they are alike or not in their spelling, they are said to be homophonous or homophones of each other. Such words if spoken without context are of ambiguous signification. Homophones is strictly a relative term, but it is convenient to use it absolutely, and to call any word of this kind a homophone.

Homophony between words as significant sounds, but it is needful to state that homophonous words must be different words, else we include a whole class of words which are not true homophones. Such words as _draft_, _train_,_board_, have each of them separate meanings as various and distinct as some true homophones, for instant, a draught of air, the miraculous draught of fishes,the draught of a ship, the draft of a picture or a draught of medicine. Though such words as these are often inconveniently and even distressingly ambiguous, they are not homophones. They exhibit different meanings of ones word, not the same sound of different words. Such words have no technical class- name, they are merely extreme of the ambiguity common to most words, which grows up naturally from divergence of meaning. True homophones are seperated words which have an illogical fortuitous identity. Homonym in general and homphones in particular often occur in words that have simple syllable. Therefore we mainly have the homophones between word and word, the homophones between phrase and phrase like: “the sun's rays meet" - "the sons raise meat" or “"jack in the box" - "jack-in-the-box" occurs rarely in English. There are three categories of homophones in English:

-The first categories of homophones is homonym: the words not only sound the same, but they also are spelled the same. For example, the word "fawn" can either mean a baby deer or the action of behaving in an excessively doting manner, jet (a hard black shiny stone used for making jewellery ) - jet (a stream of liquid that comes out of something very quickly and with a lot of force), bear (the animal),bear (to tolerate),..

-The second type of homophones is same sound but different spelling : this is the most common case of homophones in English , these words have the same sounds but differents spellings and meanings. For instant, son (a male chilren) - sun (the star in the sky that provides light and warmth to the earth), meat (the flesh of an animal or bird eaten as food) - meet (to come together to talk to someone you have arranged to see), bare (naked)- bear (animal) - bear ( to tolerant), see( to look at)- sea(the large area of salt water that covers most of the surface of the Earth),tail( a part at the back of animal’s body that can move)- tale(a story about imaginary events or people), to(towards)- two(number)- too(an ordinary adverb),…

-The last kind of homophnes is same word , difference sound: this case is the most likely happen in English. For example , tear ([tεə]) (to pull something so that it separate into two pieces or gets a hole in it.) - tear ([tiə]) (a drop of liquid that come from your eyes when you cry),…

Homophones in Vietnamese

In Vietnamese, homophones are words that have exactly the same sound (pronunciation) but different meanings. Vietnamese is not inflectional language, so when words are homophones they will have the same sounds and spelling in every context used. This feature is very different from Indo-European language. The linguistists have argued that there are two main categories of Vietnamese homophones:

- The first type is homophone of the word: this category is divided into two smaller kinds: those are same vocabulary homophones and lexical-grammatical homophones.

+Same vocabulary homophones: words which have the same word class. For example: - đường1 (đắp đường) - đường2 (đường phèn) they are noun.

đường kính1 (một loại đường để ăn) - đường kính2 (dây cung lớn nhất của đường tròn)  they are noun

cất1 (cất vó) - cất2 (cất tiền vào tủ) - cất3 (cất hàng) - cất4 (cất rượu) they are verb.

+ Lexical-grammatical homophones: words which have the same spelling and pronounciation but differ in word class. For example:

chỉ1 (cuộn chỉ) noun- chỉ2 (chỉ tay năm ngón)verb - chỉ3 (chỉ còn có dăm đồng) function word.

câu1 (nói vài câu) noun - câu2 (rau câu) noun - câu3 (chim câu)  noun - câu4 (câu cá) verb.

This is the most common category in Vietnamese homophones.

-The seccond type is homophones of word and sound: the words which are homophones differ in level and the size of pronounciation do not exceed one word. For example:

- Con trai Văn Cốc lên dốc bắn , đứng lăm le cười khanh khách.

Con gái Bát Chàng bán hàng thịt ếch ngồi châu chẫu nói ương ương.

 In this sentence, the words “Cốc , cò, le , khách” are homophones , they are all the name of one kind of bird.”.Chàng, ếch, chẫu, ương”are homophones, they are the name of animals which have the same origin with frog.

- Nhà cửa để lầm than con thơ trẻ lấy ai rèn cặp

Cơ đồ đành bỏ bễ vợ trẻ trung lắm kẻ đe loi.

” than, rèn, bễ , đe “ are homophones.

Within this paper, I would like to discuss the contrast between English and

Vietnamese homophones in three aspects: the degree of productivity, form and


Firstly, most linguists would agree that English homophones is much

more productive than Vietnamese one. There are about 7700 English words of homophones in our dictionary. English is abounding with homophones in part because of its history of frequent invasions from mainland European countries - an island that is a sitting duck due to its close proximity to most European coastal nations. Instead of ditching their own language for the ones of the conquerors, the English speaking people would just add some of the invaders' language to their own vocabulary.

Secondly,talking about the form of homophonous words in English and Vietnamese, we can see that English can change the spelling, whereas Vietnamese can not. For example:

In English:

blue : /blu:/ ( meaning color) and blew : /blu:/ (past tense of blow). 

In Vietnamese:

Ruồi đậu(1) mâm xôi đậu(2)
đậu(1) is a verb and đậu(2) is a noun, it has the same spelling in every context.

Besides , Vietnamese homophones are sometimes formed because of the different in geographical features. For example:

che (tre) - che (che đầu)

da (ra) -da (lột da, da thịt)

xâu (sâu) - xâu (xâu cá).

Lastly, the function of homophones in English can be: noun, verb, adjective,…

For example:

The wind blew against the blue sky.

--> it is a verb

The wind blew (picture of blew) against the blue (picture of the colour blue) sky.

--> it is a noun.

Function of homophones in Vietnamese is mainly verb , noun, and adjective sometimes it can be adverb. For example:

 sút1 (decrease,n) – sút2 (kick a ball,v)

rắn (hard,adj) - rắn (snake,n)

Through a contrastive view into Vietnamese and English homophones in three

aspects as mention above, I would like to discuss some implications for English andVietnamese teaching at high school in our country.

Firstly,homophones can be one of the reasons students spell or hear something incorrectly. By raising learners' awareness of these types of words in an open and fun manner, teachers can help learners understand why they have difficulty with a particular listening activity or even with spelling a word wrongly.

Secondly, having a good grasp of homophones is essential in effective English communication. Knowing different homophones will allow readers to accurately recognize the meaning of English texts in pamphlets, books, signs, and other reading materials. In writing, knowing different homophones will allow writers to use the correct words in the sentences they are constructing so that the correct meanings are conveyed. Therefore, teacher should motivate students study homophones through poems, games, …

Last but not least,by learning the differences in spelling and meaning of some frequently confused paronyms and homophones in the English language, students can prevent embarrassingly mistakes in their writing.

In conclution, homophones is a very interesting linguistic feature as well as it can cause some embarassing mistakes. A contrastive analysis in this area between English and Vietnamese is necessary and interesting as it show many differences in productivity,forms and functions of reduplication in the two languages. Moreover, the studies also suggest some implications for teaching languages, both English and Vietnamese for high school students. I hope that this paper, to a certain extent, will help much for further exploration in this area and provide language teachers some idea for their teaching.

Reference list

Mai Ngọc Chừ; Vũ Đức Nghiệu & Hoàng Trọng Phiến. Cơ sở ngôn ngữ học và tiếng Việt. Nxb Giáo dục, H., 1997.

Brigdes,Robert (2007). On English homophones.

Retrieved December, 15, 2010,from english-tract-02-on-english.

Altair (2010). What cause so many homophones?.

Retrieved December, 23, 2010,from http://www.chinese-

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