SOURCES OF HOMONYMS
The sources of homonyms are:
a) phonetic changes which words undergo in the course of their historical development. As a result of such changes, two or more words which were formerly pronounced differently may develop identical sound forms and thus become homonyms. Night and knight, for instance were not homonyms in Old English, as the initial k- was pronounced (OE kniht). A more complicated change of form brought together another pair of homonyms: to kneed (OE cnëdan) and to need (OE nëadian).
b) conversionwhich serves the creating of grammatical homonyms, e.g.: iron – to iron; work – to work, etc.
c) shorteningis a further type of word-building which increases the number of homonyms. E.g.: fan in the sense of “an enthusiastic admirer of some kind of sport or of an actor” is a shortening produced from fanatic. Its homonym is a Latin borrowing fan, n. which denotes an implement for waving lightly to produce a cool current of air. The noun rep. denoting a kind of fabric has three homonyms made by shortening: repertory – rep., n.
representative – rep., n.
reputation – rep., n.
d) borrowing is another source of homonyms. A borrowed word may, in the final stage of its phonetic adaptation, duplicate in form either a native word or another foreign borrowing:
ritus Lat. – rite n. –write v. –right adj.
pais OFr. – piece,n. – pettia OFr. – peace, n.
vitim Lat. – wrong, an immoral habit – vice Eng. – evil conduct
vilis Lat. – spiral – vice Eng. – apparatus with strong jaws in which things can be held tightly
vice Lat. – instead of, in place of – vice – president Eng.
e) words made by sound-imitationcan also form pairs of homonyms with other words:
bang, n – “a loud, sudden explosive noise” – bang, n – “a fringe of hair combed over the forehead”
mew, n. “a sound that a cat makes” – mew, n. “a sea gull” – mews, n. “a small terraced house in central London”.
f) split polysemy. Two or more homonyms can originate from different meanings of the same word when, for some reason, the semantic structure of the word breaks into several parts. As soon as a derived meaning is no longer felt to be connected with the primary meaning at all polysemy breaks up and separate words come into existence, quite different in meaning from the basic word but identical in spelling: bar – балка; бар; адвокатура.
From the viewpoint of their origin homonyms are divided into historical and etymological.
Historical homonymsare those which result from breaking up polysemy; then one polysemantic word will split up into two or more separate words, e.g.: to bear (tolerate) – to bear (give birth to); pupil (student) – pupil (of the eye); plant (a tree or bush) – plant (factory).
Etymological homonymsare words of different origin which come to be alike in sound or in spelling (and may be both written and pronounced alike).