Friday, July 15, 2011

Is it research or research?

You might be asking yourself a question about my title, and I can guarantee I am not being redundant!

I remembered learning in my very first linguistic anthropology class about a category of words that were spelled the same but were pronounced differently, and that difference changed the meaning of the word. I could not for the life of me remember what the name of the category was, and even with the prowess of a Google search, I wasn't sure I would know what key words to use in my search. It wasn't easy, but after searching for about 15 minutes, I managed to find out that this category name I was looking for is "heteronym."

In my linguistic anthropology class, we mostly focused on words where the grammatical category changed depending on pronunciation, such as CONtest (noun, a competition between 2 or more parties) and conTEST (verb, to dispute something). I used the word "research" in my title because that's the only one I really struggle with in spoken communication. Common usage in North America has us using the same pronunciation regardless of whether we are using the verb or the noun, REsearch, when the noun should actually be reSEARCH, and the other pronunciation only used for the verb. It's not always easy to remember to pronounce it in one or the other way, depending on which one I need!

In any case, in my search for heteronyms, I learned that there are many more heteronyms than I thought there were, as in, they don't just refer to words that become verbs or nouns depending on the pronunciation. So I thought I would share an interesting web site that has a fairly good list of them and also explains what heteronym means relative to homonym, homophone, and homograph. Have fun!