Same-Same but Different III: Homographs Posted by josefina on Sep 1, 2010 in language, Russian for beginners, Russian life, when in Russia
Can it really be true that we’ve saved the best for our final, third, part of “Same-Same but Different”? After two posts – one on «омонимы» [homonyms] and another about «омофоны» [homophones] – we made it all the way to the truly troubling and trickiest of them all: «омографы» [homographs]. Here and now is when not only your intuition will be put to the test, but also your ability to «запоминать» [impfv. to remember, to make it a point to remember; to memorize (it’s perfect ‘friend’ is «запомнить»)] words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. The last part is imperative because these words differ in meaning depending on how you pronounce them. I’m sure everyone already knows and agrees with me that «знать, на какой гласный падает ударение» [to know which vowel is stressed (lit. ‘to know on what vowel the stress falls)] in Russian words is «один из самых сложных моментов русского языка» [one of the most difficult moments of Russian language]. «Омограф» [homograph] comes from Greek and means ‘written the same’. Russian language – rich as it is in several other ways as well – has many pairs of homographs. A large number of them are the results of simple morphological coincidence; though it of course would have been much more «любопытно» [curiously; also: interesting] for us had there been more to investigate behind them. Today’s post will only include a very «маленькое количество омографов» [small amount of homographs] to illustrate this complicated – for non-native speakers, that is – phenomenon.
Found on a wall in Yekaterinburg during the summer of 2007 (can you guys imagine how long I’ve been searching for a reason to post this picture here?!): «Скоро зима. Скорее пиши на дверях туалета свой стишок, писака» [Soon (it will be) winter. Hurry up and write (or: pee – depending on where you put the stress) your little verse on the walls of the toilet, scribbler (also: poor writer, hack writer)].
The highly imaginative and kind of profound graffiti above probably needs to be explained. First of all, it uses two so-called ‘negative’ diminutives derived from neutral nouns: «писака» [both fem. & mas., poor writer, hack writer, scribbler] from «писатель» [mas. writer] and «стишок» [little verse, bad poem, poor quality poetry] from «стих» [verse; pl. poetry, poems]. But it is also partly built around the homographs «писать» [impfv. to write] and «писать» [impfv. to piss]. Many foreigners in Russia have confused these two verbs with each other and made a fool of themselves; just as many foreigners will make the same mistake and thus also a fool of themselves in the future. Partly this is because most of us aren’t taught that the «писать» [to piss] way to pronounce this verb has a WHOLE OTHER meaning and so we don’t know how important it is to pronounce it right, i.e. «писать» [to write]. But only in infinitive form – and I’m guessing also in imperative because of the graffiti above – are these two verbs true homographs. As soon as you start putting them in first person singular present time, you’ll come to see that it is not really as easy to confuse them with each other anymore:
«Писать» [impfv. to write] becomes «я пишу» [I write].
«Писать» [impfv. to piss] becomes «я писаю» [I piss].
The same is true for all other forms of these two verbs in present tense, like in second person singular for example:
«Писать» [impfv. to write] becomes «ты пишешь» [you write];
«Писать» [impfv. to piss] becomes «ты писаешь» [you piss].
Of course it would be embarrassing to realize the next day that you told a Russian «мне нужно писать» [I have to pee (or: I need to pee)] when what you really wanted to inform them of was «мне нужно писать» [I have to write (or: I need to write)]. But I’m certain they’ll get over it. Let’s consider another sometimes annoying hompgraph: first person singular in present tense of both «платить» [impfv. to pay] and «плакать» [impfv. to cry] is written like «плачу». Say you asked a Russian girl/boy out to dinner, they said yes and everything has been going great up until the moment that you get the bill on the table. How do you pronounce the sentence «я всегда плачу» so that it means ‘I always pay’ and not ‘I always cry’ (unless that’s what you want to say)?
Your date will be impressed with your «ЩЕДРОСТЬ» [fem. GENEROSITY] if you say….
«Я всегда плачу» which is 1st person singular of «платить» [impfv. to pay].
Your date will be impressed with your «ЧУВСТВИТЕЛЬНОСТЬ» [fem. SENSITIVITY] if you say…
«Я всегда плачу» which is 1st person singular of «плакать» [impfv. to cry]
Has anybody else ever walked up to the counter in a Russian store and asked for «мука» [torment], when what you really needed in order to bake cookies was «мука» [flour]? That happened to me on a regular basis. In fact it happened so much that I would think I was always saying the word wrong even when I got it right… Has that ever happened to you?
Here’s a tiny little list of other homographs worth memorizing:
«потом»: instrumental case singular of «пот» [sweat].
«потом» [(adverb) then].
«уже»: short comparative form of «узкий» [narrow], i.e. meaning ‘narrower’.
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