Cross-linguistic Homonymy: Impact on Comprehension Amongthe Children Belonging to Bengali Diaspora Community in Kerala

Authors: Paromita Nandy (University of Kerala, India)
Anirban Sarkar (Central University of Karnataka, India)
Speakers: Paromita Nandy, Anirban Sarkar
Topic: Applied Sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Homonymy is a phenomenon in which one lexical item invokes two different and unrelated meanings showing two different situations and hence lexical ambiguity. Unlike polysemy, it may not bear any meaning prototype. The homonymous words are either similar in pronunciation (phonetic, i.e. homophony) or in terms of lexical structure (orthographic, i.e. homography).

The paper deals with examples of cross-linguistic homonymy in Bengali (Indo-Aryan language) and Malayalam (Dravidian language), and issues experienced by children in Bengali Diaspora communities in the state of Kerala, where Malayalam is the state language. These issues occur while communicating in both Malayalam and Bengali. The particular type of interference arises at the level of comprehension during communication which emphases the importance of addressing socio-cognitive domains. The children in this sample are aged between 3 and 12 years, and have Bengali as a primary discourse. All participants in the sample are becoming or are already fully exposed to the Malayalam speaking community and the Malayalam language.

Examples of lexical items include ‘cul’ which represents ‘broom’ in Malayalam but ‘hair (of human)’ in Bengali, ‘na:k’ which represents ‘tongue’ in Malayalam and ‘nose’ in Bengali, and ‘pal’ which represents ‘milk’ in Malayalam but ‘mast (of a boat)’ in Bengali. Other examples increase the significance of not only understanding the intricacies of the language but also the functional properties of the language, and hence those properties constructed by surrounding language categories in the situations of code switching or mixing


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Keywords: Socio-Cognition, Code-Switching, Code-Mixing, Homonymy, Diaspora