The circumstancesOn the other hand, homophones are words with the same pronunciation but different meanings though, at times, they also bear the same spelling. For example, ‘read and reed’, ‘right and write’, ‘prey and pray’. ‘Rose’ could be the name of a lady, it could also mean a flower or it could be used as the past tense of the word ‘rise’. Context is defined as the circumstances that form the setting for an event or idea in terms of which it can be understood. Thus, context would help, for instance, in determining what meaning we attach to the word ‘sow’ as earlier shown. For example; “John woke up early, donned his gumboots, took a hoe, fertiliser and proceeded to the farm to sow, hoping he would be through with the work before midday”. The things that give us the context here are seed, fertiliser and farm. Conversely, “Mary’s pigsty has only one sow at the moment. The rest have been sold”. In the last example, what gives us the context are the words ‘Mary’s pigsty’. In some cases, you might have noticed that only a thin line separates polysemy, homonyms and homophones. On that account alone, one needs to be cautious in diction. Therein lays the complexity. The ‘bankruptcy’ (in my view) arises when a single word, polysemy and homonyms, means different things. To the examples already given, add the words ‘stalk’ which means; ‘to approach someone stealthily or ‘the stem of an herbaceous plant’ and ‘Long’ used to express yearning, duration or the length of something. The list examples is quite long.
Different contextA social media post in which the writer not only lamented that death had robbed Kenya a promising leader in Ken Okoth, but also that the deceased had to be cremated, prompted this column. The cremation of Ken Okoth, though not the first time such a thing has happened in Kenya, generated national discourse, with most of the participants expressing support for traditional burials. Simply, the concerned fellow wrote: “Why like a thief?” Since the context was clear, it was easy to understand the writer used the word ‘like’ as a comparison. In a different context, ‘like’ can be used to show ‘affection’. If a beautiful, honest lady befriends a notorious thief, the same question can be posed. This introduces the aspect of syntax. Ideally, syntax is the grammatical structure, or manner of arranging words to create sentences that are readily understood in whatever language they are written. Consider the following examples that illustrate the effect of syntax on how we present or understand the written word. “The dog wagged its tail vigorously on seeing his handler”, “Vigorously, the dog wagged its tail on seeing his handler” and “The dog, on seeing his handler, wagged his tail vigorously”. These sentences basically mean the same thing, but emphasis varies depending on where certain words and punctuation marks are placed. The aspect of passive and active voices, earlier discussed, comes into play as well. As a word of caution, the emphatic word or phrase should either come first, or last. In these sentences, diction, which is defined as the choice of words, remains the same throughout. Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]