COLOUR and COLOR are phonetically similar and have the same meaning. COLOUR, COLLAR and CARLA are phonetically similar but differ in meaning. Yet meaning is determined by context. We might COLLAR in a picture, using bright KILLERS; or buy a CARLA for our dog.
Context assists with meaningful interpretation of what has been said or read, and we happily substitute ‘preferred forms' for words or 'concepts' we consider to be in error. Utter the words out of context however, and many variant spellings may be offered in return. This is particularly true of names; for example CAREL, CARRELL, CARROL, CURRALL, CURRELL, KAREEL, KAREL, KAROL and KARIEL.
The word 'phonetic' refers to spoken sounds and not to the spelling of words. Different spelling sequences often represent similar sounds; for example, the 'PH' in PHONE is similar to the 'F' in FOAM. What are defined as vowels and consonants in the written alphabet are not consistent with spoken language, and are unlikely to be since language is continually changing (the written form taking longer to change than the spoken). The longer documents and records are accumulated, the harder it becomes to justify changing those alphabets.
T.N. Gadd. Fisching Fore Werds, 1988
I was very impressed with this concise explanation on phonetics and homonyms made by Gadd when he first introduced his Phonix improvement to the Soundex algorithm for phonetic retrieval of names.
Check out my implementation of Phonix.
- Download the iPython notebook and play with the algorithm yourself.
- Download the python script and use it in a project