In languages that don't have a perfect 1:1 mapping between sounds and letters in their written form there are two possibilities.

  1. In English "bow" and "bough" are two spellings with a single pronunciation /baʊ/
  2. In English /bəʊ/ and /baʊ/ are two pronunciations with a single spelling "bow".

In English both are pretty common, and as my example shows sometimes even the "same word" can be a case of both. But in other languages one case may be much more prevalent than the other. For instance in Modern Greek there are several sounds that can be spelled in multiple ways but I'm not aware of any spellings that can be pronounced in multiple ways.

What terms are used to describe languages or writing systems where 1. occurs and where 2. occurs?

  • Are you asking about the occurrence or what to call languages that possess such occurrences?
    – Alenanno
    Oct 20, 2011 at 10:43
  • If there are terms for such languages or orthographies or writing systems that would be best. But any other terms will also be interesting if that's all there is. Oct 20, 2011 at 10:58

1 Answer 1


enter image description here source: wikipedia Homograph homophone venn diagram.png

I believe your first example is called heterograph and the second case is a heteronym.

  • 1
    +1 for the diagram reference! Much better to reason about these things graphically :-) Oct 20, 2011 at 13:24
  • 1
    This is junior high stuff though.
    – kaleissin
    Oct 21, 2011 at 14:36
  • @kaleissin indeed
    – Louis Rhys
    Oct 21, 2011 at 15:03
  • Yeah I'm still holding out for terms that describe languages or orthographies or writing systems. Oct 22, 2011 at 7:11
  • 1
    Probably every single language that have been written for more than fifty years have heterographs and heteronyms so a term for languages that don't have 'em would be better.
    – kaleissin
    Feb 18, 2012 at 12:58

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