According to Wikipedia .... a homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another, but differs in meaning. Such words may be spelled the same such as un tour [a tour] and une tour [a tower] or differently, such as vert [green], verre [glass] and ver [earthworm].
Needless to say, these sets of words have been exercising my brain!
The fact that the French use the same word to refer to a plant pot and a potty left Poppette scratching her head when I asked her if she wanted to sit on le pot. I have since made a point of differentiating the plant pot by calling it a pot de fleurs!
Likewise, I find it a little hard to get my head around the fact that, in French, the word balançoire means both swing and seesaw...oh yeah! When I asked a French friend if she didn't find this a little confusing, she simply said, why should she. She said it was totally normal and actually she thought it a little odd that we have separate words. Right...well, I do see her point. I pushed on....asking her how on earth she would know what her son wanted to do if he said he wanted to play on the balançoire. How could she be certain not to disappoint him by taking him on the wrong ride? Simple, she said, I would just ask him whether he wanted to go on the balançoire that goes up and down or the one that goes forwards and backwards!
Belgian Maman has been having similar issues with English homophones whilst speaking non-native English with her son. "Don't touch the glasses", she said to him. He looked at her rather puzzled wondering why he would be committing an act of naughtiness by touching his lunettes [reading glasses] when his Maman was, in fact, referring to les verres [drinking glasses].
The conclusion I have come to, however, is that homophones are of no consequence to a native language speaker. You just don't think about them because you know them and have always known them and just absorb them throughout your language learning years through context and repetition and you instinctively know that your children will do the same. The issue when speaking a non-native language is that you question yourself more....if two (or more) words sound the same, you assume that your child will be confused because these words aren't second nature to you.
So...I am just getting on with it. Just because the word for sea [la mer] and mother [la mère] sound the same, doesn't mean that Poppette will be confused....at her tender age it's a question of context and, at a later stage, once she is able to read, all will become even clearer.
Click here to see a useful list of French homophones.
Have you any examples of how homophones have affected you in either a native or non-native context?