Cheyenne homonyms

Homonyms are words which sound the same but have different meanings. Some people also require of homonyms that they be spelled the same, as well; others do not. Some English homonyms are the pairs "plain" and "plane", and "beet" and "beat."

There are several Cheyenne homonyms:

mo'eko 'ring' (inanimate); 'finger' (animate)

hmko 'beetle' (an.); 'spoon' (inan.)

homa 'blanket'; 'mosquito' (both an.)

mhenemo 'ladybug'; 'playing card' (both an.)

v'ho'e 'whiteman (obsolescing as 'trickster'); 'spider' (both an.)

m'ko 'head' (inan.); 'tribal councilman (an.; i.e. political head)'


'Ring' and 'finger' are semantically related by physical contiguity.

Folk etymology tries to relate 'whiteman' and 'spider' in that the whiteman fenced in the rangeland making it look like a spider's web. But there is apparently no historical relationship between the two Cheyenne words. Note that Arapaho also has homonymns 'whiteman' and 'spider.' Is the homonymy borrowed? (If so, in which direction?)

'Head' and 'coucilman' seems a clear case of semantic extension, regardless of the animacy shift.

'Blanket' and 'mosquito' are accidental homonymy, based on historical sound changes from Proto-Algonquian. In fact, we would expect the Cheyenne reflex of PA 'mosquito' to be hema, but I have never been able to hear an "e" in this word, and no Cheyennes with whom I have worked hear an "e" or write one.

I do not think there is anything else of semantic relationship in any other of the homonym pairs, but who knows?!

Is each set here clearcut, classical homonymy? No. I think we may need to speak in terms of degrees of homonymy, rather than categorial yes/no for whether or not a pair of words are homonyms or not.

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