Homonyms are words that sound the same but are spelled differently from one another. Homonyms in speech and writing are analogous to harmonic equivalents in music. In musical notation, the same tone may be spelled in two or more different ways, depending on the context of the music. The brain ‘hears’ do, due, and dew as exactly the same word. In music, we hear E-flat and D-sharp as the same tone. However, it is true that listening to an E-flat or D-sharp in the context of a particular tonality may slightly alter the way an equivalent note is played and thus heard; but only on a non-tempered instrument such as a violin or banjo. Harmonic equivalents played on a tempered instrument, such as a piano, will sound exactly the same to a trained ear, independent of their melodic or harmonic content. Conceivably, the brain is utilizing similar language functions to process both harmonic equivalents in music and homonyms in speech and writing, which begs several questions. Did the origin of spoken language inspire the development of musical syntax? or was it the other way around? Or maybe speech and music evolved simultaneously. What about the origins of writing and musical notation? It is fun to say the word hom-o-nym. There is something rough, but also exotic about it. Perhaps a musical linguist should invent a sexy word like homonym to describe the cognitive phenomenon associated with harmonic equivalents; something with a slightly more lyric quality. How about: harmonyms?
A Collection of Writings on Nature, Science, and Art by John Holland