Capitonyms - do they occur in other languages?

A capitonym is a word that changes meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) based on whether the first letter is capitalized. Of course this only applies when the word is not the first in a sentence, where either usage would be capitalized. Gotta love English.

Examples include:

Same pronunciation, different meaning
China - a country
china - dishes

March - a month
march - a form of ambulation

Different pronunciation and meaning
Polish (POE lish)- having to do with Poland
polish (PAH lish)- the act of making something shiny (or the substance used to make it shiny)

Does this occur in any other language(s) besides English?

Sure. The word rosbif in French literally means roast beef, but Rosbif is a derogatory term for an English person. Not sure it would always be capitalized in the latter sense, though.

Most alphabets/non-alphabetical scripts don’t have capital letters, though.

In German some declensions of nouns are only distinguished from a conjugation of a verb by capitalization.

Helft den armen Vögeln! = help the poor birds!
Helft den Armen vögeln! = help the poor people fuck!

Der gefangene Floh = the captive flea
Der Gefangene floh = the prisoner fled.

Die nackte Sucht zu quälen = the naked addiction to torment
Die Nackte sucht zu quälen = the naked woman seeks to torment

Ich habe liebe Genossen = I have dear comrades.
Ich habe Liebe genossen = I have enjoyed love.

The problem with this question is that these examples are mostly* not “a word that changes meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) based on whether the first letter is capitalized”, but rather cases of two different words that by chance have converged on the same spelling; that is, homographs. There are lots of homographs in English, most of which don’t have capitalization as a marker; e.g., “row a boat” vs “a row of boats”. The capitalization thing is relevant only insofar as it helps narrow down which homograph is the right one, because English usage capitalizes certain categories of words (proper names, countries, months, etc).

So for your question, most languages have homographs, including the ones that don’t use alphabets (or which use alphabets that don’t have capitalization). If a language uses capitalization to mark certain categories of words, then it can also have “capitonyms”. But they’re not a separate special thing, just a particular subset of homographs.

*The exception being China/china, where the material is named after the country.

In Spanish

Lima - capital of Perú
lima - lime

China - the country
china - Asian woman, feminine singular adjective for Chinese
china - orange (the fruit, not the color and mainly in Puerto Rico)

Argentina - the country
argentina - Argentinian woman, feminine singular adjective for Argentinian

“argentina” also means “silvery”.

I thought of this topic when I helped my uncle Jack off a horse.

The Scandinavian languages have Gud (monotheistic God)/gud (any deity).

The problem with this answer is that you are discussing a very different thing. A capitonym is exactly as I defined it. A homograph is similar, but different, as capitalization has no bearing on the meaning, only context. Examples are lead, bear and roll.

That’s exactly the difference - capitonyms require capitalization as a marker. It’s what makes them what they are.

The etymology is correct, but in this case irrelevant. The word is still a capitonym.

The wiki article I linked to mentions German having many capitonyms, Spanish having fewer. I wondered about other languages.

We also have God (a name for the Christian deity)/god (any deity)

Portuguese actually has one that matches one in English, but they are completely different unrelated words between the two languages.

Turkey (a country)
turkey (a bird)

Peru (a country)
peru (a bird - turkey, in fact)

As far as I understand, in both instances the bird was named after the country. The English somehow thought that turkeys came from Turkey, and the Portuguese thought they came from Peru.

I dispute the “very different thing”; capitonyms are a special case of homographs. The Wiki page you link to even says so explicitly (“A capitonym is a form of homograph and – when the two forms are pronounced differently – also of heteronym.”). I think the definition given on the Wiki page (which you quoted in the OP) is misleading, since there is apparently no actual requirement that capitonyms be one word with two meanings, and many examples that it lists are the opposite, two distinct words that share a spelling. (Or maybe there is inconsistent use of “word” as a unit of language and “word” as a unit of text…)

In terms of your question re whether they exist in other languages, I think my answer stands: all written languages have homographs, so any (alphabetical) language that uses capitalization to mark word categories will have them. The more a language relies on capitalization as a category marker, the more likely it would seem to have plentiful capitonyms; Mops has given some German examples, and I think German will be a fertile source because of its very broad use of capitalization to mark nouns.

In any case, the term “capitonym” seems to be something made up for a “humorous things about the English language” type of book (specifically, Richard Lederer, Crazy English) and I’m not convinced it is a particularly useful distinction vs just “homograph”. The capitalization angle is an artifact of writing conventions; in “RIOTING RESTAURANT PATRONS IN CHINA CAUSE MASSIVE CHINA BREAKAGE”, there is no capitalization difference but the China/china meaning is still different.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

I suppose there’s any number of these in closely-related (e.g. Romance) languages if you consider things like names. For example, French Pierre (Peter), and pierre (rock). The former derives from the latter, Biblically.

dinde - turkey
d’Inde - from India

“job” and “Job” (from the Bible, usually pronounced like jobe).

Thanks. The question is specifically about capitonyms in other languages. That is, words where the meaning and, in some cases, pronunciation changes based on capitalization of the first letter (except when used as the first word of a sentence). It is not about words where capitalization makes no difference.

More examples are appreciated. Another from English is:
Lent - a time period in Christianity
lent - past tense of 'lend"

Also “jerb” as in “they took our jobs!” :slight_smile:

In French, uncapitalised *terre *means soil, ground, earth. Capitalised *Terre *means Planet Earth. Same as in English, really.

In the news recently…

Papa - Pope
papa - potato

Mi papa tiene 47 anos.

That’s el Papa for the Pope and la papa for potato. Not just the capitalization, but also the gender.