Shi Shi Shi Shi – Chinese Pinyin

As many people knows, there are many different characters mapping to the same pronunciation. Thus, it is very hard to directly tell from a pronunciation what the original character is. Here is an interesting example, written by Zhao Yuan Ren in 1930.

石室诗士施氏,嗜食狮,誓食十狮。适施氏时时适市视狮。十时,适十狮适市。是时,适施氏适市。氏视是十狮,恃矢势,使是十狮逝世。氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。石室湿,氏使侍拭石室。石室拭,氏始试食是十狮尸。食时,始识是十狮尸,实十石狮尸。试释是事。

If you directly use Pinyin to translate the article into something people from other countries can at least pronounce, just like people translate my name from my Chinese name to Wang Jian Shuo, here is the translation:

Shi Shi shi shi shi

Shishi shishi Shi Shi, shi shi, shi shi shi shi.

Shi shishi shi shi shi shi.

shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.

Shi shi, shi Shi Shi shi shi.

Shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shishi.

Shi shi shi shi shi shi, shi shishi.

Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shishi.

Shishi shi, Shi shi shi shi shi shi shi.

Shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi.

Shi shi shi shi.

I know it is nightmare to read it.

Here is my translation of the article (well, just roughly)

A poet with last name Shi living in a room made of stone,

loved lions, and sware to eat ten lions.

Shi often go to market to see lions.

At ten o’clock, it happened that ten lions came to the market.

At thsi time, it happened that this Mr. Shi came to the market.

Mr. Shi looked at the ten lions, and used the power of arch, killed the ten lions.

Mr. Shi picked up the body of the ten lions, and got to the stone room.

The stone room was wet, Mr. Shi asked servant wipe the stone room.

The stone room was done, Mr. Shi started to try to eat the body of the ten lions.

When he started eating, he found out the ten lion body were actually ten stone lion body.

Try explaion this.

15 thoughts on “Shi Shi Shi Shi – Chinese Pinyin

  1. 也许知道

    起先我以为这是清朝人写的东西,以前也看你提过,不过当时没注意。没想到是今人的著着。不过此人真是天才,将音义容为一体。我觉得,它的音乐细胞应该不错!

    古人的文功很有趣,不过在今天,文功已经不是什么重要的东西了。一个文字如何表意一个人的声音确实是件事情。可能这个人没有经过嗓子就把它的声音发出来了。

    今天还能捉摸到这种文字乐趣的人不多。

    除却文功以外,这篇文章的构思亦是相当精巧,也是非常了不起的。

    我认为,写文章不但要音容并貌,而且情节也很重要。这方面较有特色的金庸是一个。钱钟书如果不是过于学术化了一点,在文学方面可能更有成就一些。

    讲起这种写作的乐趣。就是看到好文章的时候时时会想起。

  2. ecodelta

    I have no idea of Chinese, so I just wonder

    Is the sound of each word exactly the same or there is a difference in the tone?

    If the sound of each word is exactly the same, then you can only understand the poem when you read it. If someone recited the poem to you, you would have the same problem as reading it in pinyin.

    If that is true, then there are poems that cannot be recited in Chinese at all. They can only be read

    Pinyin is a representation of the sound of the language. A phonetic alphabet. If a language have too many words which sound is exactly the same, then purely phonetic system is useless,… unless enhanced in someway.

    For example. In the same way in which some phonetic alphabets use special signs to indicate the right sound of a tone, special punctuation marks could be added to distinguish words with same sound but different meaning. That is similar to what it is done with Chinese characters, although in a different way.

    You could have a Pinyin++.

    But if my assumptions are correct, the problem of hearing that “shii” poem remains the same. You can understand it when you, buy not when you hear it.

  3. JH

    There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese. And there is a way to describe the tones in Pinyin system:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinyin

    There are many Chinese characters whose pronunciations differ only in their tones. As you can see here, 32 of such characters are in this poem alone :-)

    You are absolutely right: No body will understand it without reading it.

  4. 也许知道

    我觉得英语很喜欢在表面上以区分意思的不同。比如,它们的你吃饭了吗?非要以一种语法的形式来表达疑问的意思。不像中国汉语的加个问号,或者加个吗就可以了。英语非要加DO YOU。我第一天学英语就觉得好笑。居然还有这种思维方式。类似的例子还有发生在英语还要搞什么过去式,现在式,将来式,生怕别人没得大脑分不清时间的先后顺序。从这一点来看。 中国人确实聪明很多,因为中国人都能彼此心灵神会。有些东西反而不用讲那么,像老外那样,一股脑的交待出来。

    英文的文化含义更多的是外向,表面的,急于表达的。不像中国内在的,含蓄的,逻辑性强的。要把这首《石室诗士施氏》翻译成英文才是搞笑了。所以中国人为什么会更聪明些。语言是个重要的因素。英文只有26个字母,在人脑中,这26个图型的处理只是分别它的排序方式不同。但中文的字形却是千变万化,无形中加大了人脑的处理压力。因为处理这些中国字需要不断的进行图形的逻辑转换。这是个工作量极大的CPU过程。久而久之,中国人的脑子就这么锻炼出来了。

    所以中国有种说法叫文字而劳形。讲的就是,中国文字带来的疲劳感,常常会使人精神不振。通俗点讲,就是用脑过度。

    对吧,王建硕。这种内在的东西,大家都懂的吧。

    以前我跟别人玩。别人将非常垃圾的东西来挑战我。我就跟那帮社区网管干。结果,到把我练出来了。

  5. ecodelta

    @JH

    Fascinating. If too many words do not differ at all in sound, only in Chinese character used, then the pinyin system would have to be augmented with extra characters and/or symbols to solve these phonetics ambiguities of the Chinese languages.

    Just a pure phonetic alphabet seems not to be enough.

    How this could be done, or if the end result would be easier or more conveniet to use than the Chinese characters (classic or simplified), I have no idea.

  6. 也许知é"

    普通话读这样的æ-‡ç« è¿˜ä¸å¤§å¥½ï¼Œä¸çŸ¥æ˜¯å¦æ²¡æƒ³èµ·ï¼Œåœ¨å¤æ-‡ä¸­éŸ³çš„平仄这一概念。古æ-¶å°†éŸ³å¥½åƒåˆ†æˆå¹³ä¸ŠåŽ»å…¥ï¼Œå¹³ä»„的分æ³o 跟今天的普通话四声有些不同。虽然戒只知大概,但如果å-æ-¹äººè¯»ï¼Œæ¯”如广东话æˆ-桂æž-话来读一些古è¯-感觉就和åŒ-æ-¹äººè¯»ä¸ä¸€æ ·ã€‚åŒ-æ-¹äººæœ‰æ-¶åœ¨æ‰¾ä»„声上似乎天生就是个声盲,似乎它们不大好分辨仄声。但戒的地æ-¹æ-¹è¨€å´å®¹æ˜”å¾-多。比如,《论语》一书的书名。古æ-¶è¯»è®ºå­-,为轮音。今古章差别就很大。似乎在秦代,根本就没普通话这席标准国语。那æ-¶çš„åo 调更接迒四川,æ¹-å-,广西的越语。用平仄来分声,读这类æ-‡ç« å¾ˆå¥½åˆ†ã€‚

  7. 也许知道

    普通话读这样的文章还不大好,不知是否没想起,在古文中音的平仄这一概念。古时将音好像分成平上去入,平仄的分法跟今天的普通话四声有些不同。虽然我只知大概,但如果南方人读,比如广东话或桂林话来读一些古诗感觉就和北方人读不一样。北方人有时在找仄声上似乎天生就是个声盲,似乎它们不大好分辨仄声。但我的地方方言却容易得多。比如,《论语》一书的书名。古时读论字,为轮音。今古章差别就很大。似乎在秦代,根本就没普通话这席标准国语。那时的单调更接近四川,湖南,广西的越语。用平仄来分声,读这类文章很好分。

  8. arn

    OMG!..I am not Chinese, and I guess it is only on Chinese language that you can create a long story with just 3 letters s-h-i! :)

  9. egg

    Traditionally Chinese phonology describes Cantonese as having nine tones – 阴平阳平,阴上阳上,阴去阳去,阴入1,阴入2,阳入。Maybe Standard Chinese should have been Cantonese.

    Also, I think calling this “fascinating” is a little disingenuous. Chinese having sentences that are unintelligible to the ear isn’t anything particular. English has a similar sentence – Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. This sentence can be made infinitely long using only “Buffalo” and “buffalo,” unlike the Chinese story. Anyway, what I want to say is that I can’t stand people who think things foreign are “fascinating” mostly because they’re foreign.

    As to Mr. 也许知道, 平声和仄声是用来写诗的。平声是阴平阳平,其他(上去入)都是仄声。可是平仄不会告诉你一个字到底是哪个声哪个调,所以不能靠平仄来猜字。

    “英文的文化含义更多的是外向,表面的,急于表达的。不像中国内在的,含蓄的,逻辑性强的。”

    又是这套笼统的傻话。这才没有逻辑性。也没啥根据;这些东西人哪里能分得这么清楚?

    Also, I don’t think you should be so dismissive of verb conjugation. Wouldn’t one think that the imperfect subjunctive in French has more internal (内在) meaning than a plain old one-form Chinese verb?

    我最后说一下,赵元任是一个世界上非常罕见的奇才,他没写这个东西就可能永远没有人写。

  10. Soon

    One common mistake of foreigners is that they think all languages are made up of alphabets. I think Chinese government should drop the romanised pinyin and instead use the old pinyin. What should Chinese conform to the western idea of having alphabets?

    If the foreigners wanted to learn Chinese lets learn it without using the romanised pinyin. I wonder if Japanese have romanised japanese?

    Sometime when I listened to the Chinese press conference, there are always translation comes with it. The French, British, Spain, Japanese, their government wouldn’t bother to provide translation. If the world want to know what the chinese government is trying to say they shoudl learn Chinese.

  11. AussiePB

    Hello @Soon – I would never have been able to read and write chinese characters without first learning by what u are calling “romainsed” pinyin… not sure what your problem is with this. It’s not about conforming to western ideas – it’s about breaking down barriers and making it easier for communication across borders. Furthermore, it’s not a “common mistake by foreigners that they think all languages are made up of alphabets”… it’s a common mistake by “some” foreigners. Kindest regards…

  12. egg

    Hi Soon,

    The Japanese do have romanized japanese, for learners of Japanese as a second language. As for over-use of pinyin within China and English translations of domestic news conferences (I assume you don’t mean international press conferences, because every country translates international stuff, even if the translations are given directly to the press rather than publicly released), you’ll have to take that up with the Chinese government. It’s not the foreigners who are writing the translations and romanizations you know.

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