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.
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.
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.
There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese. And there is a way to describe the tones in Pinyin system:
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.
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。
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.
thats really fun. good to see that you sent this to shanghaiist.
cantonese has six tones better tackles this :
Thats awsome.Looks cool the chinese spelling..;)Try to learn some words…
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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! :)
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。
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?
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.
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…
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.