11 August 2006

A Chinese classical text

During the regime of Chairman Mao, there was once a proposal for a new set of Chinese writing: to get rid of those ideograms and to get on board the developed world by using Roman letters.

However, Chinese is a language with a high degree of homophony (each of two or more characters having the same pronunciation but different meanings), and the sound of every Chinese character carries a specific tone, or pitch movement, which is an integral part of a word and used to distinguish its lexical meaning.

As a result, it is impossible to abandom Chinese characters in favour of romanisation.

Have a look at the image below: a short paragraph containing 91 Chinese characters, excluding another five in the title, all with the eaxctly same sound shi in different ways of pitch movement.

If you transliterate the text into roman letters, there will be 91 shis. How can you make sense of them? If you are interested, read the translation in English and listen to the Chinese sounds of this text.

The Story of Mr Shi Eating Lions (shi shi shi shi shi)

In a stone den was a poet Mr Shi, who loved eating lions and determined to eat ten. He often went to the market to watch lions. One day at ten o'clock, ten lions just arrived at the market. At that time, Mr Shi just arrived at the market too. Seeing those ten lions, he killed them with arrows. He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den. The stone den was damp. He had his servant wiping it. The stone den being wiped, only then did he try to eat those ten lions. While eating, he just realised that those ten lions were in fact ten stone-lion corpses. Try to explain this.

Ten Lions

N.B. Thanks to Yung-Yao who proofread the Enlgish translation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Professor Wei, I have always wanted to see this again, since I memorized it in school 45 years ago. I'm so grateful.