Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

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An uneaten stone lion.

The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den (simplified Chinese: 施氏食狮史; traditional Chinese: 施氏食獅史; pinyin: Shī Shì shí shī shǐ; literally: "The Story of Shi Shi Eating Lions") is a 92-character modern poem written in Classical Chinese by Yuen Ren Chao (1892–1982), in which every syllable has the sound shi (in different tones) when read in modern Mandarin Chinese. It is a noted example of constrained writing. The sentence "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is an example of this type of writing in English.

The text[edit]

in spoken chinese (2005)

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The following is the text in Hanyu Pinyin, Gwoyeu Romatzyh, and Chinese traditional/simplified characters. Pinyin orthography recommends writing Chinese numbers in Arabic numerals, so the number shí () would be written as 10. To preserve the homophony in this case, the number 10 has also been spelled out in Pinyin.

Translation
« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »
In a stone den was a poet called Shi Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Explanation[edit]

Classical Chinese is a written language and is very different from spoken Chinese. Different words that have the same sound when spoken aloud will have different written forms, comparable to deer and dear in English.

Also, many characters in the passage had distinct sounds in Middle Chinese. All the various Chinese spoken variants have over time merged and split different sounds. For example, when the same passage is read in Cantonese, there are seven distinct syllables - ci, sai, sap, sat, sek, si, sik - in six distinct tone contours, leaving 22 distinct character pronunciations. In Min Nan or Taiwanese, there are six distinct syllables - se, si, su, sek, sip, sit – in seven distinct tone contours, leaving 15 character pronunciations. Even with Dioziu (Chaozhou/Teochew), there are eleven distinct syllables - ci, cik, sai, se, sek, si, sip, sik, chap, chiah, chioh - in six distinct tone contours, leaving 22 distinct character pronunciations. However, it is still debatable whether the passage is any more comprehensible when read aloud in other dialects than it is in Mandarin.[citation needed]

Cantonese Jyutping
« Si1 si6 sik6 si1 si2 » ()
Sek6 sat1 si1 si6 si1 si6, si3 si1, sai6 sik6 sap6 si1.
Si6 si4 si4 sik1 si5 si6 si1.
Sap6 si4, sik1 sap6 si1 sik1 si5.
Si6 si4, sik1 si1 si6 sik1 si5.
Si6 si6 si6 sap6 si1, ci5 ci2 sai3, si2 si6 sap6 si1 sai6 sai3.
Si6 sap6 si6 sap6 si1 si1, sik1 sek6 sat1.
Sek6 sat1 sap1, si6 si2 si6 sik1 sek6 sat1.
Sek6 sat1 sik1, si6 ci2 si3 sik6 si6 sap6 si1.
Sik6 si4, si6 sik1 si6 sap6 si1 si1, sat6 sap6 sek6 si1 si1.
Si3 sik1 si6 si6.
Min Nan or Taiwanese
« Si--sī Si̍t-si Sú »
Se̍k-sek si-sū Si--sī, sī su, sè si̍t si̍p-su.
Sī sî-sî sek-sī sī-su.
Si̍p-sî, sek si̍p-su sek-sī.
Sī-sî, sek si--sī sek-sī.
Sī sī sī si̍p-su, sī sí sè, sú sī si̍p-su sè-sè.
Sī si̍p sī si̍p su-si, sek se̍k-sek.
Se̍k-sek sip, sī sú sī sit se̍k-sek.
Se̍k-sek sit, sī sí sì si̍t sī si̍p-su.
Si̍t-sî, sí sek sī si̍p-su, si̍t si̍p se̍k-su-si.
Sī sek sī-su.
Teochew
« si1 si6 ziah8 sai1 se2 »
zioh8sig4 si1se6 si1si6, si7 sai1, si7 ziah8 zab8 sai1.
si6 si5si5 sêg4 ci6 si6 sai1.
zab8 si5, sêg4 zab8 sai1 sêg4 ci6.
si6 si5, sêg5 si1si6 sêg4 ci6.
si6 si6 si6 zab8 sai1, si6 si2 si3, sai2 si6 zab8 sai1 si7si3.
si6 sib8 si6 zab8 sai1 si1, sêg4 zioh8sig4.
zioh8sig4 sib4, si6 sai2 si6 cig4 zioh8sig4.
zioh8sig4 cig4, si6 si2 ci3 ziah8 si6 zab8 sai1.
ziah8 si5, si2 sêg4 si6 zab8 sai1, sig8 zab8 zioh8 sai1 si1.
ci3 sêg4 si6 se7.
Gan Chinese
« Si1 si5 sik7 si1 si3. »
Sak6 sit7 si1 si5 si1 si5, si5 si1, si5 sik7 set6 si1.
Si5 si4 si4 sik7 si5 si5 si1.
Set6 si4, sik7 set6 si1 sik7 si5.
Si5 si4, sik7 si1 si5 sik7 si5.
Si5 si5 si5 set6 si1, si5 si3 si5, si3 si5 set6 si1 si5 si.
Si5 sit7 si5 set6 si1 si1, sik7 sak6 sit7.
Sak6 sit7 sit7, si5 si3 si5 sik7 sak6 sit7.
Sak6 sit7 sik7, si5 si3 si4 sik7 si5 set6 si1.
Sik7 si4, si3 sik7 si5 set6 si1, sit7 set6 sak6 si1 si1.
Si4 sik7 si5 si5.
Wu Chinese
« si zi zeh si si. »
zah seh si zi si zi, zi si, zi zeh zeh si.
zi zi zi seh zi zi si.
zeh zi, seh zeh si seh zi.
zi zi, seh si zi seh zi.
zi zi zi zeh si, zi si si, si zi zeh si zi si.
zi zeh zi zeh si si, seh zah seh.
zah seh seh, zi si zi seh zah seh.
zah seh seh, zi si si zeh zi zeh si.
zeh zi, si seh zi zeh si, zeh zeh zah si si.
si seh zi zi.
Hakka Chinese
« si1 si5 sit8 si1 si3 »
sak8 sit7 si1 si5 si1 si5, si5 si1, si5 sit8 sip8 si1.
si5 si2 si2 sit7 si5 si3 si1.
sip8 si2, sit7 sip8 si1 sit7 si5.
si5 si2, sit7 si1 si5 sit7 si5.
si5 si3 si5 sip8 si1, si1 si5 si5, si3 si3 sip8 si1 si5 si5.
si5 sip8 si5 sip8 si1 si1, si7 sak8 sit7.
sak8 sit7 sip7, si5 si3 si5 sit7 sak8 sit7.
sak8 sit7 sit7, si5 ts'i3 ts'i5 sit8 si5 sip8 si3.
sit8 si2, ts'i5 ts'i5 si5 sip8 si1, sit8 sip8 sak8 si1 si1.
ts'i5 sit7 si5 si5.

Poem text in vernacular Chinese[edit]

While the sound changes merged sounds that had been distinct, new ways of speaking those concepts emerged. Typically disyllabic words replaced monosyllabic ones. If the same passage is translated into modern Mandarin, it will not be that confusing. The following is an example written in Vernacular Chinese, along with its pronunciations in Pinyin; Chinese characters (simp.) with pinyin transcription added using ruby annotations.

(shī) (shì) (chī) (shī) (zi) ()

(yǒu) () (wèi) (zhù) (zài) (shí) (shì) () (de) (shī) (rén) (jiào) (shī) (shì)(ài) (chī) (shī) (zi)(jué) (xīn) (yào) (chī) (shí) (zhī) (shī) (zi)

() (cháng) (cháng) () (shì) (chǎng) (kàn) (shī) (zi)

(shí) (diǎn) (zhōng)(gāng) (hǎo) (yǒu) (shí) (zhī) (shī) (zi) (dào) (le) (shì) (chǎng)

() (shí) (hòu)(gāng) (hǎo) (shī) (shì) () (dào) (le) (shì) (chǎng)

() (kàn) (jiàn) () (shí) (zhī) (shī) (zi)便(biàn) (fàng) (jiàn)() () (shí) (zhi) (shī) (zi) (shā) () (le)

() (shi) () () (shí) (zhī) (shī) (zi) (de) (shī) ()(dài) (dào) (shí) (shì)

(shí) (shì) (shī) (le) (shuǐ)(shī) (shì) (jiào) (shì) (cóng) () (shí) (shì) () (gān)

(shí) (shì) () (gān) (le)() (cai) (shì) (shi) (chī) () (shí) (zhī) (shī) (zi)

(chī) (de) (shí) (hòu)(cái) () (xiàn) () (shí) (zhī) (shī) (zi)(yuán) (lái) (shì) (shí) (zhī) (shí) (tóu) (de) (shī) (zi) (shī) ()

(shì) (shi) (jiě) (shì) (zhè) (jiàn) (shì) (ba)

Chinese characters (trad.) Chinese characters (simp.)

《施氏吃獅子記》

有一位住在石室裏的詩人叫施氏,愛吃獅子,決心要吃十隻獅子。
他常常去市場看獅子。
十點鐘,剛好有十隻獅子到了市場。
那時候,剛好施氏也到了市場。
他看見那十隻獅子,便放箭,把那十隻獅子殺死了。
他拾起那十隻獅子的屍體,帶到石室。
石室濕了水,施氏叫侍從把石室擦乾。
石室擦乾了,他才試試吃那十隻獅子。
吃的時候,才發現那十隻獅子,原來是十隻石頭的獅子屍體。
試試解釋這件事吧。

《施氏吃狮子记》

有一位住在石室里的诗人叫施氏,爱吃狮子,决心要吃十只狮子。
他常常去市场看狮子。
十点钟,刚好有十只狮子到了市场。
那时候,刚好施氏也到了市场。
他看见那十只狮子,便放箭,把那十只狮子杀死了。
他拾起那十只狮子的尸体,带到石室。
石室湿了水,施氏叫侍从把石室擦干。
石室擦干了,他才试试吃那十只狮子。
吃的时候,才发现那十只狮子,原来是十只石头的狮子尸体。
试试解释这件事吧。

Pinyin Transcription of the Vernacular Chinese

«Shī Shì chī shīzi jì»

Yǒu yí wèi zhù zài shíshì lǐ de shīrén jiào Shī Shì, ài chī shīzi, juéxīn yào chī shí zhī shīzi.
Tā chángcháng qù shìchǎng kàn shīzi.
Shí diǎnzhōng, gānghǎo yǒu shí zhī shīzi dào le shìchǎng.
Nà shíhòu, gānghǎo Shī Shì yě dào le shìchǎng.
Tā kànjiàn nà shí zhī shīzi, biàn fàng jiàn, bǎ nà shí zhī shīzi shā sǐ le.
Tā shí qǐ nà shí zhī shīzi de shītǐ, dài dào shíshì.
Shíshì shī le shuǐ, Shī Shì jiào shìcóng bǎ shíshì cā gān.
Shíshì cā gān le, tā cái shìshi chī nà shí zhī shīzi.
Chī de shíhòu, cái fāxiàn nà shí zhī shīzi, yuánlái shì shí zhī shítou de shīzi shītǐ.
Shìshi jiěshì zhè jiàn shì ba.

Classical Chinese pronunciation in antiquity[edit]

Middle Chinese pronunciation in IPA[1]

ɕie̯ ʑie̯ː dʑi̯ək ʂi ʂiː

ʑi̯ɛk ɕi̯ět ɕi dʑiː ɕie̯ ʑie̯ː, ʑi ʂi, ʑi̯ɛi dʑi̯ək ʑi̯əp ʂi.

ʑie̯ː ʑi ʑi ɕi̯ɛk ʑiː ʑiː ʂi.

ʑi̯əp ʑi, ɕi̯ɛk ʑi̯əp ʂi ɕi̯ɛk ʑiː.

ʑǐe̯ː ʑi, ɕi̯ɛk ɕie̯ ʑie̯ː ɕi̯ɛk ʑiː.

ʑie̯ː ʑiː ʑǐe̯ː ʑi̯əp ʂi, ʑi ɕiː ɕi̯ɛi, ʂiː ʑǐe̯ː ʑi̯əp ʂi ʑi̯ɛi ɕi̯ɛi

ʑie̯ː ʑi̯əp ʑǐe̯ː ʑi̯əp ʂi ɕiː, ɕi̯ɛk ʑi̯ɛk ʑi̯ět.

ʑi̯ɛk ɕi̯ět ɕi̯əp, ʑie̯ː ʂiː ʑi ɕi̯ək ʑi̯ɛk ɕi̯ět.

ʑi̯ɛk ɕi̯ět ɕi̯ək, ʑie̯ː ɕiː ɕi dʑi̯ək ʑǐe̯ː ʑi̯əp ʂi.

dʑi̯ək ʑi, ɕiː ɕi̯ək ʑǐe̯ː ʑi̯əp ʂi, dʑi̯ět ʑi̯əp ʑi̯ɛk ʂi ɕiː.

ɕi ɕi̯ɛk ʑǐe̯ː dʑi.

Related tongue-twisters[edit]

In certain Southern Mandarin-speaking areas of China, speakers have a tongue-twister similar to The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den:

四是四,十是十,十四是十四,四十是四十。

This tongue-twister translates to "Four is four, ten is ten, fourteen is fourteen, forty is forty." In Standard Mandarin, it is pronounced as follows:

sì shi sì, shí shi shí, shísì shi shísì, sìshí shi sìshí.

In some southern dialects of Mandarin, however, where speakers do not pronounce the [ʂ] (sh) but replace it with [s], the tongue-twister is pronounced as follows, with all the syllables homophonous except for their tones:

sì si sì, sí si sí, sísì si sísì, sìsí si sìsí.

See also[edit]

Chinese[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 《漢文典》高本漢著,潘悟雲等編譯

External links[edit]