Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den
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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 a one-syllable article, a form of constrained writing unique to Chinese.
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 (十) would be written as 10. To preserve the homophony in this case, the number 10 has also been spelled out in Pinyin.
- « 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.
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. The passage is barely comprehensible when read aloud in any modern dialect including Mandarin.
Poem text in vernacular Chinese
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.
|Chinese characters (trad.)||Chinese characters (simp.)|
|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.
Classical Chinese pronunciation in antiquity
|Middle Chinese pronunciation in IPA|
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.
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.
- Homophonic puns in Mandarin Chinese
- James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher
- Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
- Neko no ko koneko, shishi no ko kojishi
- Forsyth, Mark. (2011). The etymologicon : a circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language. London: Icon Books. ISBN 978-1-84831-307-1.
- The Three "NOTs" of Hanyu Pinyin has a similar but different text, and it explains that the intention of Zhao Yuanren (Yuen Ren Chao) was not to oppose Chinese Romanization.
- a YouTube video showing the text read aloud in Mandarin