Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shi shi shi shi-- Chinese Characters and Tones

This Thanksgiving, be thankful for tones and Chinese characters, because they make stuff like this cool poem possible:
《施氏食獅史》
石室詩士施氏, 嗜獅, 誓食十獅。
氏時時適市視獅。
十時, 適十獅適市。
是時, 適施氏適市。
氏視是十獅, 恃矢勢, 使是十獅逝世。
氏拾是十獅屍, 適石室。
石室濕, 氏使侍拭石室。
石室拭, 氏始試食是十獅。
食時, 始識是十獅, 實十石獅屍。
試釋是事。

Meaning in English:

In a stone den was a poet Shi Shi, who loved to eat lions, and decided to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
One day at ten o'clock, ten lions just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi 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 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 those ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this.
What's so cool about that? Check out the Pinyin for the pronunciation:
« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »
Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.
Of course I had heard the famous "44 Stone Lions" (or "dead lions" or whatever) tongue twister, but never this clever little poem until I chanced across it in Wikipedia here.

Another fun sentence you may know is this Chinese palindrome:
上海自來水來自海上
"The tap water in Shanghai comes from the ocean."

I guess this Japanese one is very famous, but it's new to me:
長き世の遠の眠りの皆目覚め波乗り舟の音の良きかな

It looks like fudging the tenten is allowed, or at least in classical Japanese (where they wouldn't have been written anyway, I believe).

I also like this one:
なつまでまつな "Don't wait until summer."

5 comments:

Azuma said...

Awesome, that poem. Too bad my tones are too rusty to read it through fluidly. 也让我记得,不快再学中文的话,就把所有三年学会的东西忘掉!

IbaDaiRon said...

Do either of you know/remember the 妈妈买马 tone thing?

Don't feel bad, Azuma!

活到老,学到老,还有三分学不到。

(Did I get that one right?)

amida said...

Right, I forgot about that one! I learned it like this:
媽媽騎馬 ma1ma1 qi2 ma3
馬慢 ma3man4
媽罵馬 ma1ma1 ma4 ma3

But this Shi shi shi one is like that one on steroids.

IbaDaiRon said...

Thanks, a few more pieces for the puzzle: the version I've forgotten (?!) had four lines and meant (argument for retention of semantics but not phonetic etc. form?!) "Mother bought a horse, the horse vexed Mother, Mother scolded the horse, Mother sold the horse."

amida said...

ibadairon: That would indeed be better--I always wondered what that qi2 was doing in there! Mai3 would be much nicer.