Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chinese expressions having 2 or more syllables and matching Pinyin letters, but different tones

In my experience, non-native speakers of Chinese like myself sometimes have a more pronounced (no pun intended) awareness or sensitivity to Pinyin spelling (or the phonetic equivalent in, e.g., the 注音符號 [zhùyīn fúhào] "bo po mo fo" system used in Taiwan), excluding tones, of Chinese syllables than native speakers. To our detriment, we often have a weaker ear for tones than native speakers of Chinese.

At times this phenomenon can lead to a flailing misunderstanding of Chinese because one didn't hear the tones correctly, but incorrectly mentally forced the sans-tone spelling of syllables onto a previously known expression whose sans-tone spelling is the same.

The Pleco Chinese dictionary app, with its Wild search capability, could find more such possibilities, but these came easily to my mind when I recently realized that I needed to do more character practice (and so was born this blog entry).

I'll probably add to this list over time when I recall or encounter more. Arranged in Pinyin order:

  • 姑丈 (gūzhàng) husband of one's father's sister; uncle
  • 鼓掌 (gǔzhǎng) applaud (by clapping hands)
  • 故障 (gùzhàng) malfunction; out of order

  • 機油 (jīyóu) engine oil
  • 集郵 (jíyóu) to collect stamps; stamp collecting

  • 焦糖 (jiāotáng) caramel
  • 教堂 (jiàotáng) church

  • 砍樹 (kǎnshù) to cut down trees
  • 看書 (kànshū) to read a book

  • 騎馬 (qímǎ) to ride a horse
  • 起碼 (qǐmǎ) at least (as an adverb) Due to tone sandhi, this expression is pronounced qímǎ (the same as the other expression in this pair). So when I heard this for the first time, I didn't actually hear the tones incorrectly, and thus had slightly more reason to think that the speaker was talking about riding a horse, even if I couldn't figure out how that made sense in the conversation....

  • 如意 (rúyì) as one wishes or would wish
  • 乳液 (rǔyì; also rǔyè, but I have heard only the former) skin lotion ("milk-like liquid or emulsion")

  • 彈琴 (tánqín) to play piano
  • 探親 (tànqīn) to visit relatives

  • 吸管 (xīguǎn) drinking straw
  • 習慣 (xíguàn) habit

  • 先進 (xiānjìn) advanced
  • 現金 (xiànjīn) cash

  • 豬腳 (zhūjiǎo) pig's feet
  • 主角 (zhǔjiǎo) main character/role (in a drama, etc.) Due to tone sandhi, this expression is pronounced zhújiǎo

Chinese character pairings having matching Pinyin letters but different tones

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