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Surely I can say that, Shirley.

Those familiar with tone languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and others are aware that the meaning of any syllable can be changed by giving it a different tone. Mandarin has four or five, depending on how you count them; Cantonese has a few more. It's no more complicated than singing, and we do it in English all the time. Yes? Yes! The trick simply to attune one's ear to the difference.

The example is often cited of the Mandarin word "ma" which can mean "horse", "scold", a question mark, or other things.

Now comes a poem which was recently pointed out to me by Teresa Burritt, author of Frog Applause, which is composed entirely of one syllable: "Shi" (pronounced much like "sure".)

Han Zi:

石室诗士施氏, 嗜狮,
誓食十狮。
施氏时时适市视狮, 十时,
适十狮适市。
是时,适施氏适市。
施氏视是十狮, 恃矢势,
使是十狮逝世。
施氏拾是十狮尸,适石室。
石室湿,施氏使侍拭石室。
石室拭,施氏始试食是十狮尸。
食时,始识是十狮尸是十石狮尸。
试释是事。

PinYin Romanized Version:

shí shì shī shì shī shì, shì shī,
shì shí shí shī.
shī shì shí shí shì shì shì shī, shí shí,
shì shí shī shì shì.
shì shí, shì shī shì shì shì.
shī shì shì shì shí shī, shì shī shì,
shǐ shì shí shī shì shī.
shī shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shí shì.
shí shì shī, shī shì shǐ shì shì shí shì,
shí shì shì, shī shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī shī.
shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī shì shí shí shī shī.
shì shì shì shì.

English Translation

A poet named Shī lived in a stone house and liked to eat lion flesh, and he vowed to eat ten of them. He used to go to the market in search of lions, and one day at ten o’clock, he chanced to see ten of them there. Shī killed the lions with arrows and picked up their bodies, carrying them back to his stone house. His house was dripping with water so he requested that his servants proceed to dry it. Then he began to try to eat the bodies of the ten lions. It was only then he realised that these were in fact ten lions made of stone. Try to explain the riddle.

A recitation of the poem


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Comments

sleepyjohn00
Nov. 16th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
Well, shi-oot.
r_caton
Nov. 16th, 2010 05:09 pm (UTC)
sheeeeeeee.
(what did we do that was wrong?)
Is leaving
(We didn't know it was wrong)
Love is the one thing that money can't buy....
deckardcanine
Nov. 16th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
Does the riddle actually make sense, or is it as semantically inane as "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo"?
r_caton
Nov. 17th, 2010 10:08 am (UTC)
Bison Bison Bison Bison Bison Bison Bison Bison
ccdesan
Nov. 17th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC)
Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Mushroom Mushroom
ccdesan
Nov. 17th, 2010 11:47 am (UTC)
我不知道。
deckardcanine
Nov. 17th, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC)
Google Translate is my friend. :)
torakiyoshi
Nov. 17th, 2010 06:41 am (UTC)
Amusing. I don't think I ever want to learn Mandarin.

But I should link this to a friend of mine, who had Mandarin crammed into his head by the Navy in six months. Do you have this up on facebook?
ccdesan
Nov. 17th, 2010 11:52 am (UTC)
是的 (shì de). It links back here, and this entry is public. You can just give him the direct link to this post.

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Fortunata
ccdesan
The Old Wolf
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