Thursday, December 28, 2006

Chinese pronunciation and intonations

Most non-English native speakers might think that English pronunciation is difficult for them. I thought so too. But now I reckon that Chinese pronunciation and intonations might be more complicated and difficult, and very different from English. Why? See my story below.

One day, I received an email from a friend who was going to fly back to Australia from China. He asked me to pick him up at the Sydney airport on the day he came back. I briefly replied his email with one sentence in Chinese to confirm my availability.

The sentence I intended to write was "我会按时到悉尼机场接机" ("I will pick you up at the Sydney airport on time"), but what I actually wrote and sent out was "我会按时到悉尼机场劫机" ("I will hijack the plane at the Sydney airport on time"), because the two Chinese words "接机" and "劫机" share the same pronunciation (though in different intonations), hence the same spelling "Jie Ji" in Pinyin (the transliterating system for Chinese).

I was sure that my friend could understand my horrific message correctly because it should be a common spelling mistake for people who used Pinyin to input Chinese on computer. But I was not sure if that email has been filtered, intercepted, or possibly noticed by FBI or CIA, or any other security organisation, hehe. :-))

Then, I was curious to know how many Chinese words share the same pronunciation of "Jie Ji". After I checked it on my computer, I was absolutely surprised! Guess what? 13 words, in totally different meanings! Amazing, isn't it?

Let's see them one by one in different intonations.
  • 接机 (Jīe Jī): Pickup somebody at airport
  • 阶级 (Jīe Jī): Social class
  • 接济 (Jīe Jì): Give financial aid
  • 劫机 (Jíe Jī): Hijack airplane
  • 截击 (Jíe Jī): Intercept and attack
  • 结集 (Jíe Jí): Meet together
  • 解急 (Jǐe Jí): Must go to the toilet
  • 解己 (Jǐe Jǐ): Help me…
  • 解系 (Jǐe Jì): Loosen then tighten up
  • 借机 (Jìe Jī): Take the opportunity
  • 借吉 (Jìe Jí): Take the luck
  • 借记 (Jìe Jì): Debit
  • 戒忌 (Jìe Jì): Taboo
Here are a few more similar examples:
  • 毛纺 (Máo Fǎng): Wool spinning
  • 茅房 (Máo Fáng): Privy (informal)
  • 猫房 (Māo Fáng): Cat's room
Are you going to learn Chinese now? Haha! :-D

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