While tongue-twisters in all languages take advantage of similar sounding words and syllables to generate confusion, some Chinese tongue-twisters also take advantage of the fact that Chinese is a tonal language. Taken to the extreme, it is possible to create a tongue-twisters where all the words have the same sound but varying only in their tones. Zhao Yuanren (趙元任) (1892-1982), an accomplished Chinese linguist, created just such an essay. He did so to prove just how inadequate it would be to replace Chinese characters by a purely phonetic script as others were advocating at the time.
The beauty of this essay is that although the romanized version is utterly ridiculous, its Chinese character version is perfectly clear and its content totally interesting. However, it is up to you to find out whether a native Chinese speaker hearing the essay for the first time could correctly parse it when read by another native Chinese speaker.
|Chinese||Pinyin||Translation||施氏食獅史||shī shì shí shī shǐ||Story of Shi Eating the Lions|
|石室詩士施氏,||shí shì shī shì shī shì,||A poet named Shi lived in a stone room,|
|嗜獅, 誓食十獅.||shì shī, shì shí shí shī.||fond of lions, he swore that he would eat ten lions.|
|氏時時適市視獅.||shì shí shí shì shì shì shī.||He constantly went to the market to look for ten lions.|
|十時, 適十獅適市.||shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.||At ten o'clock, ten lions came to the market|
|shì shí, shì shī shì shì shì shì.||and Shi went to the market.|
|shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì,||Looking at the ten lions, he relied on his arrows|
|使是十獅逝世.||shǐ shì shí shī shì shì.||to cause the ten lions to pass away.|
|shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shí shì.||Shi picked up the corpses of the ten lions and took them to his stone room.|
|shí shì shī, shì shǐ shì shì shí shì.||The stone room was damp. Shi ordered a servant to wipe the stone room.|
|shí shì shì, shì shǐ shì shí shí shī shī.||As the stone den was being wiped, Shi began to try to eat the meat of the ten lions.|
|食時, 始識十獅屍,||shí shí, shǐ shì shì shí shī shī,||At the time of the meal, he began to realize that the ten lion corpses|
|實十石獅屍.||shí shí shí shī shī.||were in fact were ten stone lions.|
|試釋是事.||shì shì shì shì||Try to explain this matter.|