Classifying Chinese Polyphonic Characters

Posted by Vikki Lv 8122

classifying Chinese polyphonic characters

A polyphonic character is a type of character that has more than two pronunciations. In modern Chinese, the polyphone is about one tenth of all Chinese characters, and the modern Chinese dictionary contains about 982 polyphones.

1. Different parts of speech, different meanings, different pronunciation. Pronunciation can distinguish the part of speech and meaning.

E.g:


cháng (adj.) 很长 长远 长久
zhǎng (v.) 生长 成长 长知识


jiàng (v.) 下降 降雨(降:下落之意)
xiáng (v.) 投降 降龙伏虎

In the first two words, above, the first represents different parts of speech, and the pronunciation for each is different; the second one represents the same parts of speech but has different meanings, so the pronunciation is also different. In more than 900 polyphonic words, there are 500 of this type of polyphone. To master this type means to master most of the polyphonic words. Although there is a large number of such multi-tone words, it is quite easy to grasp the different pronunciations as long as we compare them carefully. The pronunciation determines different parts of speech and word meaning.

2. Some of the ancient Chinese interchangeable characters evolved into modern multi-tone words.

E.g:


juàn 隽永
jùn 隽秀 隽茂 隽拔


guī 乌龟 龟缩
jūn 龟裂

Only a very small part of the Chinese characters originally used in the vernacular continue to be used in the vernacular. It is not difficult to master this type of polyphonic as long as we pay close attention.

3. Different usage between the common usage and names.

E.g:


dān 单位 简单 菜单
shàn 姓单 单县(地名)
chán 单于(古代匈奴的君主)


băi 柏树 松柏常青 柏油马路
bó 柏林(地名)

This type in classical Chinese is called "ancient sound but different pronunciation." The pronunciation of such ancient words has not changed a lot. It is because the term has a fixed term. The first three types reflect classical Chinese. To sort out the relationship between them, students need to master the vernacular in the polyphonic word.

4. If the word is used in a different situation, then the pronunciation is also different. So the pronunciation can distinguish them.

E.g:


bāo 剥花生 剥羊皮
bō 剥夺 剥削 剥离


xiāo 削果皮 削铅笔
xuē 削弱 瘦削 削除

There is a small number of his type of word and it is a special classification indicating words that are frequently used but t difficult to distinguish the meanings.

5. Different styles, different pronunciation. The pronunciation can distinguish different styles.

E.g:


xuě 血海深仇 血压 血脉
xiĕ 流血了 吐了两口血


luò 落伍 降落 落后
lào 落枕 落炕 落色

6. Dialect vocabulary.

E.g:


tè 差忒
tuī 忒大 忒小

The pronunciation and dialects of these two kinds of polyphonic characters are usually found in literary works, especially dialect vocabulary. These are not closely linked with Mandarin.

The pronunciation of many words is a combination of several factors. So learning how to differentiate the polyphonics is key to understanding pronunciation and word meaning. Do you want to learn more Chinese polyphonic characters with me? Register now and book a free trial class!

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