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Polyphonic and Multi-vocal Characters in Mandarin

In Chinese character, there are many polyphonic characters and multi-vocal characters. If you attend to Mandarin language courses in China to learn, you may be told that the number of the polyphonic characters take the proportion of 10% of the whole characters. In the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, about one thousand polyphonic characters are collected and there are also 700 characters of such type in 7000 Universal Characters Tablet. Such kind of characters has the features that one character has two or more pronunciations and the different pronunciations usually have various meanings.

As a result, many foreign students often feel confused in the process of learning and application, greatly increasing the difficulty in learning Chinese characters. Let’s take 塞as an example, which is articulated as sāi in 塞子 while sài in the words like 塞外and要塞. If in the words 闭塞and阻塞, it is articulated as sè. Another character that has many pronunciations and also usually seen in learning process is 差, which is pronounced as chā in words like 差距and差别 while chà in 差不多. In addition, it reads chāi in 出差 and cī in 参差.

There are more words of this category in Chinese characters, making it more difficult for the learners to memorize and master. Even some Chinese people fail to read them correctly, speak nothing of the foreigners who go to school to study in China. In addition, there are many kinds of dialects in Chinese language and the syllables with the same pronunciation are also various. Therefore, the foreigners will feel difficult to distinguish the similar pronunciation in the dialect areas.

In the communication process of Chinese people, it is often seen that they articulate 河南as荷兰, 自己as 记己, 您好as 拧好, 知道as基到, etc. Of course, the Chinese characters with similar pronunciation are also numerous. Since the number of the syllabic symbols in Chinese language phonetic system is limited and the Chinese vocabulary is rich, many characters with the similar pronunciation are in large number. According to the statistics, there are totally 177 characters in modern Chinese pronounced as yi, 163 articulated as ji, 139 of yu and 133 of li. Therefore, foreign learners need to pay special attention to them.

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