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Chinese Riddle in Which Every Syllable Is Pronounced /Shi/

As every student of Chinese has learned with some vexation, it’s a hard language to learn because so much meaning is packed in such a limited toolset. There are only about 400 possible syllable sounds in Mandarin Chinese, on top of which can be layered four different tones (five if you include the neutral tone), for a total of about 1,700 possible syllables versus 8,000 in English. To make matters more complicated, many different characters are pronounced in the exact same way, such that meaning can only be deciphered with context.

This Chinese riddle takes this principle to its logical extreme: It’s comprised entirely using about 80 different “shi” sounds (pronounced with a hint of an r sound) in a mix of the four different tones. Certainly puts “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” to shame.

The text of the story: (h/t Yellowbridge)

A poet named Shi lived in a stone room,
fond of lions, he swore that he would eat ten lions.
He constantly went to the market to look for ten lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions came to the market
and Shi went to the market.
Looking at the ten lions, he relied on his arrows
to cause the ten lions to pass away.
Shi picked up the corpses of the ten lions and took them to his stone room.
The stone room was damp. Shi ordered a servant to wipe the stone room.
As the stone den was being wiped, Shi began to try to eat the meat of the ten lions.
At the time of the meal, he began to realize that the ten lion corpses
were in fact were ten stone lions.
Try to explain this matter.


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