A Story Of A “Lion-Eating Poet In The Stone Den” Proves Traditional Chinese Is The Hardest Language Ever [Video]
Have you ever seen those memes floating around that use the same word, or series of words, over and over? Like the Legless Lego Legolas meme that was popular a few years ago?
This type of word play is sometimes known as a "Word Avalanche." Which is basically defined as "A highly contrived punny sentence (or longer series of words) with an emphasis on the repetition of syllables."
Apparently this type of word play is quite common throughout languages all across the world, but one language does this better than any other... Traditional Chinese!
This is especially apparent in a story/riddle by Chinese-American linguist, Yuen Ren Chao. The story only uses the syllable "shi", yet it is over a dozen sentences and uses dozens of unique words. How is this possible!? Let's listen to the story in Traditional Chinese and then see how it works...
Crazy, right? According to the YouTube description, this is how the story looks in Traditional Chinese, its phonetic spelling, and in English:
Transcript (traditional Chinese):
« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »
Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.
« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »
In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.
This story was written to show how poorly managed the Traditional Chinese language was and was basically an appeal to the Chinese government to fix the national language.
You can't really find an example this extreme in English, but we do have some interesting ones. Like "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is technically a grammatically correct sentence in American English.