Tones and puns

May 25, 2010, 12:32 PM posted in General Discussion

Driving along today I was hit by a thought..bang. I was thinking about Chinese jokes..about puns to be specific. I was thinking how many homonyms there are but further how many countless more there would be if you could ignore the tones. This led me to wonder if Chinese comedians ever try and get around this by kinda botching/fuzzing their tones...deliberately making the tone a bit hard to catch/a bit ambiguous in order to make a pun work. Is this possible? Is it ever done? [or is it just a learner like me where the tone is a "what the?" ] If so,any examples?

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May 26, 2010, 07:35 AM

How very serendipitous...there's an example of a Chinese pun with two different tones in today's Intermediate lesson, baba:

Also, these aren't necessarily puns, but we all know that four, for example is an unlucky number to many Chinese because 四sì sounds like 死sǐ the tones aren't essential to the association there.

On the other hand, 八bā and 发fā (发财的发) have the same tone, and this does seem essential to the association of those two characters.

One more example...the inverted 福fú seen pasted on windows, especially during Spring Festival...because 福倒了fúdàole (happiness inverted) sounds exactly like 福到了(happiness arrives). In this case, the tones are the same.

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May 26, 2010, 12:53 PM

How very serendipitous

hehe,indeed.I'd love to claim that I listened to N&F and saw that pun coming a mile off,but would anyone believe me?

Yeah,great reply jen;thanks. I was aware of those connections made between 四和死,而发和八,等等,which as you say aren't puns but still a good point that I didn't have in mind when I posed the question.I guess yeah I had them down more to superstition rather than anything that would be truly confused or necessarily likely to work in a pun [esp ba and fa where it's not a tone change but rather rhyming words]. But I see the takehome message is that even though Chinese can't understand you when you mess up your tones [often...but it could be more than just tones of course in a learner like could be pronunciation, grammar ..the whole kit and kaboodle made a dogs breakfast of ,hehe ;) ] they will understand such puns [though B didn't show any registering of this in today's dialogue as far as I could tell..I think A was just amusing himself ,hehe ].