Are there any Chinese langauges (topolects/dialects) that have multi-syllablic readings for single Characters?

Like, Japanese for instance has a lot of multi-syllablic readings for single Characters e.g:

もの (mono)

Do any Chinese language(s) have this feature?

  • Yes, 多音節漢字.
    – Stan
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 9:58
  • @Stan 圕 and characters alike are contractions not real polysyllabic characters. It's still only a single syllable, 'tuan'.
    – imrek
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 10:02

3 Answers 3


The closest to your idea are the contracted characters, most of them created during the 20th century. Some examples include

  • 圕 tuan1, short for 图书馆

  • 瓩 qian1, short for 千瓦, kilowatt, (where the thousand/kilo part is actually wrapped right to the 瓦 character for aesthetic or 'economic' reasons, despite the fact that the multiplier of quantities always comes first), or

  • 兙 shi2, short for 十克, decagram (same story as 瓩)

  • 浬 li3, short for 海里, nautical mile, yet another contraction.

Some other similar characters have not yet made into the Unicode tables, so you won't find them online.

I think it's important to point out that these are modern day contractions owing to the nature of all language users: trying to be economical in writing. These characters popped up for the same reasons like the dollar sign ($), or the the copyright sign (©) and so on, they are pure abbreviations to save the writer from having to write out multiple characters. I think it's hard to accept them as real multisyllabic characters, mainly because they tend to have a monosyllabic reading, too.

  • 3
    Yeah, I doubt anyone is going to read 甭 bú yòng...
    – Mou某
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 11:05

In certain cases compound words and set phrases may be contracted into single characters. Some of these can be considered logograms, where characters represent whole words rather than syllable-morphemes, though these are generally instead considered ligatures or abbreviations (similar to scribal abbreviations, such as & for "et"), and as non-standard. These do see use, particularly in handwriting or decoration, but also in some cases in print. In Chinese, these ligatures are called héwén (合文), héshū (合書) or hétǐzì (合体字), and in the special case of combining two characters, these are known as "two-syllable Chinese characters" (双音节汉字, 雙音節漢字).

A commonly seen example is the double happiness symbol 囍, formed as a ligature of 喜喜 and referred to by its disyllabic name (simplified Chinese: 双喜; traditional Chinese: 雙喜; pinyin: shuāngxǐ). In handwriting, numbers are very frequently squeezed into one space or combined – common ligatures include 廿 niàn, "twenty", normally read as 二十 èrshí, 卅 , "thirty", normally read as 三十 sānshí, and 卌 "forty", normally read as 四十 "sìshí". Calendars often use numeral ligatures in order to save space; for example, the "21st of March" can be read as 三月廿一. In some cases counters are also merged into one character, such as 七十人 qīshí rén "seventy people". Another common abbreviation is 门 with a "T" written inside it, for 問題, 问题, wèntí ("question; problem"), where the "T" is from pinyin for the second syllable 题. Since polysyllabic characters are often non-standard, they are often excluded in character dictionaries.

Modern examples particularly include Chinese characters for SI units. In Chinese these units are disyllabic and standardly written with two characters, as 厘米 límǐ "centimeter" (厘 centi-, 米 meter) or 千瓦 qiānwǎ "kilowatt". However, in the 19th century these were often written via compound characters, pronounced disyllabically, such as 瓩 for 千瓦 or 糎 for 厘米 – some of these characters were also used in Japan, where they were pronounced with borrowed European readings instead. These have now fallen out of general use, but are occasionally seen. Less systematic examples include 圕 túshūguǎn "library", a contraction of 圖書館.

The use of such contractions is as old as Chinese characters themselves, and they have frequently been found in religious or ritual use. In the Oracle Bone script, personal names, ritual items, and even phrases such as 受又(祐) shòu yòu "receive blessings" are commonly contracted into single characters. A dramatic example is that in medieval manuscripts 菩薩 púsà "bodhisattva" (simplified: 菩萨) is sometimes written with a single character formed of a 2×2 grid of four 十 (derived from the grass radical over two 十). However, for the sake of consistency and standardization, the CPC seeks to limit the use of such polysyllabic characters in public writing to ensure that every character only has one syllable.


In fact, in the earliest known Chinese characters (oracles), the situation where two or even three syllables were represented in one character is not rare... However, by the Qin and Han Dynasties, the trend of Chinese characters being monosyllabic had almost wiped out disyllabic and polysyllabic characters in the text which has the value of preservation and inheritance. But the intuition that Chinese characters can be polysyllabic was kept, therefore polysyllabic words were constantly created, such as corresponding characters of "不要", "二十", "三十" and "四十". But again, the pressure from the faith in monosyllabic characters were so strong that ligatures (合音字) of these words soon came out (respectively "甭", "廿", "卅" and "卌").

The Columbia History of Chinese Literature, Victor H. Mair, et al

Notice: I translated the text above from its Chinese version, thus it may be different from the original English version.

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