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I just wonder about how to distinguish the words 高价 vs 高架. Both of them seem to have the same pronunciation gāo jià.

Are there any additional cues for distinguishing them in a sentence? or Do people use contextual information to distinguish them?

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  • people use contextual information to distinguish them
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 4:54
  • Another important thing is they're actually not exactly the same Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 16:21
  • English has a lot of homophones too. How do you distinguish "too", "two", and "to"? Or more confusingly, "raise" and "raze"?
    – user23661
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 16:47

3 Answers 3

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As a Chinese native speaker, I use contextual information to distinguish them while listening. It's very common.

Different tones also used to distinguish them. Same pronunciation and same tone is not very common in different Chinese phrase.

Every Chinese pronunciation has many different characters, so you can easily distinguish them by their shapes while reading.

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These are called 同音词. Personally I find 经历 vs. 精力 and 权利 vs. 权力 to be the most confusing. To differentiate them, we can utilize:

  • knowledge: we need to know that two words exist with the same pronunciation; we might study books like this which list out 同音字:

    photo of book differentiating words pronounced guan1

  • experience: having mistaken the two words with the same pronunciation previously, we know to pay particular attention to it;

  • grammar: e.g. 石化 (verb "to petrify") and 实话 (noun "the truth") belong to different parts of speech;

  • context: if we're discussing war, it's probably 攻击 (attack) instead of 公鸡 (rooster); if we're discussing literature, we might discuss the author 茅盾 instead of 矛盾 (contradiction).

Beyond this, it is usually expected that the speaker makes a fair attempt at speaking unambiguously. And if it is ambiguous, you can just ask them.

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  • 权利 vs. 权力 is confusing even to native speakers. Basically 权利 = right (given by law) and 权力 = (political) power. Commented Jun 27, 2022 at 21:33
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You can not distinguish two different words with the same pinyin. As the sounds of Mandarin are quite limited, and each character has only one syllable, the result is that it is inevitable that many words sound either the same or similar.

My favourite example is 事事, 试试, 事实,实施,失实,石狮,史实

These words can be very confusing using pinyin, but not in characters. Once these words are written in characters, the meanings are crystal clear without the need of any context to explain.

If interested, take a look at this article, https://www.mslmaster.com/index.php/teaching-learning-resources/10-resources/48-why-learning-mandarin-using-only-pinyin-will-create-more-hurdles

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