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I find it interesting that these two are phonetically similar. Is there a historical background to this?

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    They don't sound similar in Cantonese: 努力 nou5 lik6 vs 奴隸 nou4 dai6 – Michaelyus Jun 20 at 11:37
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    Are you familiar with the concepts of morphemes and cognates? The first step to solving an issue like this is to determine whether the morphemes in the words that you're comparing and that you think sound alike are cognates of each other. – droooze Jun 20 at 11:42
  • Well, I should've said, it's mandarin Chinese I'm talking about. And yeah they do sound similar. Also, I don't think I've gotten the answer I'm looking for, but thanks anyway, guys! – Amin Widyatama Jun 20 at 15:45
  • They only sound similar but the character themselves defines the word – Huangism Jul 16 at 18:32
  • If you learn Cantonese as well, you would not ask this kind of questions. But if you ask about the relation between 努 and 奴, it would be more interesting. – OmniBus Jul 20 at 16:44
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I am not an expert on morphemes and cognates. My two cents, that it is just coincidental. So are other words, such as 输血 and 数学,水饺 and 睡觉,事实 and 石狮. To make it a bit gross, 食 and 屎.

  • the end made me lol – OLIVER.KOO Jul 16 at 19:28
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Why the word weather and whether pronounced the same but meanings are different?
Why the word steel and steal pronounced the same but meanings are different?
Why the word see and sea pronounced the same but meanings are different?

Why the word for and four pronounced the similar but meanings are entirely different?
Why the word to and two pronounced the similar but meanings are entirely different?

Why is English so strange? Is there any relationship between these pairs of words?

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It's a coincidence as Mandarin Chinese evolved from Medieval Chinese.
In Korean, whose pronunciation is close to Medieval Chinese, 努力 is pronounced "noryeok", and 奴隸 is pronounced "no(r)ye".
Mandarin Chinese is a mixture of Medieval Chinese and Manchurian phonetic system. When you trace many phonetically similar characters and words to 500 to 1000 years ago, you may find them totally different in pronunciation.

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They don't sound similar, the tones are different for 努力 and 奴隶. You're just viewing it as a foreigner so consider them to be similar. With this kind of logic, countless words sound similar in Chinese, especially single character words.

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