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All words in Chinese are one syllable words or compound words of one syllables.

This leads to an incredible amount of homonyms in Chinese.

Take ''yi'' for example. There seem to be hundreds of meanings for "yi".

At least the 4 tones split these homonyms into 4 smaller groups but there are still lots of homonyms for each tone. Probably one of the reasons why tones developed in the language.

Anyway I'm curious about ''máng'' which means both blind and busy.

From the context it should be clear which meaning is intended but I'm just wondering about which phrases are ambiguous or not.

For example:

我 máng。 我很 máng。 我 máng 了。 我是个 máng 人。 我是 máng 人。

I have my thought on each of these phrases but I'd like to hear what people think in terms of which only mean one of either blind or busy, and which are ambiguous on their own (without context) ?

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    As usual, these things are often (almost always) clear from context. I'm not trying to dismiss your question, and learning about how context determines which it is can be useful, but it can also help to think about how homophones are dealt with in other languages. Are you often confused if "file" refers to computer file, a metal file or a line of people? Homonyms are much less of a problem in practice than most people think!
    – Olle Linge
    Jan 16 at 22:16
  • Thanks Olle Linge but maybe I wasn't clear enough in my question as it sounds like you missed my point slightly. My question cannot be answered by reflecting on other languages. As a native English speaker I know that ''file'' in say ''nail file'' can never mean ''file'' as in ''file for divorce''. But I did not know whether the ''mang'' in '' wo shi ge mang ren'' can mean ''blind'', ''busy'' or both. That's why I was looking for clarification. PHyZiX's answer cleared things up nicely. I understand your point though.
    – Kantura
    Jan 16 at 23:06
  • I think I did understand what you meant, but maybe my comment was a bit unclear. I meant that the case you describe, in general, is similar to the English example with "file", i.e. it's immediately obvious to a native speaker which one it is. But like I said, why it's obvious is interesting in each case, so your question is both warranted and interesting! I just commented on the general situation, that's all!
    – Olle Linge
    Jan 17 at 14:53
  • In addition to what Olle Linge says, imagine I say in English, "I'm going to buy a pen." This could be a "playpen," a "pig pen," or a "ballpoint pen." In some American dialects, it could also be a "pin," some speakers have merged the vowels. Because of the syntax, it can't be "Penn." Because of the verb, it can't be a "penitentiary." If the context is not clear we add words, as I have done above. Mandarin works the same way, except that there are often more conventional ways to turn a one-syllable word into two syllables, e.g., 象 vs. 大象 to clarify your meaning and/or improve the rhythm. Jan 17 at 21:26

2 Answers 2

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1.我 máng。

That is not how we usually talk. If you mean busy, try "我 máng 着呢。" or "我正 máng 。" Modal particle is a quite important part which makes your oral Chinese not awkward. And this character 忙 has a progressive tense in it(you are being busy). So annother keypoint is to put a 正 in front or a 着 after. If you mean blind, actually the most consise way to express it may be "我是 máng 人。" You can hardly say something serious by two syllables unless you are commanding someone.

2.我很 máng。

That is actually a quite daily-used phrase. It means and only means 我很忙。 In Chinese, adjectives seldom show alone. Adverbs like 很 , 了(means something is done) or some modal particles always appear with adjectives. But 很 can not be used to modify 盲. Sounds not normal. Maybe, “我的视力状况很差。”

3.我 máng 了。

Like what I say in 1. This is too short for a serious statement when you mean you are blind. But it can actually be used when playing MMORPG and you suddenly go blind due to the ability of the enemy. So, that is something you will only say in a hurry. Well, most people may shout "我瞎了" instead of "我盲了" since 瞎 is more colloquial. So the occasion to apply "我盲了" may needs the debuff has a name refering to the character 盲 like “盲目” or “目盲”.

And 了 conflicts with 忙, since 了 means done and 忙 implies doing. Maybe, “我去忙了。”=you are ending the conversation and get busy doing something.

4.我是个 máng 人。

Ahha, just like what I said in 1. I omitted the quantifier to make it more condense but still practical. So, “我是盲人。”&“我是个 máng 人。” are both authentic.

Well, actually, If you add a word, say “我是个大忙人。(I am a super busy man)”. It can mean self-mockery. The character 大 is necessary to emphasize the tone.

5.我是 máng 人。

See 4.

So in conclusion, none of those 5 are ambiguous. Chinses language has some conventional structures to make sure you don't get confused in most daily case.

btw, 我忙 is not used. But 你忙 is often used when you know the one you are talking to has an important thing to do. And when that guy or you end the conversation, you say 你忙. Literal translation is "you go and get your business done". But not in a commanding tone. It is actually a normal etiquette. With a little more respect, you can say 您忙.

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  • Great answer my friend :)
    – Kantura
    Jan 16 at 19:32
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To cut a long story short, there are, (in normal discourses), "degrees" of "busy-ness", but, (in general non-medical discourses), "degrees" of "blindness" are seldom alluded to in everyday conversations.

So, when it comes to 忙 the degrees of busy-ness are normally used like, "very", (很), (大), or 忙死了, etc, to aid in contextual understanding.

These adjectival degrees are never, for obvious of reasons of stigmatic sensitivity, (discounting intentional cruelty of course), used when alluding to blindness. It is normally a case of straight forward reference to the person being blind or a blind person.

Your own examples, "我 máng。 我很 máng。 我 máng 了。 我是个 máng 人。 我是 máng 人" have actually, perhaps subconsciously, made this "politically correct" distinction?

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