Do 多音字 usually develop as separate words that just happen to be written in the same way? Or do they usually arise as one word that diverges into different pronunciations for its different senses? This second possibility happens in English: permit is a verb, while permit is a noun, for example. They clearly come from the same word but as different parts of speech are pronounced differently because of prosodic tendencies.

Examples in Chinese I am interested in: 重zhong4 vs. 重chong2, 还hai2 vs. 还huan2.

1 Answer 1


In Chinese we usually say 多音字, not 多音词.

Both of the two processes are possible. Which is more common? I think the second one. https://baike.baidu.com/item/多音字 lists a lot of examples, and most of them fall into the second category. That is, the different senses of a 多音字 are usually related, and they have different pronunciations for different usages.


The earliest glygh is a vivid image of a person carrying a big backpack, which is heavy (zhòng). A heavy object usually contains many things, hence the sense "many" (chóng). Then the sense "repetition" (chóng).


The (over)simplified course of its sense shifts:

circle (noun) -> return (verb) -> again, still (adverb)

The dictionaries also say even the adverb sense used to be pronounced as huán. The change to hái is a recent event.

enter image description here enter image description here

  • What could be the explanation of the pronunciation divergence between the verb and adverb senses of 还?
    – Buddy L
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 23:22
  • @BuddyL A guess is that hái is a weak form of huán in colloquial speech, a bit like how the English to (/tu:/) is weakened to /tə/ in speech.
    – Betty
    Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 12:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.