5

CC-CEDICT: 参差 (cēn​cī​) uneven / jagged / snaggletooth / ragged / serrated
CC-CEDICT: 参差不齐 (cēn​cī​bù​qí​) (idiom) variable / uneven / irregular

Judging from Pleco, outside of 参差, the character 参 is not pronounced cēn, and 差 is basically not pronounced ​cī. I did some basic Googling, and found webpages which say it's pronounced cēn​cī​, but don't explain why it's pronounced cēn​cī​. It seems to be in some ancient poetry (e.g. this), so maybe there's something special about it.

Question: Why is 参差 pronounced cēncī?

3 Answers 3

3

as far as I know, 参差 first appeared in "诗经" and was recorded in a ballad called "关雎". The author of this ballad cannot even be found. "cen" and "ci" are only used for the word "参差". So the reason might because of phonetic loan character, For mispronunciation of poetic rhythm, or originate from a dialect for which there is no corresponding words.

2

You still haven't answered the OP's question - "Why is 参差 pronounced cēncī?" The OP already knew 参 pronounced as cēn. She was asking for the reason.

The reason is that it is related to 巉 (OC *zraːm, *zraːmʔ, “craggy”) (Schuessler, 2007) https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%8F%83#Pronunciation_5

Traditional Chinese

雜亂不齊的樣子。《詩經.周南.關雎》:「參差荇菜,左右流之。」北魏.酈道元《水經注.江水注》:「其間遠望,勢交嶺表,有五六峰,參差互出。」

Should we get into Chinese Etymology? You shouldn't be learning simplified Chinese in that case.

3
  • I know the PINYIN pronouncement of that HANZI 参差 from the current dictionaries. But I am unable to understand how we know the sounds of the HANZI a couple of thousand years ago. Even QIEYIN came very late. Correct?
    – PdotWang
    Sep 13, 2022 at 0:28
  • "How we know the sounds of HANZI a couple thousand years ago"? -- LOL, I will give you the answer from my wife. "It's just pronounce that way, we sit in Chinese class for 13 years and more in school to memorize all the pronounciation. That's how."
    – dhwang
    Oct 11, 2022 at 17:41
  • It baffles me that people defends simplified Chinese then when questions about why this and that in Chinese come up, it's silence because they don't read Chinese of 2000+ years, traditional Chinese. It also baffles me that people can be proud of 4000+ years of Chinese history and still defend CCP Chinese that manage to loose history, culture, and Chinese characters in the systemic and some times nonsensical simplification process.
    – dhwang
    May 18, 2023 at 17:46
-1

When read (pronounce) 参差 as cēncī, it means "not the same", "it is different from each other". Because they both are polyphonic words, they could mean different things when read differently.

As common in any language, the Chinese language has problems with polyphonic words and homophonic words.

Polyphonic words - One same writing with multiple sounds, usually multiple meanings.

Homophonic words - One sound that corresponds to multiple writings, usually multiple meanings.

In the question, 参 and 差 are both polyphonic words.

参 cān (to participate, 参加)

参 shēn (a plant, 人参)

参 cēn (difference, 参差不齐)

参 sān (three, 三)

差 chà (wrong, short, 做差了,差很远)

差 chā (difference, 差别)

差 chāi (a job, dispatch, 当差,差遣)

差 cī (difference, 参差不齐)

3
  • 5
    You still haven't answered the OP's question - "Why is 参差 pronounced cēncī?" The OP already knew 参 pronounced as cēn. She was asking for the reason.
    – joehua
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:11
  • When read (pronounce) 参差 as cēncī, it means "not the same", "it is different from each other". Because they both are polyphonic words, they could mean different things when read differently.
    – PdotWang
    Sep 11, 2022 at 18:39
  • A few 多音字 - 好,鮮,重,車,將,曾.....
    – r13
    Sep 11, 2022 at 19:18

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