Just to clarify, that means that every single line in the whole song rhymes (except for his two token English lines).
What is it about Chinese that makes that possible? The magic number = 24.
According to the pinyin chart, not every combination of letters in the pinyin alphabet is allowed. In fact, there are a whole lot of combination that are possible to produce, but simply don’t exist in Mandarin for some reason (like “ki” and “fin,” not to mention all the syllables we could create if we were allowed to put all those initial consonants in final position). This means that, even though there are technically 38 different endings on the chart, there are really only 24 sounds (according to my count) that can be at the end of a syllable. There may be more depending on “R-ified” endings, but we’ll get to that.
If Dr. Seuss had been Chinese, he wouldn’t have impressed anyone.
Different finals in Mandarin (for rhyming):
[update: I’m adding songs that I find that have these endings as the exclusive rhyme scheme (or at least dominant one). Anyone is welcome to contribute.]
- a, ia, ua – 妹妹 by 江美琪, 中意他 by 梁詠琪 (Gigi)
- ai, uai – 不愿说再见 by 王力宏, 第一个清晨 by 王力宏, 珊瑚海 by 周杰伦, 期待你的爱 by 林俊杰
- an (ban), uan
- an (yan), ian, üan – 浮城 by 陳奕迅 (Eason Chan),
- ang, iang, uang – 倔强 by 五月天
- ao, iao – Can You Feel My World by 王力宏, 小酒窝 by 林俊杰, 口香糖 by 梁詠琪 (Gigi), 咕嘰咕嘰 by 孫燕姿 (Stefanie)
- e (le) – 你不是真正的快乐 by 五月天
- e (ye), ie, üe
- ei, ui – 颓废 by 弦子, 一个人睡 by 莫文蔚 (Karen Mok)
- i (yi / ji) – 关於 by 孙燕姿 (Stefanie), 愛情黑盒子 by 梁詠琪 (Gigi)
- i (zhi)
- i (zi)
- ing – 得不到的爱情 by 姚莉
- ong, iong
- ou, iu
- uo, o – 漩渦 by 孫燕姿 (Stefanie)
- u (bu) – 凹凸 by 梁咏琪, 休止符 by 孙燕姿 (Stefanie), 腹语术 by 莫文蔚 (Karen Mok)
- un (chun)
- ü (yu)
- ün (yun)
(Did I miss any? Let me know if I miscounted somewhere.)
Who cares? Well, it’s not always clear from the pinyin that certain words don’t rhyme with each other. For example, “yan” and “ban” aren’t even close to rhyming. Also the two syllables in “yìsi” 意思 do not rhyme with each other, but look like they should.
So really, who cares?
1. People who are just starting to learn pinyin. Don’t get tricked by the writing system. ChinesePod‘s pinyin chart (huge, but good) is downloadable here. (I’d still like to have a totally online clickable one with absolutely every syllable on it.)
2. People who want to write songs or rhyming kids books in a foreign language but haven’t decided which language to use. The choice is simple: Mandarin Chinese. Isn’t that right, Chris?
Enough with the innuendos, here’s what I want: recordings of those first 24 syllables “R-ified.” It doesn’t have to be BJS that does it, but I also want to know if there are any differences between the ends of, for example, “xiar” and “shuar.” If not, then we may assume that there are only 23 different kinds of “R” endings (at most) that one needs to learn.
If you don’t know what this “R-ification” is all about, you might look at this.
At some point, someone needs to produce a bank of sound files with erhua syllables with different tones. I think it’s amazing that doesn’t already exist. Maybe it does and I just don’t know about it. If so, please let me know so I can recomend MDBG use it to provide pronunciation samples for entries such as “wánr” 玩儿, which currently has no link to a sound file.