With only 409 syllables in the entire language, Chinese has too many homophones. That might sound judgmental but hear me out: Jessica’s Chinese name, for example, has 怡 in it. If I type “yi” on my phone, it’s the 90th (!!) yi in the list of yi characters to scroll through. It’s a good thing I love her so much, because inputting her name is serious 麻烦。
So the Chinese totally go to town on homophone wordplays. They don’t even need to be true homophones; drunk language student pronunciation is apparently good enough to get the meaning across. In fact they don’t even need words; numbers work just fine. Turns out that in Mandarin you can say a lot with numbers. Like on the inside of our friends’ wedding rings:
They inscribed “L.L. 14520” inside the bands. The “L”s are just for their last names: Liú and Lǐ. But the numbers when spoken are yī sì wǔ èr líng, which to them sounds like yī shì wǒ ài nǐ （一世我爱你），which means: “(For my) whole life I love you”. （“一世” is short for “一生一世”。）
I showed the picture to my preschool office coworkers and they all got it in under three seconds.
One of their friends has 201314 on her ring: èr líng yī sān yī sì, which sounds like ài nǐ yī shēng yī shì (爱你一生一世： “love you (for my) whole life”).
There’s more language learning fun to be had in the Learning Mandarin topic. See also: