名 and 明 are pronounced the same...How to tell the difference between homophones?

I just started learning Mandarin about two months ago and Duolingo has been a great help with the very first unit. But now in the first unit of "names" I've come across this homophone of 名 (Meaning "name") and 明 (Which is a name itself? Ex: Wo jiao Zhang Ming). How do you tell the difference between these two words? It makes no sense that they have the same pronunciation and romanization/pinyin but different Chinese characters and meanings

November 16, 2018

1 Comment

These two characters (and many other homophones) generally occur as part of multi-character words in modern spoken Mandarin, so if you learn them as constituent parts of the respective words that contain them, there is little ambiguity.

In Middle Chinese they were not pronounced identically, and thus did not need to be disambiguated by the use of polysyllabic words in speech (spoken Chinese words have become more and more polysyllabic as the number of homophonous and near-homophonous characters has increased), which is one reason why Classical texts read with modern pronunciation are much more difficult to understand aurally compared with modern vernacular speech.

If you need to distinguish between identically-pronounced characters in speech without writing them down, then you can do so by making reference to a word that contains the character in question ('名字的名,不是明星的明', for example).

November 16, 2018
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