Chinese characters are monosyllabic, which means each character corresponds to one syllable. Unlike most other languages that are discrete in pronunciation,

Chinese is a tonal language in which changing the pitch of a vowel sound in a character can alter the meaning of it. For instance, in Mandarin the meaning of the Chinese character 鸡([jī], chicken) will be changed to 急([jí], worried), 挤([jǐ], crowd), and 寄([jì], send) as the tone goes from flat to rising, turning, and falling. As a result, Chinese has more homophones than most other languages. It is reported that compared to the tens of thousands of potential English syllables, Chinese has only about 400 possible syllables. It has been estimated that in Mandarin Chinese, each syllable possesses five homophones on average. Given that the prevalence of homophones makes word acquisition a more complicated and challenging process, the visual representations of the characters play an even more critical role in literacy development in Chinese as they provide a way to disambiguate homophone characters.