Monday, August 11, 2008

Zhingle all the way

[Note: I wrote the following before I did my research. I'll put another note at the end with some links.]

It is a source of enduring irritation to me that the large majority of commentators, whether NBC's or on local news, persist in calling the Olympic host city, Bei-zhing. Because that's not how it's pronounced at all; just as it's spelled in the pinyin system, it's Bei-jing. Jing, as in "jingle," not zhing, with the sound of the second 'g' in "garage."

I know that older systems like Wade-Giles confused Westerners, as the notation was often not reflective of the actual Chinese sounds. But pinyin is far superior, and can be taken in most cases (not all - the name "Mo" is pronounced more like "maw" than like the Stooge) as accurate, leaving aside the unpleasantness of the tonal system.

So it's Bei-jing, with a 'j.' And what is really odd to me is that 'j' is far more common in English than "zh," which tends to show up in words that came from French like "garage" or "measure." We should greatly prefer Bei-jing, but we don't. Is it a desire for faux foreignness? A tendency to assume that nothing in Chinese is pronounced precisely as it's written? I just don't know.

[End note: It turns out I wasn't the first to notice this. Language Hat has an item here, with interesting comments. There are comments on MSNBC about this. If you want to see several more, Google "beijing beizhing."]

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