19 June 2012

America's Problem

There is a worrying problem which is becoming increasingly prevalent in America. This is a matter that I feel very passionate about, and one that I hope will not take an increasing hold on our society and culture.

The problem is how Americans (in general, not each and every American) pronounce the name of the capital of China. I’m not even talking about tones here, just the simple pronunciation of the letters.

Go ahead, say the name of the capital of China.

Did you say bey-zhing? You are one of the offenders. However, don’t feel too bad. Besides other Mandarin-speaking Americans, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a native English-speaker pronounce Beijing correctly. Even most news anchors on major network news television shows don’t pronounce Beijing correctly.

The Pinyin romanization system for the Chinese language is not at all easy to understand for native English speakers. Many of the letters make completely different sounds than what you might expect. I would not be surprised if an English-speaker looked at Chinese words like “xian zai” and “yi qian” and didn't know how to pronounce them. However, Beijing happens to be one of those Chinese words which really is pronounced exactly the way someone who only knew English phonetics would naturally try to pronounce it. Js in Chinese make exactly the same sound as Js in English do!

And yet, Americans inexplicably and consistently try to “frenchify” (at least that’s how I think of it) the name of the capital of China. The sound that most Americans use to replace the j sound in Beijing doesn’t even exist in Mandarin Chinese. J in jing sounds just like the j in Jack, Jim, or jalopy. 

So now you know. Everyone gets the first syllable right, no need to worry about that. You just need to remember that the j makes a normal j sound. Say it with me: bey-jing. Now go out and spread the word, and hopefully use of the correct pronunciation will become more widespread.

Oh, and just for fun (okay, it’s probably only fun for me, because I’m a little obsessed)—I’ll tell you a little extra info about the name of China’s capital city. Beijing literally means “northern capital,” which makes it the direct opposite of another city in China, Nanjing, which means “southern capital.”

And the way Chinese people spell their own capital’s name is:

I wouldn't blame anyone for not knowing how to pronounce that! My, I was so very educational today, could it be that I’m already missing my college classes?
Unknown said...

You are hilarious Rachel when you define "America's Problem" as how we pronounce the capital of China! Ha! Future college professor material here for sure!

Rosie said...

We don't have that problem with the pronuciation in England! This made me laugh - I can't stand it when words are made to sound fancier then they are!

Glad to be a new follower from the GFC hop.

Rosie xx

Anonymous said...

I know how passionate you feel about this language!

Mushi said...

I now feel super empowered and am going to try and drop Bejing into some conversations this weekend! :)

Mushi said...

Oh boy... and I misspelled it... what a dope.