Monday, August 4, 2008

A Note to the Announcers...

...of various American news agencies. I think it's high time that professionals such as yourselves learned the proper way to say the name of the city where the Olympics will be held this month.

It is no more correct to pronounce Beijing with a soft, French, J than it is to pronounce Michigan with a hard, British, CH.

Now, follow me: the first part, 'Bei' is said with a tone that first falls and then rises like the sharp curve of a V; the second part, 'Jing' uses a hard J and is spoken with a high, flat, unchanging tone.

Now then. I do hope that saves us all a bit of embarrassment. The American public famously only learns the proper pronunciation of foreign place names after our troops have invaded those same places, and I think we'd all prefer this geographical education to happen without the accompaniment of bomb blasts and bullet ricochets.


Kaori S. said...

Hey Bruce, how are the days leading up to the olympics? Will you be able to go see it?
I always wondered why Beijing is called Pekin in Japanese, so I looked it up, and it sapposedly comes from a southern China dialect that pronounces it Pekin. Know anything about it?

Bai Hai Feng (AKA: Bruce) said...

You are right; a lot of the older transliterations of Chinese names into English are based on place names from southern Chinese dialects such as Cantonese. That's where we get names like Peking, Nanking, Chungking, Yangtze, Sun Yat-Sen, etc, the reason being that Canton and a select few non-Mandarin-speaking cities were the first treaty ports where foreigners were allowed to interact with Chinese.

I suppose the emperors, and their mandarins, have only themselves to blame if the rest of the world doesn't know the proper Mandarin Chinese place names.

I will stay as far as I can from the Beijing games. It is/will be a circus, and I was never a big sports fan to begin with.