Putin in Russian, Mandarin, and English

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I'm at Yale University attending a workshop on Tangut.  So you ask, "What is 'Tangut'?"  Relevant Wikipedia articles:

  • Tangut people, an ancient ethnic group in Northwest China, not Tibetan people.
  • Tangut language, the extinct language spoken by the Tangut people, not Tibetan language.
  • Tangut script, the writing system used to write the Tangut language
  • Western Xia (1038–1227), also known as the Tangut Empire, a state founded by the Tangut people

Enough of Tangut for now.  I will write a separate post on Tangut language and script later on.  Meanwhile, since the majority of specialists on Tangut are Russian, and several Russians are participating in this workshop, I've heard them refer to the president of their country with a pronunciation that is rather different from what we say it in English, but more nearly resembles the way his surname is spoken in Mandarin.

The Wikipedia article on Putin gives the following IPA renditions of Putin's surname:



 ( listen)

When I hear Russians pronounce "Putin", I immediately think of how Chinese say it —  Pǔjīng 普京.  There's not much else they could do with the first syllable, but — though the second syllable sounds closer to the Russian than the way we say it in English — I still have questions about why the Chinese chose jing 京 (tɕíŋ) to represent the second syllable.

In Taiwan, they say Pǔdīng 普丁, which has the same issue with the final sound of the second syllable as does mainland Pǔjīng 普京.

There's no "tin" syllable in Mandarin, so that wasn't an option, but it would have been a bad choice anyway, since it would be mimicking the English way of how we say the "tin" of "Putin" rather than the way the Russians say it.  But why the velar nasal ending rather than just a dental nasal?

At first I thought they could have picked a "qin" syllable to more nearly approximate the Russian, but quickly realized that the Russian doesn't have aspiration.  So why not a "jin" syllable?  To my ear, that would sound better than the jīng 京 or dīng 丁 of the common Mandarin transcriptions of the second syllable.  There may, however, be other subtle phonological considerations that I have not taken into account that led to the choice of a velar nasal final instead of a dental nasal.

For those who are curious, the Hanyu Pinyin transcription of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's full name is Fúlājīmǐ'ěr·Fúlājīmǐluówéiqí·Pǔjīng 弗拉基米尔·弗拉基米罗维奇·普京.


  1. Jim Breen said,

    January 21, 2018 @ 8:24 pm

    I see in Japanese he is プーチン, which is far closer to the Russian pronunciation than what one usually hears in English or French.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    January 21, 2018 @ 8:44 pm

    For those who don't know katakana, that's Pūchin.

  3. Joel Wang said,

    January 21, 2018 @ 9:51 pm

    People in mainland China refer to this official 《俄语姓名译名手册》(ISBN 7-100-00859-X/H·299)when translating Russian names. You might want to grab a copy. In short:

    * "кин": 金(jin)
    * "зин" and "зен": 津(jin)
    * "цен": 琴(qin)
    * "цин": 钦(qin)
    * and of course, "тин": 京(jing)

    Phonologically this makes little sense, but it's one way to distinguish the written form. Given the Chinese translation, there is high chance that you could deduce the original form.

    Translators are not linguists or phonologist, accurate phonological representation might not be the most of their concerns.

  4. Chris Button said,

    January 21, 2018 @ 9:56 pm

    I wonder if it might have something to do with the distinction between "hard" and "soft" (palatalized) consonants in Russian – in this case hard /n/ versus soft /nʲ/.

    Could the Mandarin transcription be associating velar nasal /ŋ/ with hard /n/ in order to retain coronal /n/ for soft /nʲ/ ? I wonder if any other examples of Russian names transcribed in Mandarin might support this.

  5. cameron said,

    January 21, 2018 @ 11:27 pm

    I guess referring to that potentate as Vladimir Pushpin is entirely out of bounds.

  6. Orhan said,

    January 22, 2018 @ 1:02 am

    The hard/soft difference is also reflected in the standard cyrillization in Russian, система Палладия. 普京 is retranscribed into Russian as Пуцзин /putszin/ [pudzʲin] (Since Russian lacks a symbol for /dz/, it is transcribed as /ts/ plus /z/). The Chinese syllable jin would be transcribed as цзинь, /tszinʹ/ [dzʲinʲ].

    (The alveolo-palatals are transcribed with the same consonants as the alveolars, but with palatalized vowels, the retroflexes with Russian post-alveolars.)

    Владимир Владимирович Путин comes back as Фулацзимир Фулацзимиловэйци Пуцзин, [fuladzʲimʲir fuladzʲimʲilovejtsʲi pudzʲin], with the erhua rule.

  7. David Marjanović said,

    January 22, 2018 @ 4:45 am

    I guess referring to that potentate as Vladimir Pushpin is entirely out of bounds.

    Out of phonological bounds in any case: that consonant cluster in the middle is just too much. :-)

  8. Xtifr said,

    January 22, 2018 @ 10:55 pm

    > "that consonant cluster in the middle is just too much."

    Not too much for Russian, where Pushchin (Пу́щин) is still only five letters! :D

  9. David Marjanović said,

    January 23, 2018 @ 8:34 am

    Yes, for Mandarin it's too much.

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    January 26, 2018 @ 11:01 pm

    It's curious that you think it would be important that the Russian stops are supposed to be unaspirated. If so, why would the Chinese not transcribe the first as voiced, too?

    And lack of aspiration didn't get my attention listening to that sound clip. Rather, the palatalisation on the 't' sounds like aspiration, and very strongly, almost 'Poochin' (but _not_ 'Pootyin' which is what I though palatalisation was closest to.)

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

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