How to say "Xi Jinping" en français

« previous post | next post »

Zeyao Wu sent in this video of French politicians pronouncing Xi Jinping's name:

Zeyao tells me that her Chinese friends who hear them have no idea what they're saying.


  1. Laura Morland said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 11:19 am

    Would you kindly add an audio file with the 'proper' pronunciation?

  2. norman said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 11:37 am

    The sounds values assigned to Hanyu Pinyin's Roman letters (consonants in particular) are pretty far from France's values assigned to Roman letters. Without learning how to pronounce basic pinyin, I wouldn't be surprised there's mutual incomprehension. French makes use of the letters q and z much more frequently than English and thus those values are "anchored" more strongly.

    Chi Djinping / Tchinping would probably be a better approximation for Francophones than Xi Jinping. Or maybe journalists and politicos need to do a better job learning pinyin!

  3. Kamikz said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 11:54 am

    And would the above commentator 'kindly' define the "'proper'" meaning of 'proper'?

  4. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 11:59 am

    This video from James Harbeck may be of assistance.

    (And here's more from James on Chinese pronunciation: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.)

  5. arthur waldron said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 12:03 pm

    Related: a comment in the SCMP urges China to replace the rather musty "March of the Volunteers" as guo ge with "She" the anthem of of the legenday French/Armenian crooner Charles Aznaviour.

    Look on youtube. Several million views. Consider it with Xi instead of She, and pronouns changed appropriately. Uncannily appropriate though perhaps a bit too much torch song.

    Someone well connected: pass this on to the standing committee. Many thanks!


    Also remember that in American all foreign words are pronounced as if French. Thus the clear Bei-jing becomes "Beizhing, ze capidtal of 'ow to say? La Chine." In English foreign words are forced inbo the procrustean bed of Received Pronounciation.

  6. Ellen K. said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 1:03 pm

    Watching that clip (can't listen at the moment) I notice that, if the transcriptions on the screen are correct, all of them pronounces the first two syllables the same (tsi-tsi-ping, for one example), even though the two syllables are clearly spelled differently. I find that curious.

    That suggests to me it's not just about not knowing how to pronounce pinyin. It's about people not trying to sound out a name but instead just guessing at it, which seems to be a general phenomenon when people try to say names they don't know. (My favorite example, in a discussion of this, is my friend with the last name Robinson who gets her name pronounced Robertson.)

  7. Noel Hunt said,

    April 16, 2018 @ 5:43 pm

    As to the video from James Harbeck, one can't lightly dismiss the efficacy of the 瀘州老窖 Lú zhōu lǎo j jiào that he is drinking.

  8. Bathrobe said,

    April 17, 2018 @ 2:22 am

    Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo got caught up in Australian political headlines after giving donations to Australian politicians. But Australian news media could never pronounce his name right. For instance, this video:

    (Around the 30-second mark)

    Americans don't seem to do any better. See this video:

    (Around the 28-second mark)

  9. Charles in Toronto said,

    April 17, 2018 @ 6:57 am

    Considering the French pronunciations of Pyeongchang previously discussed here, I'm surprised it's not /ʃiʒɛ̃pɛ̃/.

  10. Ellen Kozisek said,

    April 17, 2018 @ 9:05 am

    Ben Zimmer, thanks for those links. This so little out there, it seems, for those of us wanting to know how to pronounce Chinese words when speaking English (those of us not trying to learn Mandarin).

  11. BZ said,

    April 17, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

    In English I usually hear "Zhi Zhinpen" or similar from news / political figures

  12. Christian Weisgerber said,

    April 17, 2018 @ 3:53 pm

    @arthur waldron

    Also remember that in American all foreign words are pronounced as if French.

    This mirrors the complaint heard in France and Germany and probably other European countries that all foreign words are pronounced as if English…

  13. poftim said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 12:40 am

    @arthur waldron

    I don't think that's just an American thing. It seems to apply to British English too. And I'd also say that all non-French foreign words are pronounced as if French, but French ones are pronounced as if "French squared", like "lon-zhuh-ray".

    There are also some exceptions. When my friend from the UK visited me in Romania, she asked me what "deschis" meant. This she pronounced as /dɛˈʃiː/, with the final S silent 'cos it's foreign, obviously, but "sch" is one of those combinations that is somehow iconic in German. ("Deschis" means "open" and is pronounced /de'skis/.)

  14. David Marjanović said,

    April 18, 2018 @ 4:14 am

    This mirrors the complaint heard in France and Germany and probably other European countries that all foreign words are pronounced as if English…

    …and then we turn around and put the [j] in Kim Jong-un. *headdesk*

  15. George said,

    April 19, 2018 @ 7:05 am

    In fairness, French does seem to have a particular issue with even attempting to pronounce non-French proper nouns as a native speaker might do so. When I was studying in a French university, three of us who used to hang around together – myself (Irish), a German and a Catalan – were totally mystified as to who on earth was being referred to during a literature class. Some guy called /dɑ̃t/. The centime didn't drop until some gal called /bea.tʁis/ was mentioned.

RSS feed for comments on this post