Why we say "Beizhing" and not "Beijing"

« previous post | next post »

Well, I don't say "Beizhing", and I think it sounds ghastly, so much so that I cringe when I hear it and my flesh creeps.  I never could figure out why English speakers would use this hideous pronunciation when it would be so much easier, transparent, and direct just to pronounce the name the way it looks:  "bei-", like "bay", as in "Beirut" (we don't have any trouble with that, do we?), and "-jing" as in "jingle".  BEI- -JING!  Voilà!  We don't have to say "bei- -zhing".  I realize, though, that almost everybody, including many China specialists who surely know better, say "Beizhing", not "Beijing".

Finally, an anonymous curmudgeonly correspondent offers some reasons for how it came about:

On the egregious mainstream pronunciation of 'Beijing' in English

Since both and ʒ are pronounceable in English, this is a puzzling convention of mysterious origin. How did the convention come about? Pure speculation:
       
1) Axiom: exotic peoples make exotic sounds. 'The Chinese' are exotic. And  ʒ is a mostly exotic sound in English (associated especially with French and Russian). On top of which, Hanyu Pinyin is full of the digraph <zh>, which could hardly be anything other than ʒ , right?  ('Brezhnev'). So, obviously this language is simply full of ʒ
               
2) Back when 'Peking' was replaced by 'Beijing' in journalism, cretins in the BBC Pronunciation Unit got Wade-Giles <j> (= HP <r-> = [ʐ ~ɻ]*) and Hanyu Pinyin <j> (= unaspirated ʨ confused. Thus 'Beijing' with ʒ became the BBC pronunciation. Thanks to the prestige of the BBC, this pronunciation swept the entire Anglophony. Remember that these were the days of shortwave-radio and BBC World Service.
       
*the more old fashioned first value for which is acoustically the same as or identical to  ʒ and especially Russian <ж>, which is sometimes claimed to be retroflexed.

Never mind how Mandarin and other Sinitic topolect speakers say "New York", "San Francisco", "Ürümchi", and so forth, we have no excuse for saying "Beizhing" instead of "Beijing".

P.S:  I realize there are other theories about why Anglophones have been duped into saying "Beizhing" instead of "Beijing", but I don't think they're as convincing as the one put forward by the curmudgeonly correspondent who submitted the above explanation.

In my next post, I'll let a Beijinger explain how she says it, which is not how the name is spoken in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).

Readings

"Jingle bells, pedophile" (12/7/09)

"How they say 'Beijing' in Beijing" (8/18/08)



100 Comments

  1. Jim Breen said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

    Thanks! I'll watch my mouth from now on.

    In Japanese it's ペキン (pekin).

    Jim

  2. Ellen K. said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 4:56 pm

    I think part of it is that we (English speakers/readers) are so used to the letter J representing something different in other languages than it does in English, that we expect the J must represent some other sound besides the English J sound.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:02 pm

    This is simpler than the post seems to want it to be. The primary reason is obviously that people have heard the pronunciation with /ʒ/, so that's what they use.

    The root reason is going to be that "j" is pronounced /ʒ/ in French, which is a language that Americans actually study. There is a strong tendency to pronounce all foreign words as if they were written in the foreign language that you know.

    But there is a more interesting assertion in the curmudgeonly correspondence:

    /ʒ/ is a mostly exotic sound in English (associated especially with French and Russian)

    This is completely untrue. /ʒ/ is a fully conventional sound in English that is (a) phonemic and (b) required in many common words. There is no alternative way to pronounce e.g. vision / precision / measure / leisure / etc. etc. etc. Furthermore, [ʒ] occurs naturally as the reduction of phonemic /zj/, which is why in all those examples it's spelled as an "s" followed by a vowel.

    And yet I see people claim that /ʒ/ is foreign to English all the time. As far as I can tell, these people are confusing the alphabet, which doesn't have a letter for /ʒ/, with the language, which certainly does have a phoneme for it. If the digraph "sh" weren't explicitly covered in elementary school, I assume these people would also be telling us that /ʃ/ is a foreign sound.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:18 pm

    Bravo to the Japanese for retaining the old pronunciation. I wish that we still said "Peking" in English. I can't bring myself to say "Beijing duck", much less "Beizhing duck", nor "Beijingese", much less "Beizhingese" for the cute little dog. And even Chinese still say "Peking University", not "Beijing University" or "Beizhing University".

  5. Micah said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:23 pm

    I think something like axiom #1 is more rational than you're giving it credit for. Because of irrationalities in English spelling related to, e.g., the Great Vowel Shift, it really is true that "pronounce all foreign words as though they were words in the one foreign language you know" will usually get you closer to the correct pronunciation than "pronounce all foreign words as though they were English words." This just happens to be a high-profile case where that strategy fails.

  6. Thomas Rees said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:32 pm

    It's "Pekín" in Spanish, too.

  7. Dako said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:36 pm

    Victor, thanks for this. I've always wondered where this corruption came from. I used to have a friend who did a great comedy riff of speaking Chinese with a French accent to mimic many of the common Western corruptions of Chinese consonants. "You zee, ze Franchmahn sayz Beizhhhing!" Sorry, you had to be there. And I apologize to the French, but you still owe us for the way you transliterated "Kampuchea" as "Cambodia."

    Chinese has some consonants that are hard for Westerners, particularly the she, zhe, ri series, but "Beijing" doesn't have have any of those.

    There is a corollary in how Westerners butcher the name of China's president, Xi Jinping.

    It should be easy. Xi (same as "she" in English). Jin (same as in "gene" English). Ping (same as "ping" in English).

    Why then do I hear Shi Zhiping, Ji Jiping, Ji Zheping, whatever?

    Say "She Gene Ping" and the tones will be forgiven.
    #

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:38 pm

    Well, then, bravo to the Spanish too!

  9. Noel Hunt said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:39 pm

    c.f. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperforeignism.

  10. CuConnacht said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:43 pm

    As applied to stress, "Exotic peoples make exotic sounds" means "When in doubt, stress a foreign name on the final syllable." The French are foreign, and they do that, right? Thus qaTAR, tuRIN, etc.

    Also, the Spanish write their n's with a squiggle over them and pronounce them "ny", e.g. habañero.

  11. Jamie said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 5:48 pm

    People do the same with Italian words with a 'gi-' (J) sound as well. Perhaps Italian is considered equally exotic.

  12. Doug said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 6:02 pm

    Michael Watts said:
    " /ʒ/ is a fully conventional sound in English that is (a) phonemic and (b) required in many common words. There is no alternative way to pronounce e.g. vision / precision / measure / leisure / etc. etc. etc. "

    This is all true, but note that /ʒ/ is still relatively exotic. It's relatively rare in English (dead last in phoneme frequency according to the first source* I found via Google search), and it's one of only two consonant phonemes that cannot be initial in a normal English word. ("Genre" is not normal. Nor is "jejune." They're both obviously French words not fully assimilated.)

    So one might say that /ʒ/ is the most foreign sound that occurs in normal English words.

    * https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00437956.1950.11659381

    I am of course guided by my own variety of American English. The facts of other Englishes may be different.

  13. Bob Crossley said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 6:07 pm

    Misplaced "zh" is also commonly found in "mah-jongg" (in UK at least). I think that mispronunciation goes back at least to the 70s when I first learned the game, and before Beijing had replaced Peking.

  14. Dliessmgg said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 6:15 pm

    I think a better explanation for English speakers getting it wrong (as per usual) is the position of the consonant.

    The "j" sound often appears at the beginning of a word, like jingle or jam.

    The "zh" sound usually appears in the middle of words, like vision or measure.

    Since the j in Beijing is in the middle, it may appear to English speakers as more "natural" to pronounce it like "zh".

  15. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 6:16 pm

    The Wikipedia page on hyperforeignisms linked by Noel Hunt relies heavily on the 1994 article by Janda, Joseph, and Jacobs, "Systematic hyperforeignisms as maximally external evidence for linguistic rules." It's worth reading in its own right (here). "Beizhing" is described as "hyper-French/pseudo-Mandarin" on p. 80.

    Also, one of the earliest Language Log posts was one by Bill Poser in 2004 on the "Beizhing" pronunciation.

  16. ASB said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 6:39 pm

    It's Pekin(g) in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Magyar, Polish, Russian etc. etc.
    It's a peculiar anglophone post-colonial cultural cringe to abandon very long-established exonyms and try to pronounce place names (badly) in the local language. Why don't we go the whole hog and say Zhonguo not China. No-one else says Mumbai either (not even the locals).

    Strangely this doesn't apply to countries that anglophone liberals don't feel guilty about. The government of Côte d'Ivoire first announced in 1983 that the name of the country should not be translated and only the form 'Côte d'Ivoire' used and has repeated this frequently but that official request seems to have been completely ignored.

  17. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 6:53 pm

    I blame Tom Brokaw.

    Doug: In what sense is "genre" not fully assimilated?

  18. Michael Watts said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 7:10 pm

    note that /ʒ/ is still relatively exotic. It's relatively rare in English (dead last in phoneme frequency according to the first source* I found via Google search)

    OK, dead last, relatively rare. But two points:

    1. That paper says that /ʒ/ has just half the frequency (0.03% of phoneme occurrences) as the second-place phoneme, /ɔɪ/ (as in "toy"), which has 0.06%. That minor gap in frequency is dwarfed by the gap between second and third place — third place is /θ/ ("thick") with 0.44%, 7 to 15 times the frequency of those lesser phonemes. (I'm ignoring the putative phoneme of "when" as distinct from "wall", because I believe that distinction is dead. According to the paper, it is very similarly positioned to /θ/.)

    But I've never heard anyone claim that /ɔɪ/ is an unnatural sound. I've also never heard that /ŋ/ is an unnatural sound — if anything, people are more likely to claim the opposite, that /ŋ/ is distinctively English.

    So I have a hard time seeing where the usage characteristics of /ʒ/ justify calling it foreign.

    2. [ʒ] also occurs, naturally, as the allophonic reduction of the phonemic sequence /zj/, where that sequence occurs across word boundaries. This suggests to me that it is an indigenous, non-foreign sound. (And in fact, the words in which it is phonemic were borrowed from French, where they were and are pronounced with [zj]. The development to /ʒ/ occurred within English. French /ʒ/ exists, but is written with a "j" or a "g".)

  19. Michael Watts said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 7:13 pm

    In what sense is "genre" not fully assimilated?

    I agree with Doug on this one. Or rather, I think the word "genre" is fully assimilated, and that assimilation is reflected in the fact that it is often pronounced with a /dʒ/. Those who pronounce it with /ʒ/ are doing something exotic.

  20. mollymooly said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 7:18 pm

    In the wordset of Carney's Survey of English Spelling /ʒ/ is spelled S in common words, G in rarer words, Z in azure crozier seizure, T in equation, J in nothing.

    it's one of only two consonant phonemes that cannot be initial in a normal English word.

    ..and rarely in the onset of a stressed syllable (luxurious, regime)

    "Genre" is not normal. Nor is "jejune." They're both obviously French words not fully assimilated.

    "Jejune" is Latin not French, and the standard pronunciation has /dʒ/ not /ʒ/ for both its J's. The word's newer sense "childish" shows influence of unrelated French 'jeune' ("young") which in turn encourages the innovative /ʒ/ pronunciation. It is in fact etymologically related to French 'jeûne' ("fast"), as in 'déjeuner" ("break-fast").

  21. Chris Button said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 8:04 pm

    You would need to spell it "Beiging" to get people to make the /dʒ/ sound at first sight (and then hope they don't think of "beige" before more regular "raging", "emerging", etc…)

  22. AntC said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 8:18 pm

    In what sense is "genre" not fully assimilated?

    There's no other word ending -nre. Usually -nr- is at a syllable boundary, and there's a proper syllable following the r-.

    So "genre" must be foreign. So first suspect would be French. So the g- is pronounced /ʒ/.

    I must admit this is the first time anybody's told me not to pronounce Beijing with /ʒ/ — and I thought I'd been so politically correct to adjust from 'Peking'. So the short answer to VHM is that everybody in an English-speaking environment uses /ʒ/ (just as they pronounce the -s in Paris), so it is correct by all descriptive criteria. And people using /dʒ/ are just being affected (or they're foreign). As if I said Paree all the time.

  23. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 8:26 pm

    Simplest to go back to calling it "Peiping"? (Or Pei-p'ing, or Beiping, as you may prefer.)

  24. Jim Breen said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 8:27 pm

    In the early 70s I worked for the (now) Australian Signals Directorate, which is analogue of the NSA in the US and GCHQ in the UK. The work environment was interesting as there were civil servants and military people from the three countries. My boss for a while was from GCHQ.

    One of my NSA colleagues told us that it was policy there that the name "Peiping" be used for the PRC's capital. Any transgressions, such as using "Beijing" in a document would result in a reprimand for "giving comfort and succour to the enemy". He nay have been pulling our legs, but I doubt it.

  25. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 8:37 pm

    Those who pronounce it with /ʒ/ are doing something exotic.

    To me (west coast US) that seems completely standard. I can't recall hearing it pronounced any other way.

  26. Michael Watts said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 8:56 pm

    In what sense is "genre" not fully assimilated?

    There's no other word ending -nre. Usually -nr- is at a syllable boundary, and there's a proper syllable following the r-.

    I don't understand these points. The -nr- in genre is at a syllable boundary, and there is a proper syllable following the r-. Compare "Laura", with the identical final syllable.

  27. Michael Watts said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 9:06 pm

    So the short answer to VHM is that everybody in an English-speaking environment uses /ʒ/ (just as they pronounce the -s in Paris), so it is correct by all descriptive criteria. And people using /dʒ/ are just being affected (or they're foreign).

    There is a tension, though not a great tension, between this viewpoint and this one:

    and I thought I'd been so politically correct to adjust from 'Peking'.

    As that second thought points out, the only reason to use "Beijing" at all is the desire to match the official Chinese pronunciation, so going on to mispronounce it seems like fair game for some criticism.

    This reminds me of another Chinese name issue I've noticed in recent years. The venerable Yangtze / Yangtse / Yang-tze River seems to have been quietly "renamed" as the Yangzi River. To me, this looks ridiculous — it is true that "Yangzi" is the correct Pinyin spelling of the syllables referred to by the older name, but that isn't the name of the river. It's called 长江 cháng jiāng. You could call that Chang Jiang, or you could call it the Long River, on the analogy to 黄河 huáng hé, the Yellow River, but there's just no way to get "Yangzi" from that. I don't see the logic behind adjusting the spelling of the English name to better reflect… something… in Chinese, while studiously ignoring the Chinese name for the river.

    (Side note: I've also seen a reference to the "Huanghe River". That's all kinds of weird. The Yellow River has been its English name forever, and unlike Yangtze is perfectly accurate. And if you insisted on giving it a name in Chinese, that name would be the Huang River.)

  28. CD said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 9:55 pm

    My partner has an Indian first name with a perfectly ordinary "r" that a lot of people in the U.S. insist on rolling. I have never heard a rolled r in an Indian language.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 10:40 pm

    From John Tkacik:

    I think its the pretentious Francophilia of the hoity-toity mainstream media

  30. Chris Button said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 10:43 pm

    You would need to spell it "Beiging" to get people to make the /dʒ/ sound at first sight (and then hope they don't think of "beige" before more regular "raging", "emerging", etc…)

    Then again, that would predict /ˈbeɪdʒ.ɪŋ/ (like "ageing" /ˈeɪdʒ.ɪŋ/) rather than /ˌbeɪˈdʒɪŋ/. Given that people are putting the stress on the second syllable surely a "j" would be fine as the onset as in "jingle" rather than the coda as in "age"

    …the BBC Pronunciation Unit got Wade-Giles (= HP = [ʐ ~ɻ]*) and Hanyu Pinyin (= unaspirated ʨ confused. Thus 'Beijing' with ʒ became the BBC pronunciation.

    I quite like that theory. We were actually just discussing the use of Wade Giles /j/ where Pinyin has /r/ here:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=42577#comment-1562798

  31. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 10:45 pm

    Bob Crossley: Over here in the U.S., my great-aunt who played mah-jong (born c. 1900) called it "mahzh" [mɑʒ] (not sure that vowel is going to come out). I think that takes a lot of the blame for "Beizhing" off the BBC.

    ASB: "Côte d'Ivoire" seems to be catching up. At COCA

    "Cote d'Ivoire" and variations: 498
    "Ivory Coast": 524

    Why do so many Americans pronounce "Szechuan" as "Sezhwan"? I imagine that started because "Szechuan" has a "z" in it and is foreign.

  32. Chris Button said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 11:07 pm

    I think its the pretentious Francophilia of the hoity-toity mainstream media

    Come to think of it, we have a more French-style stress placement in a pronunciation like /ˌbeɪˈ(d)ʒɪŋ/ (English would normally be /ˈbeɪ(d)ʒ.ɪŋ/) so the "j" would naturally then gain a French-style /ʒ/ rather than an English-style /dʒ/

  33. AntC said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 11:53 pm

    The -nr- in genre is at a syllable boundary, and there is a proper syllable following the r-.

    Not a proper syllable. For me (BrE) it's a very truncated schwa at best. (And much more of a nasalised and lengthened -rr than any vowel at all.) I stress the first syllable. I think of the word "genre" as not English but French.

    Compare "Laura", with the identical final syllable.

    No -nr- so I don't see how that's comparable. For me the final syllable of "Laura" is not truncated and not schwa. It's the same as the final syllable in 'pizza'. I don't say jon-ra.

  34. Garrett Wollman said,

    May 2, 2019 @ 11:57 pm

    A couple of points:

    1) It's only in English that the PRC government has made a sustained effort to convince publishers and governments to write Chinese names in pinyin, hence the use of that transcription in English when other European languages still have "Pekin(g)". That effort coincides with a trend in academia and some parts of the media to deprecate all exonyms, no matter how "unpronounceable" the corresponding endonyms are, given the status of English as the world's hegemonic language.

    2) A large share of the blame for "Bei-zhing" must be specifically handed to NBC Sports, whose broadcast style guide, as promulgated prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, specifically calls for the "hyper-foreign" pronunciation. Since the 2022 Olympic Winter Games will be hosted by Beijing, you can expect to hear it a lot more — Comcast-NBC has been paying $1 billion for the broadcast rights to the Games for more than a decade, and that cash covers a substantial part of the costs of the event.

  35. Ouen said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 1:53 am

    You can still come across Pei-p'ing in Taiwan's restaurants serving Pekingese cuisine. It's still 北平烤鴨 if the restaurant is old enough

  36. Rob Grayson said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 2:20 am

    @Doug,

    ""Genre" is not normal. Nor is "jejune." They're both obviously French words not fully assimilated."

    "Jejune" isn't relevant here, on two counts: (i) its dominant pronunciation is /dʒəˈdʒuːn/; and (ii) etymologically, it seems to have come straight from Latin "ieiunus", meaning empty, dry or barren (so not French in any way, shape or form).

  37. cliff arroyo said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 2:24 am

    It's also still Pekin in Polish. Phenian for Pyongyang is still in use (from an old Russian version of the name) though it's slowly moving toward Pjongjang..

    Interestingly when the first news stories on the segway appeared in Poland announcers kept pronouncing it 'sedge-way' (the first part rhymed with edge and not egg). Eventually that got worked out and it's been years since I've heard sedge-way but I was wondering how it came about (beyond the fact that segue isn't a word found in many English textbooks…).

    With new foreign names (especially imposed ones like Beijink) I think people simply guess while handicapping their intuitions and the results are often not ideal…

  38. A. said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 4:31 am

    @Ben Zimmer: Did you mean Zhanda, Zhoseph and Zhacobs?

  39. A. said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 4:36 am

    @Chris Button:

    To me, "Beiging" would look like it's a velar stop. "Beidjing" would work though.

  40. Kristian said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 5:24 am

    I don't understand why saying Bei-ʒing is worse than Bei-dʒing or "hideous".

  41. Philip Taylor said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 5:26 am

    "[E]verybody in an English-speaking environment uses /ʒ/ (just as they pronounce the -s in Paris), so it is correct by all descriptive criteria. And people using /dʒ/ are just being affected (or they're foreign)".

    Native speaker of <Br.E>, 70+ years. I have never heard "Beijing" pronounced with a /ʒ/. Are all native British speakers "being affected" ?

  42. Chris Button said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 5:43 am

    @ A

    To me, "Beiging" would look like it's a velar stop. "Beidjing" would work though.

    My initial instinct was to go with "Beidging" but the "dg" spelling doesn't work with the "long" (at least traditionally so) vowel sound which marks something the "short" (e.g. "madge" rather than "mage").

    I'm now going with what I said later since "j" is not a commonly encountered spelling in such an environment:

    Come to think of it, we have a more French-style stress placement in a pronunciation like /ˌbeɪˈ(d)ʒɪŋ/ (English would normally be /ˈbeɪ(d)ʒ.ɪŋ/) so the "j" would naturally then gain a French-style /ʒ/ rather than an English-style /dʒ/

  43. Chris Button said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 5:49 am

    But, yes I think "Beidging" (the "ei" spelling forcing the "long" sound) is probably the only way you would get speakers to consistently give a /dʒ/ sound just from the spelling.

  44. David Marjanović said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 5:51 am

    I'm ignoring the putative phoneme of "when" as distinct from "wall", because I believe that distinction is dead.

    Probably moribund in the US, and dead in most of England, but not at present generally dead across English. Elizabeth Warren distinguishes wh [hʷ] from w [w], for instance.

    In Scotland, wh is the infamous voiceless approximant [ʍ], except in those Scots dialects that have merged it into [f].

    One of my NSA colleagues told us that it was policy there that the name "Peiping" be used for the PRC's capital. Any transgressions, such as using "Beijing" in a document would result in a reprimand for "giving comfort and succour to the enemy". He nay have been pulling our legs, but I doubt it.

    That must have been before the US (and most of the rest of the world) flipped on the question of which China to recognize as the true China. The Republic moved the capital from Beijing, literally "north capital", to Nanjing ("south capital"), and to emphasize this renamed Beijing to Beiping ("north peace"). The People's Republic promptly undid all that.

  45. Peter Erwin said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 6:41 am

    I'll admit I've wondered why the British had/have a tendency for pronouncing Indian words and names that normally have dʒ sounds ("maharaja", "Taj Mahal") with the ʒ sound. Possibly this is evidence for Anonymous Curmudgeon's Theory 1, in that both Indian and Chinese names are getting a "these are exotic foreign words, so pronounce them as if they were French" treatment.

  46. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 7:18 am

    Presumably most of the Anglophones who went along with the Peking-Beijing switch also went along with the seemingly more modest Nanking-Nanjing switch. But how do they typically pronounce the -jing in Nanjing? With a dʒ or just a ʒ? Does their pronunciation of "Beijing" carry over, or do they do different things in the contexts of the different toponyms? FWIW it looks from wikipedia as if French and Spanish have retained their traditional Nankin, and Japanese may likewise have retained its traditional ナンキン (= "Nankin").

  47. Chris Button said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 7:34 am

    I'll admit I've wondered why the British had/have a tendency for pronouncing Indian words and names that normally have dʒ sounds ("maharaja", "Taj Mahal") with the ʒ sound. Possibly this is evidence for Anonymous Curmudgeon's Theory 1, in that both Indian and Chinese names are getting a "these are exotic foreign words, so pronounce them as if they were French" treatment.

    At least the "j" is the coda which is a "foreign" position. That includes "Maharaja" in the way an English speaker says it (although not in Hindi where it is an onset)

  48. IA said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:10 am

    @Chris Button:

    'I quite like that theory.'

    Thank you. (Especially since I've been told that I must have made it up purely for entertainment value.)

    @ Michael Watts

    'This is completely untrue.'

    My *a mostly exotic sound* would have been better expressed as 'a relatively rare sound'. And I am aware that it is a natural sound arising from /zj/. Useful of you to point it out.

    -'anonymous curmudgeonly correspondent'

  49. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:22 am

    From the anonymous curmudgeonly correspondent:

    https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/beijing?q=Beijing :
    No problem with the UK part, but the IPA of the 'US pronunciation' does not match the audio; it says [dʒ], but the speaker says [ʒ].

    Here, the [ʒ]. prounciation also listed, but marked 'non-standard':
    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Beijing?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld

    Only [dʒ]:
    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/beijing

    Amazing chaos: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/beijing

    If you click 'English' the IPA says [dʒ], but the speaker is saying [ʒ].
    If you click 'American', two choices are given — [dʒ] and [ʒ], but both audios are the same, [dʒ]!

    https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=Beijing&submit.x=55&submit.y=23:

    [dʒ], with this note added: 'Usage Note: Although some people pronounce the capital of China as (bāzhĭng), with a (zh) sound in place of the (j) sound, the pronunciation with the (j) sound is a much better approximation of the Chinese pronunciation. In fact, most people who speak Chinese would consider the (zh) pronunciation to be incorrect.'

    The VOA Pronunciation Guide's 'BAY-JEENG' indicates [dʒ] :
    https://pronounce.voanews.com/phrasedetail.php?name=BEIJING

    ('Xi Jinping' is given as 'SHEE JEEN-PEENG'. Why the penchant for 'ee' between consonants?)

    I couldn't find a BBC analogue to the VOA Pronunciation Guide, but at a 2008 page called 'How to Say: Chinese names'
    (https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/magazinemonitor/2008/05/how_to_say_1.shtml ):

    BEIJING – bay jing (-j as in Jack). The pronunciation bay-ZHING (-zh as "s" in measure) is common but is not as close to the Chinese pronunciation)

  50. mollymooly said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:30 am

    What other languages/transliterations have J-to-/dʒ/ phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence? Arabic is one. The British Empire gave us names like Fiji and Ujiji, as compare to France's Djibouti. An additional stream of J-to-/dʒ/ correspondences casme with the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which placenames with a /dʒ/-like phoneme in the local language were transliterated into Russian as Cyrillic дж and thence Romanised "DZH" ; in the post-Soviet era these were replaced with direct Romanisation, often using "J". I don't recall hearing Tajikistan pronounced with /ʒ/ ; not sure about Ajaria.

  51. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:53 am

    From Martin Schwartz:

    For whatever reason I can no longer access the READ MORE
    of the LL postings.

    For me, Beizhing is another example of zh being for English
    an exotic sound, found limitedly in azure, pleasure, etc.
    Thus one hears wrong Azerbaizhan, razha (râja), etc.
    I think French has something to do with this perception.

  52. Ian said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 9:11 am

    Well, there's also the issue that neither ʒ nor dʒ are entirely accurate. I guess in MSM the consonant is ʨ, which is not a phoneme in most dialects of English, so it's a matter of trying to get as close to ʨ as possible using native phonemes. This happens time and time again in trying to nativize place names, and there is always some sacrifice that needs to be made. So, the question is, is ʒ or dʒ closer to ʨ? I would argue that ʒ is slightly closer with regards to place of articulation, but dʒ is clearly closer with regards to manner. At the end of the day it's going to be impressionistic though, and I suppose the curmudgeonly among us (and indeed probably all of us) consider dʒ to be impressionistically closer, but neither is truly "correct".

  53. Bob Ladd said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 10:23 am

    I agree with ASB that the attempt to use foreign place names is a peculiarly Anglophone habit – discussed extensively on Language Log more than ten years ago.

    Specifically with regard to [ʒ], I heard someone the other day pronounce Xi (as in Xi Jinping) as [ʒi], which provides some support for the suggestion that English speakers are just using a fairly exotic sound when confronted with certain pinyin consonant letters.

    And off-topic, @David Marjanović: the /w/-/hw/ distinction is going fast in most of Scotland, too.

  54. Jichang Lulu said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 12:23 pm

    The (unaspirated) [k] that gave us the k in 'Peking' remains alive in topolects that didn't undergo the sound change reflected in (e.g.) Modern Standard Mandarin. It's still there in the Korean reading 북경 Bukkyeong, which coexists with 베이징 Beijing (transcribing the MSM pronunciation, which the Revised Romanisation makes look just like pinyin). Cf. also Manchu Beging. Mongolian Begejing ᠪᠡᠭᠡᠵᠢᠩ (<ege&rt; gives /e:/) was in use in the late Qing, perhaps earlier.

    According to West, it seems unclear whether the Khitan names recorded refer to Beijing using a translation of 'Southern Capital' (Nanjing 南京) or of 'Yan / Swallow Capital' (Yanjing 燕京), with the latter more likely given the name's occurrence in Jin sources (the Jin, unlike the Liao, didn't call the city 'Southern'). This leads to the rather obvious marketing advice to Messrs Yanjing beer to do in Khitan what has been done in Tangut.

  55. Christian Weisgerber said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 4:51 pm

    @ASB

    It's a peculiar anglophone post-colonial cultural cringe to abandon very long-established exonyms and try to pronounce place names (badly) in the local language.

    Surely you meant to say: "It's a peculiar German post-WWII cultural cringe to abandon very long-established exonyms and try to pronounce place names (badly) in the local language
    (or, increasingly, in English)."

    Can we add some more? If you read media and readers' comments in several countries and languages, the "only we are so stupid to do this" rhetoric reveals itself as amusingly universal.

  56. Levantine said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 5:46 pm

    As Philip Taylor has pointed out, it can't be affected if it's the usual English pronunciation. The same goes for "Azerbaijan" with a /ʒ/. Given its normally descriptivist tone, Language Log seems an odd place to rail against something so widespread and idiomatic.

    Regarding the claim that "genre" is often pronounced with a /dʒ/, I can't say I've ever heard this version. Anyone else?

  57. RfP said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 7:48 pm

    @Levantine:

    I looked this up in four dictionaries (all on my phone, in case that makes a difference). The three American ones, American Heritage, Merriam-Webster, and New Oxford American Dictionary only give the /ʒ/ pronunciation. The Oxford Dictionary of English is the only one that includes a pronunciation that starts with /dʒ/.

    I use the word a lot in my day-to-day (US-based) work, and I would never think of either Anglicizing the "g" or nasalizing the "e". So it seems to me that "genre" has been assimilated that way one would expect—at least in US English. That is, by keeping the initial /ʒ/ and by adding an /n/ after the nasalized French vowel (which is also denasalized, in keeping with standard English pronunciation).

  58. RfP said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:01 pm

    The last part of my comment wasn't put very clearly, but I was trying to say that in my daily use of American English, I would never pronounce "genre" in the French manner, as "ʒɒ̃rə". I pronounce it "ʒɒnrə".

    Although the initial consonant follows the French pronunciation, the way Americans say the rest of this word, even if they speak French, is enough to convince me that it really has been assimilated, at least on this side of the pond.

  59. Levantine said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:07 pm

    RfP, thank you. For what it's worth, I'm British, and I've never heard a fellow Brit say it with /dʒ/, though I've encountered various pseudo-French nasalised pronunciations from a good number of anglophones on both sides of the pond.

  60. Noel Hunt said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:12 pm

    [Aside:

    > From Martin Schwartz:
    > or whatever reason I can no longer access the READ MORE
    > of the LL postings.

    The 'Read more' link has a URL beginning with 'https', whereas the URL at the bottom of the mail is simply 'http', which works.]

  61. Levantine said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 8:15 pm

    ʒɒnrə is more or less my pronunciation also, though I think I do nasalise ever so slightly–the N doesn't seem fully there when I say it. The R, however is very much of the English variety, and there's definitely a schwa at the end.

  62. Ellen K. said,

    May 3, 2019 @ 10:13 pm

    I suspect that once we learn a word with either /dʒ/ or /ʒ/, like Beijing or genre, we tend to perceive it the way we learned it, and we don't notice when someone uses the other sound. So someone who claims not to have heard any pronunciation but their own may just not have noticed the other pronunciation when they heard it. For whatever it's worth, I think if genre as having /dʒ/, though both pronunciations seem find to me.

  63. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 2:41 am

    American dictionaries listing only a /ʒ/ pronunciation for "genre" are not bothering to reflect American usage. Try listening to this very boring video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1sU4ImM3xs

    The American-accented narrator varies back and forth between /ʒ/ and /dʒ/, probably without realizing that she's doing it.

  64. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 2:44 am

    (Breaking into multiple comments so I can post multiple links.)

    In this even worse video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_DN7l53J_c ), the narrator leads off with "Welcome to 'Literary /dʒ/enres: Fiction Part 1", despite going on to specifically discuss how the word should be pronounced with a /ʒ/ because it comes from French.

  65. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 3:25 am

    The (British-accented?) narrator for this video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Daut5e0kWBo ) usually uses /ʒ/, but leads off with a very clear /dʒ/.

  66. nick m said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 3:52 am

    My beginner's Chinese is in suspended animation, and I'm not a linguist, so I may have got this completely wrong. But as I understand it, there are no such things as "voiced" consonants in Chinese, only "non-plosive" ones.

    It's true that a non-plosive "j" sounds – to a native English speaker – much more like the "j" of "jump" than the "j" of "jus". But it doesn't sound identical, either, because it isn't.

    I would certainly rather hear the "j" of "Beijing" pronounced in a hard "Anglo-Saxon" way than a pseudo-exotic "French" way, if I had to choose. The latter sounds much more wrong. But the former sounds harsh, and also, wrong just in so far as it sounds harsh.

    No doubt the spurious prestige of "French"-sounding pronunciation – among the wider public, including newsreaders and journalists, etc. – is the main factor here. But is it possible that several generations of native English speakers fluent in Chinese have helped to bring about this situation, as a result of their feeling that the wronger but also (arguably) more euphonious "French" version of "Beijing" is the lesser of two evils?

  67. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 5:02 am

    nick m:

    You're probably looking for the term "unaspirated". The sound that contrasts with [d] by being voiceless is [t]; the sound that contrasts with [d] by being non-plosive is [z]. (The sound that contrasts with [t] by being aspirated, usually obligatory in English, is the harder-to-type [tʰ].)

    I have no real opinion on whether pinyin "b" "d" "g" "z" "zh" "j" can be voiced or should merely be unaspirated. As an American, it's not a difference I can hear. To me, "z" sounds unvoiced and the rest sound voiced.

    What's being discussed here is not whether the "j" in Beijing is aspirated. It is whether it is affricated — pronounced with a plosive that releases into the fricative (for example, [ts] instead of [s]) — or a pure fricative. Mandarin has two or three series of three-way contrasts following the pattern "fricative / affricate / aspirated affricate": s/z/c, sh/zh/ch, and the one at issue here, x/j/q. x is the non-plosive consonant; j and q are both (partially) plosive.

  68. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 5:07 am

    (And of course there are voiced consonants in Chinese; pinyin r/w/m/n/ng are all voiced.)

  69. David C said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 10:14 am

    My favorite example of a hyperforeignism dates back to the late 70s, when the Bolshoi Ballet toured the US and there were Americans who started pronouncing 'Bolshoi' as 'bol-SHWAH', as though it were a French word.

  70. R. Fenwick said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 10:46 am

    @CuConnacht:
    Also, the Spanish write their n's with a squiggle over them and pronounce them "ny", e.g. habañero.

    To be fair, I think that's done rather because of a well-intentioned but wrongly-assumed analogy with jalapeño, which became familiar to the wider English-speaking populace first and which one still hears plenty of people pronounce "hallapeeno".

  71. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 10:53 am

    Anglophones with enough exposure to other Chinese toponyms / personal names / etc transcribed in hanyu pinyin will be aware that "zh" is commonly seen in the orthography, which *might* imply that it represents a different consonant than "j" does, but it turns out that there isn't a possible minimal pair beijing/beizhing (which would signal even more strongly that maybe the former is pronounced differently from the latter), because the -ing rime only goes with some consonants as possible onsets and those possibilities don't include zh-. On the other hand my casual online research revealed the derogatory expression (said to originate in ZimbEng) "Zhing-Zhong," which turns out to be based on a Mandarin word 精裝, which is apparently "officially" pinyinized as "jingzhuang." So maybe that would be another test case to explore why MSM "jing" is heard by some (exoticizing?) Anglophones as "zhing." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhing-zhong

  72. RfP said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 11:53 am

    @Michael Watts:

    Thank you for your fortitude in exploring such riveting videos!

    In other words, I'll take your word for it, and acknowledge that you have convinced me, as long as I don't have to click those links! :)

    And AHD, MW and NOAD: we've got our eyes on you!

    I guess genre is a lot like Jean, in that this personal name is usually pronounced "in English" with the same sounds as the first syllable of genre, that is, "ʒɒn" and yet it is still considered a foreign word even though the coda has been adapted to fit English pronunciation.

    So presumably, if we fully assimilated Jean into English, we'd pronounce it identically to John.

    It now seems to me that genre is still considered a foreign word in whatever part of our intellect keeps track of such things, and people who are more in tune with language issues or with the buzzwords of their discipline will most likely continue to pronounce it with an initial /ʒ/, even if by some chance the broader public starts using it regularly and adapts the pronunciation to match our standard use of /dʒ/ as a "soft g" at the beginning of a word.

    This makes me wonder about the lifecycle of other foreign terms. For example, I just looked up angst and got all three American dictionaries agreeing that the way I say it in English ("aŋst"), and the way I hear a lot of other knowledgeable people using it, is wrong. And I have been "corrected" in my "mispronunciation" on at least one occasion.

    On the other hand, the Oxford Dictionary of English only gives the anglicized pronunciation.

    Anyway, thanks again, Michael!

  73. RfP said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 12:21 pm

    I wonder to what extent these variations in pronunciation are governed by register.

    Although the Beijing pronunciation with a /ʒ/ seems to be an accepted variant in formal register—despite its cringe-worthiness to some of us—would genre with a /dʒ/ be considered correct when speaking formally in American English?

    I've been reading the post about swallowing and slurring in Pekinese, and although many people in my area refer to San Francisco as Samancisco, I would never do that except in fun, because I tend to pronounce place names more formally.

    How much of that kind of thing is a factor in what we (or at least, our dictionaries) consider to be correct? And how much do dictionary editors paint such issues with a broad, prescriptive brush, in spite of clear counter-examples.

  74. RfP said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 12:22 pm

    Pekingese!

  75. Andreas Johansson said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 12:26 pm

    So, was I the only one who started reading in the expectation that it would be about a pronunciation using the pinyin value of 'zh'?

    Dako wrote:
    Chinese has some consonants that are hard for Westerners, particularly the she, zhe, ri series, but "Beijing" doesn't have have any of those.

    I feel compelled to point out that I'm a native speaker of a Western language that doesn't have [dʒ] or [ʒ], and found those hard to master when learning English.

  76. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 2:39 pm

    So, was I the only one who started reading in the expectation that it would be about a pronunciation using the pinyin value of 'zh'?

    Anglophones with enough exposure to other Chinese toponyms / personal names / etc transcribed in hanyu pinyin will be aware that "zh" is commonly seen in the orthography, which *might* imply that it represents a different consonant than "j" does, but it turns out that there isn't a possible minimal pair beijing/beizhing (which would signal even more strongly that maybe the former is pronounced differently from the latter), because the -ing rime only goes with some consonants as possible onsets and those possibilities don't include zh-.

    It's worse than that. There is no minimal pair for any of sh/x, zh/j, or ch/q. The palatal series can only be followed by the front vowels /i/ and /y/ (or the glide /j/), and the retroflex series cannot be. The argument that "j" and "zh" are the same consonant is quite strong. Both are unaspirated palatal affricates; one is articulated using the tip of your tongue, leaving room for a non-front vowel to follow it, and the other is articulated using the middle of your tongue, forcing you to follow it with a front vowel.

    The concept of pronouncing "beijing" in Chinese using the pinyin value of "zh" doesn't exist; that isn't really possible to do. The post _is_ about a pronunciation in English using what is more or less the pinyin value of "zh", as far as English speakers are concerned. It's just complaining that people aren't using that pronunciation when they should be, rather than that they are when they shouldn't be.

  77. Andreas Johansson said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 3:20 pm

    @Michael Watts:

    That zh+front vowel doesn't happen in MSM is surely contingent? There is no articulatory reason, is there, that "Beizhing" couldn't be possible in some variety of Sinitic?

  78. Michael Watts said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 5:36 pm

    Non-Mandarin varieties of Sinitic usually don't have a "zh" sound at all, as far as I know. (Not that far.) Merging sh/zh/ch into s/z/c is very common when speaking Mandarin, if you're not from the north.

  79. Confused said,

    May 4, 2019 @ 9:10 pm

    I am an ABC, native English speaker, who also grew up speaking Chinese, but am also very much not a linguist.

    To me, it feels very much like there is an issue with pronouncing the sound, not just selection of the wrong sound. The 'j' in jingle sounds exactly like how I would expect the word 'zhingle' to be prounounced.

    The French 'j', which is pronounced like the 's' in 'vision', is even worse, of course, but I don't think 'jingle' is quite right either.

  80. Levantine said,

    May 5, 2019 @ 2:30 am

    Thank you, Michael Watts, for these examples. I'll be listening out for the /dʒ/ pronunciation from now on, having apparently missed it all these years!

  81. nick m said,

    May 5, 2019 @ 5:36 am

    Michael Watts

    Thanks for the clarification. (Insofar as I understand it – I'm going to have to work on some of the technical detail!) Obviously it was absurd for me to say that there are no voiced consonants in Chinese.

    I do feel some affinity with Confused, all the same, when s/he says that the "j" of "jingle" sounds wrong, as an approximation of the "j" sound in "Beijing", even if not as wrong as the "j" of "Jaques".

    Unlike you, or Confused, I'm just a lapsed beginner in Chinese, so I don't know whether I'm right to feel surprised when you say that the difference between voiced and unaspirated "b", "d", "g", "z", "zh", "j" is not one you can hear, and that you have no opinion as to whether either of these is more right than the other.*

    Unless perhaps you mean that most native speaker pronunciations of those consonants fall in various places on a spectrum between voiced and merely unaspirated? But in that case, wouldn't the "j" of "jam" (or the "b" of "bat") still be on the far side of the "voiced" end of that spectrum, being both aspirated and voiced – and wouldn't this explain why pronouncing "Beijing" with the "b" of "bat" and the "j" of "jam" sound wrong (to some of us at least), even if less wrong than pronouncing it in a pseudo-French way? (Actually I have no idea what pronouncing the "b" sound of "Beijing" in a pseudo-French way would be like… unless it was very slightly less aspirated?)

    *Aspirated+voiced (instead of merely voiced) "j", "b", and "d" in, e.g., "jūdōka" and "butsudō", are very common features of native English speakers' Japanese pronunciation. They sound obvious enough to me (and I do my best to avoid them!), but I would have thought that the difference between the "j" of "jam" and the "j" of "judōka" was a good deal less marked than the difference between the "j" of "jam" and the "j" of "Beijing"?

  82. Kristian said,

    May 5, 2019 @ 8:32 am

    I'm getting confused too. Some people seem to be saying that /dʒ/ is the correct pronunciation of Beijing in English, some people just seem to be saying that it sounds better to them than /ʒ/, some people disapprove of hyperforeignisms.

    If I listen to the audio file of the pronunciation of Beijing on Wikipedia, I can't say I would give my preference to either one, really. They sound about equally wrong to me.

    According to Wikipedia, the "j" in Beijing is /t͡ɕ/, the same sound as kjol in Finnish Swedish or чуть in Russian. Certainly I wouldn't tell anyone to pronounce "kjol" with either /dʒ/ or /ʒ/. Those are sounds that seem very foreign to Swedish. What sounds closest to me here in English is ch like church. So maybe this influences my perception.

  83. neliret said,

    May 5, 2019 @ 3:17 pm

    "On top of which, Hanyu Pinyin is full of the digraph , which could hardly be anything other than ʒ , right? ('Brezhnev')."

    Don't most English speakers actually read as [z]?

  84. Philip Taylor said,

    May 6, 2019 @ 1:03 am

    I cannot speak for "most English speakers" but for me (native speaker of <Br.E>, 70+ years) I know him as (approximately) /brɛʒneɪjɛv/.

  85. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 6, 2019 @ 1:03 pm

    with no links

    For the sound in question, one could listen to Beijing uttered at the Wikipedia page for tɕ-, with the caveat that this doesn't seem to be a native speaker. :D I suppose Cantonese 'pig' just above can also serve as representative. As for Finnish Swedish / Russian, online the word чуть sounds aspirated (if non-contrastively), as is English (onset) "ch" [tʃʰ]… so our "j" [dʒ] is impressionistically the best match for this Mandarin sound, for what it's worth. And no the Mand. obstruents spelled (pinyin) b- d- g- z- zh- j- are certainly not voiced… English speakers make poor references on this point because our own [b] … [dʒ] so often aren't actually voiced through closure when onset (utterance?) initial (i.e. just sitting here saying "jump, jump", I use [tʃ].)

  86. James Kabala said,

    May 6, 2019 @ 8:22 pm

    I realize this thread is almost exhausted, but is this really as universal as Dr. Mair claims? So far only Philip Taylor has volunteered to say that he actually does use a j ([dʒ]) sound, but surely he cannot be the only one. I also do. Or at least, I thought I did – I have repeated both versions to myself a few times now, and both sound kind of right, or at least neither one sounds wrong. I guess that must be because I have heard both pronunciations spoken. But I think I would use [dʒ] naturally – I will have to try to catch myself in an unguarded moment.

  87. James Kabala said,

    May 6, 2019 @ 8:26 pm

    "I suspect that once we learn a word with either /dʒ/ or /ʒ/, like Beijing or genre, we tend to perceive it the way we learned it, and we don't notice when someone uses the other sound."

    I agree with this, by the way. There are some fairly drastic pronunciation differences between different American English dialects (the Mary/marry/merry issue, for example), but it seems people rarely notice them unless they are pointed out.

  88. Rick said,

    May 6, 2019 @ 9:11 pm

    I think this post needs to have the "peeving" tag added!

  89. Victor Mair said,

    May 6, 2019 @ 11:40 pm

    When English speakers say "Beijing", no one is expecting them to pronounce it as though they were speaking Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM). At the very least, they will drop out the tones, and no one in his / her right mind would blame them for that. On the other hand, there is a difference between "Beijing" and "Beizhing", with the former more nearly approximating "Běijīng 北京" than the latter. If we have an easy choice between "bay-jing" (which is composed of common English phonemes) and "bay-zhhing" [sic], with its Frenchified medial consonant, why not opt for the former? Here I appreciate the sentiment of the curmudgeon who provided the foundation of this post. He may be a curmudgeon, but I don't think we should characterize his statement as peeving. He was primarily trying to distinguish between the "Beijing" pronunciation and the "Beizhing" pronunciation and to give us some idea of how the latter arose.

    On a related note, within the last couple of months, we've had two guest lecturers come to our department. Both were native speakers of MSM, but they almost floored me when they both repeatedly pronounced Dàoism 道ism" as "Towism" (or maybe I should write that as "Toeism"). It was so weird. They both said "Towism" / "Toeism" unselfconsciously and without hesitation. Both had received their PhD in America and both were specialists on Chinese religion. I suppose they were trying to pronounce "道ism" the way they thought / perceived Americans pronounce it, but it was difficult for me to figure out how they — seemingly independently — arrived at this strange pronunciation.

    Cf.

    "Daoism–Taoism romanization issue"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daoism%E2%80%93Taoism_romanization_issue

    "'Ni hao' for foreigners" (10/11/16)

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28782

  90. Rick said,

    May 7, 2019 @ 10:27 am

    Re:peeving, I was thinking more of this sentence: "Well, I don't say "Beizhing", and I think it sounds ghastly, so much so that I cringe when I hear it and my flesh creeps." I actually enjoy it when linguists air their peeves (considering we beat the anti-prescriptive drum so often). My own lost causes are the use of disinterested for uninterested and enormity for enormous (not to mention beg the question for raise the question!).

  91. Chris Button said,

    May 7, 2019 @ 8:31 pm

    Come to think of it, we have a more French-style stress placement in a pronunciation like /ˌbeɪˈ(d)ʒɪŋ/ (English would normally be /ˈbeɪ(d)ʒ.ɪŋ/) so the "j" would naturally then gain a French-style /ʒ/ rather than an English-style /dʒ/

    The variant pronunciations of "garage" were mentioned on a separate thread recently. It's interesting how when it is given the more French-style stress on the second syllable that it tends to have /ʒ/ as the coda but when given a more native English-style first syllable stress it tends to have /dʒ/ as the coda.

  92. Victor Mair said,

    May 7, 2019 @ 11:57 pm

    From Fraser Howie:

    Quick question, wasn't pinyin developed with the help of Russian linguists? So the z, zh, and y, would simply not have stood as rare compared to English? As you know letter frequency varies markedly across languages.

  93. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 8, 2019 @ 11:24 am

    Re: "Taoism" heard with something like /ow/, some Chinese speakers familiar with this spelling may simply introduce t- without adjusting their vowel, giving [tʰɒw] or some such as opposed to super-American [tʰæw].

  94. Victor Mair said,

    May 8, 2019 @ 2:01 pm

    From an anonymous colleague:

    There's an analogy with Jerusalem pronounced Jeroozalem. I spent close to a year in the city. The only people who ever said the name with a distinct "z" sound we're non-Jews, and a disproportionate number of those were evangelical types. I believe it was their way of imparting mystical notions on the place. "Z" is one of the rarest letters for native English speakers. And in fact we should wonder how the rare letter usage played into our sense of China as a purportedly magical place.

    Somewhat amusing side story. In business school, I believe the year I started the program, some glitch had occurred when assigning new students to cohorts. Rather than randomly, students were assigned to the various groups by last name. Would not have been a problem except all the Chinese were chucked into the last groups because their names most often begin with X, Y and Z (Xu, Yang, Zhang, etc.)

    We can probably blame Wade and Giles for this feature of transliteration. And in their case it may not have been that they wanted to make Mandarin appear so exotic. But to indicate some of the subtly unique sounds of Chinese, they borrowed letters from the "rare find" bin?

    [VHM: Wade-Giles doesn't use Z or ZH at all. Those are distinctive Pinyin usages.]

  95. Victor Mair said,

    May 8, 2019 @ 7:37 pm

    There's even a website for "Toeism".

    https://toeism.wordpress.com/

  96. Victor Mair said,

    May 8, 2019 @ 9:43 pm

    From an anonymous colleague:

    Maybe "Toeism" is a type of foot fetishism?

  97. Eileen said,

    May 10, 2019 @ 1:10 am

    "I realize there are other theories about why Anglophones "

    This made me cringe. Do you know what "theory" means? It does mean "idea" like you have used above. It is a generally accepted set of ideas to explain an occurrence. My biology professor instilled this into us. I am a little shocked a linguist would use "theory" that way if linguistics is to be taken seriously, as a science, descriptive linguistics notwithstanding. A formal blog like this is a place where prescriptivism must prevail.

    On the same token, while I am on this rant, "livid" does not mean "very angry"; "inundate" does not mean "overwhelm"; and "dabble" does not mean "work or study superficially". Also, there are no such words as "preventative" or "irregardless". Use them and you will sound like a fool.

  98. Eileen said,

    May 10, 2019 @ 1:14 am

    My linguistics professor (a phonetician) informed us categorically that people use the "dʒ" sound in "Beijing" as a hypercorrection.

  99. Chas Belov said,

    May 11, 2019 @ 4:54 pm

    I personally consider this blog semi-formal, with a mix of scholarly and informal content, with an emphasis on approachability. That said, Merriam-Webster recognizes "preventative" as a word and "livid" for very angry goes back at least to Charles Dickens. I'll admit to cringing at "insure" for "ensure" or "assure."

  100. Ellen K. said,

    May 11, 2019 @ 7:13 pm

    "insure" for "ensure" is a spelling issue, and so different than the kind of things in Eileen's post. Even though many of us think of them in our head as sounding different, in actual speech they aren't going to sound noticeably different unless stressing them (such that both syllables have stress) or singing them (and even then not for some speakers, like most folks where I live).

    It seems to me "preventative" is the preferred form for the noun, and "preventive" for the adjective. Wiktionary tells me many speakers share this preference.

RSS feed for comments on this post