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Why do so many English speakers mispronounce Beijing?

It’s pronounced just like it’s spelled,
BAY-JING
Rhymes with the English gerund paging.
They spell it that way, like Jerusalem or Jaipur or Jakarta, specifically for the ease of English speakers! So why do so many English speakers pronounce it with a zh sound like it’s a suburb of Paris or Moscow?

Posted by
8032 posts

Honestly have never heard it mispronounced. I have been there twice so maybe I just have the correct pronunciation in my brain!

Posted by
6882 posts

Are you watching the Olympic Closing Ceremonies?

Posted by
3709 posts

Agnes: that’s what set me off. After suffering thru the last Beizhing Olympics I couldn’t stomach the thought of another one! The BBC often mispronounces it also, Duncan Golestani for sure, but Mike Embley gets it right.

Posted by
2931 posts

I don’t watch the Olympics so I have not heard the apparently incorrect pronunciation. When I first read the headline, I thought let me read this post so I know the proper pronunciation, but it turns out that I have never heard it mispronounced.

Posted by
16941 posts

I recall it once was pronounced "peeping". Honestly, if you are not a native Mandarin speaker, you're mispronouncing it.

Posted by
3378 posts

Paris, or Paree- it's still the same city. Relax. If and when the Chinese issue a protest over the way broadcasters pronounce the name, then I might think it's even an issue.

Posted by
8877 posts

Never understood why Peking (P-king) was dropped.

They spell it that way, ...... specifically for the ease of English speakers!

The 'ei' is pronounced 'e', not 'a', as in receive.

The 'jing' coming out 'zhing'; ... good question

Posted by
3709 posts

ei in English also neighbor and weigh.

Under the Wade -Giles romanization system K was to be pronounced J, P pronounced B, HS pronounced SH, etc, so unless in the know everything was mispronounced. So the Chinese came up with their own romanization system. I guess Bay-zhing is an improvement over Pee-King, but I still don’t get why the zhing mistake is predominant.

Posted by
3709 posts

Emma: Chinese is monosyllabic and each syllable is detached and stressed. In that system there’s no advantage of one sound over the other. This ease of pronunciation you refer to seems to come from the erroneous tendency in English to stress the second syllable. Stress the first syllable and it comes out right, e.g. paging, or gauging, or waging, etc.

Posted by
15075 posts

Oh Tom, now you've got me started.

Illinois - not Illi-noise; Chicago - Shh-caw-go is correct, not chick-ah-go. I cringe when I hear Saint Louie (thanks, Judy Garland), it took my Oregonian friends 3 years to teach me to say Or-uh-gun instead of Or-e-gon.

And most foreign place names in English aren't the same as the native names. Cairo, Jerusalem, Tripoli are kinda sorta in the neighborhood of the local names. 3 trips to Bangkok and I learned yesterday (thanks, Fareed Zakaria) that it's not even close to what the Thais call it: Krungthephmh̄ānkhr, though it seems they shorten it somewhat.

BTW I just listened to google translate and their pronunciation in Chinese sounds a lot more like bay-t'ching than baging.

Posted by
6822 posts

The Latin alphabet we use can only approximate some sounds that are common in other languages. Its been Peiping, Peking, now Beijing, in my lifetime, and I'll bet a native has always pronounced it the same way. Some of it is laziness, and some is just pronouncing it the way the target audience will know what your talking about. You'll get just as criticized for dropping Pahh-ree and Rrrom-ah in normal conversation.

Posted by
9933 posts

As indicated there are lots of mis-pronunciations of place names, not just Beijing. We Idahoans can always tell an outlander because they call our state capital Boy-zee when it's really Boy-cee.

Posted by
3709 posts

I don’t quite get the pride in mispronouncing responses to this topic, it’s not like the mispronunciation is some Elizabethan era heritage or something, it just started a few decades ago.

Anyway to Chani above, in pinyin the Zh spelling represents a strong, aspirated J (example given similar to English Gem), while the J is a softer J (similar to English Jail/Gaol). In any event nothing like the French-sounding mis-pronunciation usually heard.

Excuse me while I snack on a Fuzhi apple.

Posted by
2540 posts

funniest thread for a while , an American complaining about pronunciation.

Posted by
3356 posts

People mispronounce because of ignorance. It is what it is.

I lived in a small city in the Nagano prefecture of Japan in the mid 80s. Watching the '98 Nagano Olympic games, I got really annoyed hearing the NBC mouthpieces mispronounce Nagano as "NAGG-inno". Nothing much anyone can do when ignorance takes center stage.

Posted by
3493 posts

A lot of English speakers mispronounce a lot of words. So what? As long as everyone understands what the words are no harm.

I doubt any English speaker clearly pronounces Beijing no matter how they say it. There are too many subtle nuances in the Chinese languages for someone who doesn't speak them to handle. I do at least try to follow what the English dictionary says as close as I can.

In the case of many foreign cities, English speakers don't even come close to the actual name. München Germany, but not in English where we say Munich, is probably the best known example.

Posted by
1806 posts

Well I guess it's a good thing the Olympics were never held in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales or the place I visited Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand.

Posted by
546 posts

Good grief...First of all in Pudonghua which is the ACTUAL name for Mandarin ( a slightly classist and bit racist term by some accounts) has many combinations that use the ZH sound it's very common in That language. For instance the term "I am a tour leader"
Or transliterated badly I admit as: whoa ZHUR Ling Du ay Has the exact same sound the Chinese pronounce when the say Bei ZHG ing It's a harder ZH for sure but it isnt a definite J sound either.

Also among the main languages in China they all have different pronunciations, listening to one person say from Qingdao province will get you a different sound that the person from Guilin.

Posted by
697 posts

Chani, no offense, but we Oregonians really don't turn the name of our state into a three syllable word.

Posted by
15075 posts

Galen, I know it's not a "full" syllable, but I don't think it's orgun (like organ) either, or am I still mispronouncing it?.

Posted by
379 posts

Its been Peiping, Peking, now Beijing, in my lifetime, ...

Peiping and Beijing are different when written and pronounced in Chinese. The two characters for Beiping are "Northern Plain", and for Beijing are "Northern Capital". The second characters are pronounced very differently.

"Peking" is a spelling created by French missionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries. So is Canton for Guangzhou? Peking Duck and Cantonese (restaurants, etc.) are still more widely used outside of China.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Beijing

Posted by
2526 posts

Mispronouncing Oregon, Colorado and Nevada...well, it's like stepping on my nerves.

Posted by
5597 posts

Why do so many RS forum posters misspell Siena, MSM, Giverny? Why do so many NYC visitors misspell Rockefeller Center? Because no one cares anymore. When Bill Bradley was a Senator, he pointed out the decline of Geography study. Phone and screen use has harmed spelling and grammar. That ship has sailed.

Edit: Maybe they looked at their air ticket and saw that it said "PEK"?

Posted by
257 posts

Oregonians do say Oregon with three syllables. I lived there over 40 years and never heard a resident say it as two syllables.

Here's another example to help: Quote from a TV station about a phonetic spelling on merchandise.

'Orygun' bumper sticker creator rooting for a Ducks win. No doubt you've seen the sweatshirts, socks and bumper stickers that spell out "Oregon" phonetically as O-R-Y-G-U-N. It's been helping people. kgw.com.

Posted by
380 posts

Regardless whether you say "j" or "zh" for Beijing, you're still not in the ballpark. No one in the previous posts made mention of tones. Tones are absolutely necessary in speaking Chinese correctly and to be understood.
This is a true story. When I was in Taiwan studying Chinese, there was another American who knew a lot of Chinese. He could read at the 7th grade level. (That's an enormous accomplishment.) He even understood Chinese opera!
One day he ordered baozi from a vendor. Those delicious steamed buns filled with meat and/or vegetables.
The vendor asked him, today's?
He answered of course today's. He's thinking to himself why would I want old, stale, steamed buns?
The vendor is in the back of the store searching for a long time. He finally comes out with a newspaper.
Steamed bun: bao, first tone.
Newspaper: bao, fourth tone.

Posted by
16941 posts

Ceidleh will, no doubt, be familiar with Lake Char­gogg­a­gogg­man­chaugg­a­gogg­chau­bun­a­gung­a­maugg. Since it is in Webster, MA, the locals tend to just call it Webster Lake.

Posted by
697 posts

Chani & Lynn, okay, you got me. Oregon officially has 3 syllables. But even these guys (https://www.wikihow.com/Pronounce-Oregon) tell you not to hardly pronounce the middle one. This morning I was speaking over the phone with someone from Toronto. I probably said I'm in Organ.

But here's the exception! When singing the UofO Ducks fight song, one says Or-y-gun, very clearly three syllables. So that's where that comes from, as well as to poke fun at the easterners.

Posted by
8437 posts

I’ve never heard “Sanrancisco”, that’s a new one for me and I’ve been here 52 yrs. I have heard “Frisco”... Ugh. 😂

Edit: I was responding to a now deleted post.

Posted by
8437 posts

VS, “San Fran”... yes, hate that!! As bad as Frisco. I don’t mind “the Bay” though 😂
I really have only ever heard “San Francisco”... not doubting your experience though!

As to “0r-i-gun” as Tom says he pronounces it... I’ve never heard that pronunciation either.

Posted by
5697 posts

Gotta agree with Susan about hearing "San Francisco" and not "Sanrancisco" -- but my 50+ years here have been in the City or East Bay suburbs, not in the southern reaches.

But there are many regional / local differences that to outsiders sound, well, just wrong. For example, "Versailles", a street in the city of Alameda, is pronounced by locals as "Vur-SALES" and "Cañon" in Beverly Hills is locally called "Cannon" So which is really "right" ? The original language version, or the locally accepted usage ?

Maybe it's the same with Beijing ... or whatever they chose to call it.

Posted by
15075 posts

Susan, in 8 years on the Peninsula, I probably only said "San Francisco" a dozen times a year and that's because our firm had an SF office. We always just said "The City", ☺☺ corollary - South City (known to furrenners as South San Francisco)

I did hear young people say "San Fran", but, hey, at least they got the first two syllables.

Posted by
8437 posts

Laura, “Vur-SALES” ... ee gads!!

Chani, yes, locals do say “the city” very often, me included. I also call it “SF”... : )
I think “San Fran” sounds different when a under 35 person says it... sounds cool compared to a tourist saying it.

Ah, the nuances of life!

Posted by
2349 posts

Then there's Louisville. I believe locals start the word with their tongue on the roof of their mouth and leave it there for the rest of the word. No vowels. Something like "Llllvllll."

Posted by
1877 posts

Years ago we were antique shopping in Madison, Indiana. They suggested we extend our search to Lovell and gave us directions. After searching the atlas and maps, we realized our goal was Louisville, Kentucky. And for the record, Versailles, Ohio is Versales and Rio Grande, Ohio of Bob Evans fame is in fact Rye-o Grande. Fun examples abound too in New Orleans street names, Burgundy is BurGUNdy, Chartres is Charters, Calliope is CALLYope. I’ve heard the city itself called by locals everything from Nawlins to New Oilyons. What’s in a name?

Posted by
4535 posts

Then there is Missour-aa and Bal'mer (Baltimore). Both very correct local pronunciations.

Posted by
1955 posts

And, no one has yet mentioned the POTUS, who during the campaign kept saying Shine-a.

Posted by
964 posts

Anybody fancy a crack at 'Van Gogh'? Hours of fun for all the family! (Chances are unless you are from the Netherlands, however you pronounce it, it will be wrong!)

Posted by
8293 posts

I used to day "Van Goh" but now I say "Van Goff". I have no idea which is correct, perhaps neither.

Posted by
964 posts

I heard a Dutch person pronounce it and it sounded like a guttural 'Van Herk' but I'm not sure that there's any sounds in English that reproduce it accurately. I think I'm sticking with 'Van Goff' as the correct, i.e., Dutch, way might sound a bit pretentious - or mad - to other English speakers!

Posted by
13763 posts

The first time i ever danced with my wife it was in a little night club in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. They had this great little band and our first dance was introduced as New Jork, New Jork. SUCH IGNORANCE!! I should have told them how ignorant they were and left in disgust. Well, actually it was a lovely evening and they were ignorant, they were Spanish speakers reading the text the way it was written.....

I now spend a lot of time in Budapest. I pronounce it Budapest. When i run into a tourist who pronounced it as Buda pesht I know I have met a RS Tourist or at least one that would make a great RS tourist. When i say Budapest i am saying, hello, I am an English speaking tourist. I dont think i have ever offended anyone any more than that singer did me in Tegucigalpa.

If you want to learn to be proficient, great. If you want to learn so you can get on RS forum and be critical of others; get over it people.

Posted by
115 posts

I don't know, I don't really see it as ignorance nor something to really concern oneself over. There are innumerable inconsistencies between translations, I have met plenty of foreigners who mispronounce proper nouns while in the United States, I don't think they're being ignorant and I certainly don't think any less of them. In fact, I actually like it when someone traveling here or someone I meet abroad asks me the proper way to pronounce something. I certainly don't think they're disrespecting my country because they didn't research the proper way to say something.

Posted by
13763 posts

Go to Texas and ask for directions to the San Jacinto monument. You had better say JAcinto and not HAcinto if you want those directions or half the people will not understand you. And you know some people insist on saying Kiev instead of Kyiv (yes, the two sound a bit different - or so i am told, personally i cant tell the difference.), and skip Gödöllő unless you can say it properly - good luck. And how many have been to Magyarország?

Posted by
3709 posts

While I have observed this topic take on a life of its own, the original comment is valid.

People don’t say Zherusalem or Zhakarta or Mt Fizhi so why be careless and say Beizhing when normal the normal English sounds Bay-Jing work so effectively! Yikes was Christiane Amanpour drawing out the zh sound in Beizhing the other night.

Posted by
13763 posts

At least I didn't go to Peking!

Yup it's silly. I'm actually having fun!

Posted by
1248 posts

"Speaking of the pronunciation of Welsh place names, Rick's attempts in the film about North Wales and Liverpool are pretty unique! I don't know who was teaching him but he pronounced Beddgelert and Betws y Coed like no other person I have ever heard ! :-)"

That's not the only language he has great difficulty with. He should produce a montage to entertain us.

Posted by
15075 posts

Norma - In Dutch, the G (and GH too) is always pronounced like the ch in the Scottish loch (or the Ch in Hebrew Chani :-). The V is always pronounced as an F

So Van Gogh in pronounced as Fahn Choch (long O like in go). Most Americans can't say it.

Posted by
8293 posts

Thank you, Chani. I shall practice it. Much more likely to need that correct pronunciation than that of Beijing. Spent a few days in Beijing some years ago and did not get chastised for mid-pronouncing the name. Phew.

Posted by
15075 posts

Oh, I think the Dutch are used to all the foreigners (not just Americans) not pronouncing Dutch names the way they do. If you really want a challenge, try to wrap your mouth around the names of the canals; canal in Dutch is gracht - both the g and the ch are pronounced like the Scottish ch.