Saturday, 28 June 2008

Chinese is NOT French (BBC, helloo?) - pronounce Beijing right!

BBC newsreaders have for years pronounced "Beijing" wrongly, with a French j. (It's actually Bei as in eBay, jing as in jingle.) They ought to know better, they used to pride themselves on getting pronunciations right. But it's not just the BBC that's guilty of assuming Chinese is exotique like, you know, French - most Westerners in general seem to do that. Here's an amusing YouTube video making the point:

In a recent documentary series on Five, Mystery of the Mummies, in episode 2 China's Mystery Mummies (replayable online for a short while longer) the narrator pronounced "Loulan" with a nasal "a" and no "n" at the end, exactly as if it were French. It's actually "a" as in "ah", and you do pronounce the "n" at the end! (Not sure why Wikipedia have spelt it "Loulan", I believe it should be "Lulan" though my Chinese is pretty non-existent. But more existent than the BBC's or documentary makers', obviously).

To top it all, when reporting on the surprise at Wimbledon yesterday when Chinese player Zheng Jie knocked out world no. 1 Ana Ivanović, the BBC commentator actually pronounced her name using a French j at the start of both words! (Hellooo, "zh" isn't "j", that might be a bit of a clue that they're pronounced differently?).

Here's proof in the form of a short clip extracted from the video in the BBC news item (which I combined with a photo of Zheng Jie from Wikipedia just so I could upload the combo to YouTube, only for the purposes of reporting/commenting on it of course!):

The "Zh" should be like the "g" in "merger", the "eng" is neutral like "uhng". "Jie" is "jee-eh" - not "ie" as in "wiener", and it's an English j, there should be nary a French j anywhere in her name - see Wikipedia or this page on Chinese phonetics. (And no, the sounds in the credits are not the sound of me hitting the BBC with a tennis ball. However tempting that may be.)

Bah, why can't the BBC just get it right? I don't know why I find this sort of thing so annoying and irritating, but I do...


Anonymous said...

is French 'exotique'?????

Jonathan said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person who's irritated by this! However, it did seem the BBC commentators for the opening ceremony had been taught the correct way to say it.

The video is good, but perhaps they should have mentioned tones too - something that isn't obvious to westerners.

Trevor said...

This is the most common comment of China snobs who think they're so cool because they know how to pronounce the name of the capital city. Who cares how it's pronounced? Do we pronounce "Rome" as "Roma" as the Italians do? Do we pronounce "Paris" like "Pari'" like the French do? No. For some reason, people who know Chinese or who have lived in China for some time jump at any chance to point out how the capital city is "actually" pronounced. I've lived and worked in Beijing since 2001, and nobody cares how foreigners pronounce the city.

Jonathan said...

I hope you enjoy singing "Jingle Bells" this Christmas, Trevor. Then you can think about what the correct English pronunciation is. What we're are objecting to is ignorant people who think that all foreign places must be pronounced as if they were French. (Of course, that's not as ignorant as living in a country for seven years and not bothering to learn the language.) No-one's asking English speakers to pronounce Beijing in the Chinese way, just in the English way.