How do you say Beijing?
May 4, 2008 3:22 PM   Subscribe

What's the correct way to pronouce Beijing?
posted by MrMerlot to Travel & Transportation around Beijing, China (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's an audio clip of the pronunciation here
posted by Proginoskes at 3:30 PM on May 4, 2008

Wikipedia has a good oog file of the Mandarin pronounciation. Try to catch the tonal shifts in "Bei" and "jing". The first has an up-down tonality, while the second has a flat tone.
posted by Mercaptan at 3:30 PM on May 4, 2008

According to most of the linguistics classes I've been in, you want to pronounce the /j/ in Beijing like a hard g - so, more like "giraffe" than the g in "massage" ...
posted by zeph at 3:31 PM on May 4, 2008

bay jing
And yes, the j is like jug, not like the french j. CNN usually gets it wrong from what I can tell.
posted by blacklite at 3:36 PM on May 4, 2008

you want to pronounce the /j/ in Beijing like a hard g - so, more like "giraffe" than the g in "massage"
"Hard g" is like the g in, uh, Bejing, no?

G in giraffe and g in massage are both soft g's (albeit different ones).
posted by Flunkie at 3:46 PM on May 4, 2008

It's like "bay-jingle-bells" without the "el-bells"
posted by null terminated at 3:50 PM on May 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

It really depends on what language (I hate to use 'dialect' here) you are using, but assuming you want to say it like the native residents of the city do, Northern Mandarin is the pronunciation you want. Just remember, most Chinese don't say it that way.
posted by dawson at 4:08 PM on May 4, 2008

Just remember, most Chinese don't say it that way.

ok, I'll bite - how DO they say it?
posted by seawallrunner at 4:40 PM on May 4, 2008

This is kind of hard to answer, since in English we have certain ways that we pronounce names of foreign cities and countries, even if they don't sound anything like what natives of those places say. For example, when I was a kid, I pronounced Lebanon "Le-BAH-non", stressing the second syllable, when the proper English pronunciation is "LEH-ba-non", stressing the first syllable. And Lebanese people say something like "Lib-NEN", which isn't close to either. But at any rate, I call Lebanon Lebanon and I call Germany Germany, not Deutschland.

Pinyin poses a special problem since the letters they use to represent certain sounds do not correspond to sounds in English - q's, z's, and x's, for example. For example, the First Sage's hometown, Qufu, if pronounced like in English("kwoo-foo", maybe?), sounds absolutely nothing like the Chinese("Tchü-foo.") Another one I hear a lot is pronouncing the pinyin "z" as an actual English "z", when it sounds more like an unvoiced "dz." I've winced one too many times hearing TV hosts attempt to pronounce Chinese names in Pinyin.

But at what point do you draw the line? After all, average English speakers can't have been expected to have taken a course in Pinyin reading, or even be able to pronounce it correctly haven done so (I've met people who've been studying Chinese for years who still can't!). There are, however, reasonably good approximations of the Chinese pronunciations in English, and this would probably be the best solution, but you run into the education problem again.

So to answer your question, a reasonable approximation of the Chinese pronunciation would be "bay"(as in Hudson bay) and "jing"(as in dodGING) - bay-jing. I wouldn't worry about the tones. However, the accepted English pronunciation appears to be "Bay-zhing", with a "zh" as in "Jacques."

I say we go back to calling it "Peking." It's not like we pronounce Moscow, Paris, or Bangkok anything like they're supposed to sound, anyway.
posted by pravit at 5:01 PM on May 4, 2008

in school, we were taught "bay zhing (?)" - soft g. But I was later told by a well-traveled friend that it is, in fact, "bay jing".

I don't know why I'd trust the school system here - they taught us that the capital of South Dakota is pronounced Pierre, when my Dakotan ex-boyfriend informed me that it was, in fact, pronounced Pier. Oh, North Texas school systems... next you'll be telling me that Texas did not win the Civil War.
posted by damnjezebel at 5:06 PM on May 4, 2008

ok, I'll bite - how DO they say it?

Actually, I would argue that the vast majority of Chinese pronounce Beijing in a similar fashion when they are speaking Mandarin (or a dialect similar to Mandarin) or speaking in English to foreigners. But yes, it would be pronounced differently in Cantonese or Hokkienese, for example.
posted by pravit at 5:16 PM on May 4, 2008

Here's a site that might help in any future pronunciation conundrum: Forvo
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2008

Hard "g" is like "g" in "go."
posted by dmo at 5:26 PM on May 4, 2008

Response by poster: OK, j as in in jingle bells is what i had reckoned. Which presents the question, why do most English-speaking people insist on pronouncing the j as in the Jacques? Where did that come from?
posted by MrMerlot at 5:27 PM on May 4, 2008

Just remember, most Chinese don't say it that way.

That's completely wrong. The vast majority of Chinese (something like 800,000,000) are Mandarin speakers and do say it that way.

in school, we were taught "bay zhing"

Wow, you should sue your school. There are few things that annoy me more than hearing that damn "zhing" on the radio—they're replacing a normal English sound, the /j/ you'd naturally use in pronouncing the syllable "jing," with a French sound that's naturalized only in endings like (vi)-sion and (plea)-sure and sounds completely weird in that syllable. I'll never understand it.
posted by languagehat at 5:30 PM on May 4, 2008

MrMerlot: My guess is that it stems from a desire to make it sound as weird and foreign as possible. But I'd love to see a historical analysis of how it spread. We didn't have this problem when we called it Peking.
posted by languagehat at 5:31 PM on May 4, 2008

Wow, you should sue your school.

It's pretty criminal. I had a french teacher who forced me to pronounce the third person plural of verbs so as to be incomprehensible to, well anyone, (Rep-ay-tay, les enfants, Ilz jou-ont) took 2 years of Mandarin at the local university and now heads up a state-wide program in Chinese as a second language for elementary students.

I'm not a religious man, but I hope a little corner of hell is heating up for her.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:48 PM on May 4, 2008

P.S. I am sure we will all get better after the olympics.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:50 PM on May 4, 2008

Voice of America Official Pronunciation says it is "as in "jingle" bells."
posted by ALongDecember at 6:24 PM on May 4, 2008

I really do hate to mix it up with the estimable languagehat, for one thing he is 'never wrong' and for another he loves to dish criticisms but not take them. That said, he is wrong.
There are 3 million persons in America speaking mostly one language, yet there are vast differences in the way we pronounce things, including cities.
Of the 8 million plus who can speak Mandarin in China, for many it is a second, or even third language. There are not merely different dialects, the languages are as different as, say Spanish is to French is to English.
Then of those who do speak Mandarin the pronunciation varies widely.
See, for example, John Pasden
Also, from another source:
The Chinese language has over 400 dialects in continental China alone. The people of each province have a special dialect, and then the people of each city, town, and village have their own special dialect as well. However, unlike many languages many of the Chinese dialects are vastly different from some of the other Chinese dialects. In many countries, a person with a southern vernacular can understand a person with a northern dialect. With Chinese dialects, some seem like an entirely different language
and here is a language atlas of China, here is a book review on one of the seminal studies of the subject and here is a fun map.
I'm not going to get into a spat and argue here, I just encourage you to seek out some various sources, and maybe do like I did and live in China a few years, traveling widely. Really, hearing a few hundred people say it different ways in a few dozen different locations is better than self-appointed gate-keepers on the internet assuring you there is their way and nothing else.
To say that nearly one billion people pronounce a word the same was strikes me as arrogantly Ameri-centric.
NB: there is, of course, a "RP" and that would be, as I understand it, a sub-dialect of Northern Mandarin.
posted by dawson at 6:48 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am Chinese.

Generally agreed that "J as in Jingle" is the closest approximation. To really get it you'll just have to hear it from a native speaker as there is no exact English equivalent for that particular sound. Don't sweat it -- if you're in the company of Chinese other points of etiquette will be much more important than precise pronunciation.

Why do English speakers mangle it as a "J as in Jacques"? Obviously because, until recently, French was the most commonly-taught second-language in the US, Britain and Canada.

No, do NOT call it "Peking", unless you want to remind our parents of times under the British Empire when official decree banned dogs and chinese (in that order) from roaming parks in our own country, or be laughed at by the new generation for transliterating from the wrong "dialect". Germans don't care if you call it Germany because you never colonized them (NATO bases don't really count). See also: Mumbai/Bombay/Kolkata/Calcutta.

A lot more than "8 million" can speak Mandarin in China. Probably 95% of urban youth in all of China. Less of the older, rural types. Yes, there is an RP of Mandarin, and no, no-one really cares about it. Beijingers themselves speak with a ridiculous R-heavy accent that is to Mandarin as Cockney is to English. No, most of us are NOT hung up about not speaking our regional language (misnamed as "dialects" by outsiders). We are proud of our regional identity but pragmatic about the need for a common national language, especially as labour, commerce and culture within the mainland becomes ever more fluid. Most urban youth will neither be completely fluent in official Mandarin nor in their ancestral/regional language but rather mix it all up with new slang and "Chinglish" stolen from the latest hit by Fiddy Cent or Avril Lavigne. Which I find, as I get older, annoying as fuck.
posted by randomstriker at 8:41 PM on May 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

Then of those who do speak Mandarin the pronunciation varies widely.

Nah, your still wrong. Of the different versions of mandarin, Beijing is basically pronounced the same. There are no problems with erhuas, dropped H's in ZH, CH and SH or F/H confusions. The only difference would be that southerners might drop the "g" at the end and say "Beijin," but that difference is negligible to English speakers.
posted by afu at 9:08 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was joking about the Peking thing. But seriously, it's just a name, and it's still the proper name for Beijing in Swedish, Russian, Turkish, Finnish, and plenty of other languages. We still call 澳门 Macau and nobody cares.

BTW, I am also Chinese.
posted by pravit at 9:14 PM on May 4, 2008

So, would some of you Chinese care to back my statement up?
"Of those who do speak Mandarin the pronunciation varies widely."
taking in account the entire nation from the back streets of Guangzhou to the noodle shops of Xinjiang to the fried Baozi of Harbin to the discos of Shanghai to the Tibetan plateau? Because some people seem to be under the dilosulion that nearly 1 billion individual people who are each uniquely different, say the name of the Chinese capitol the exact same in every instance. It's racist, silly and slightly unnerving.
posted by dawson at 9:28 PM on May 4, 2008

dawson, I don't think anybody here is claiming that each of the 1 billion holders of Chinese citizenship pronounces Beijing the exact same way each time. Obviously a Cantonese in Guangzhou is going to say "Bak Ging" when speaking Cantonese, a Korean-Chinese in Tumen is going to say "Pukkyeong" when speaking Korean, and the few official 俄罗斯族 are going to say "Pjekin."

I think the point was that the speakers of Mandarin dialects do not pronounce "Beijing" that differently. Someone might have funny tones, someone might drop the "g" on the end, someone might pronounce the vowels slightly differently, but they're all very similar and recognizable as "Beijing." If we restrict the sample even further to people who are capable of speaking Mandarin in a standard way (e.g. Chinese university students), the difference is nil.

I'd say the difference between American newscaster "Beijing" and standard Mandarin "Beijing" is much larger than the difference between standard Mandarin "Beijing" and (insert regional Mandarin dialect) "Beijing."

I think we just have a different idea of what can be called "different" in this context. I would not hesitate to tell a foreign learner that the combined populations of the US and Canada pronounce the word "about" the same. Of course it's not exactly the same, but it's close enough that there's no confusion.
posted by pravit at 10:20 PM on May 4, 2008

But seriously, it's just a name.

Obviously it's more than just a name to many, otherwise there would not be all these renaming movements.

We still call 澳门 Macau and nobody cares.

Hardly anyone cared because hardly anyone had heard of Macau, that is until Steve Winn decided eat from Stanley Ho's table.

Because some people seem to be under the dilosulion that nearly 1 billion individual people who are each uniquely different, say the name of the Chinese capitol the exact same in every instance. It's racist, silly and slightly unnerving.

It's interesting that Dawson is offended on behalf of a billion individual Chinese, many of whom see practical value in linguistic standardization. Yes, the parents and grandparents lament the loss diversity, but young'uns are a bit more concerned about getting rich and having fun in changing times. That requires a common language with, yes, common pronunciation!

Moreover, the English language is unique amongst those spoken in industrialized nations in that it is not subject to standardization in the US, UK or Canada. On a side note, this is exactly why English is impossible to perfect even if it is easy to pick up.

In fact standardization is the norm in many EU and Asian nations. There exist government bodies whose main purview is to define and redefine the modern, national language. They issues decrees regularly to prune obsolete words, simplify unwieldy grammar or spelling, and define new jargon. Sometimes (e.g. in Quebec) these authorities provoke controversy for actions that appear to be politically motivated.

Globally, standardization is widespread and not generally thought to be racist, silly or unnerving. Witness, after all, pravit's use of the simplified character system that those damn commies implemented. How dare they force us all to use less penstrokes in our writing? Oh wait, it's easier. Bring it on.

So back to your original assertion:

Of those who do speak Mandarin the pronunciation varies widely.

Anyone who completes secondary education (not a given but certainly common) speaks fluent Mandarin. Yes, their unforced accent varies widely. But when different people from different regions communicate with each other, they will revert to their best attempt at the standard pronunciation. There IS a standard, and it exists for reasons less insidious than you infer.

For a visiting foreigner, use the standard pronunciation.
posted by randomstriker at 10:44 PM on May 4, 2008

pravit, I certainly have no problem acknowledging you as better informed on the subject than I am, and agree with the spirit of your statement above. Thanks for weighing in with that explanation.
posted by dawson at 10:45 PM on May 4, 2008

(Apologies to the Antipodes for neglecting to mention you with respect to the English language)
posted by randomstriker at 10:47 PM on May 4, 2008

and on non-preview, thanks to you randomstriker, for the clarification and explanation. I appreciate it.
posted by dawson at 10:47 PM on May 4, 2008

Just to add some empirical evidence to the discussion:
As a standard language, Mandarin is widely used as the communication medium during public activities while people use the dialect native to their area or province when communicating within their family or with other native speakers.

Only 18 per cent of those surveyed speak Mandarin while talking to the family members, while 42 per cent speak at school, work or play.

Sixty-six per cent of the urban residents speak Mandarin, a 21 per cent higher rate than rural residents.

The survey also showed that the young have better Mandarin fluency, with just 31 per cent of those aged 60 to 69 able to speak the language,while the figure has more than doubled among those younger than 29.
This from a newspaper article that discusses the results of an official survey of language use across China with a sample size of 470,000.

posted by Sitegeist at 11:51 PM on May 4, 2008

Here's another discussion of the reported results of that National Language Survey in China, at the excellent Pinyin News.

posted by Sitegeist at 12:00 AM on May 5, 2008

Coming late to the argument, but just to further stress that the "correct" way of pronouncing 'Beijing' is the one based on standard Mandarin pronunciation, note please that the original poster used the Hanyu Pinyin representation of the Mandarin reading of the characters 北京 for his question, making any kind of argument from Cantonese/Wu/Hokkien/Sino-Vietnamese or whatever basically ridiculous.

Which is a shame, because if it hadn't been for that I would have totally argued that 北京 is really pronounced [pok kjæng], per Baxter's reconstruction of Middle Chinese, and that the majority of Chinese people pronounce it that way, once you lay aside all of the sound shifts that have taken place in the meantime.
posted by bokane at 12:32 AM on May 5, 2008

I call it Dadu, in honour of the Tartar Capital of Kublai Khan. Ahem.

While if any way is correct, it's going to be the standard Mandarin outlined above (and certainly not bokane's antiquarian fustian :p), I'll back dawson up a bit; I've heard speakers of ostensibly Mandarin dialects shift the sounds in ways that might make you pronounce it very differently in English.
posted by Abiezer at 6:01 AM on May 5, 2008

Abiezer - that gets us into the whole debate about "Mandarin" (北方官话系) versus what people really mean by it, which is Putonghua/Modern Standard Mandarin: there are regionalects belonging to the former category that do keep the old velar at the start of their reading for 京 (I think Sichuan dialects do this -- they do for 街, at least), but they wouldn't be considered Putonghua.
Less dramatically, there are also probably versions of Mandarin (in the Putonghua sense) out there that would swap the "-ng" sound at the end of 京 for "-n", though I can't recall ever having heard this in practice.
Without getting into the issue of whether or not these pronunciations are wrong, it's certainly possible to say, within the context of Modern Standard Mandarin, that there is a right pronunciation, and that it's "jing" rather than "ging" or "kien" or what have you. (Fun aside: old-sk00l cab drivers and other people with truly terminal Beijing accents actually pronounce the name of the city in a non-standard way, sort of the way that people with advanced South Philadelphia accents pronounce the name of the city in a way generally transcribed as "Fluffya.")

Also, I trust you're aware that the correct pronunciation of "Dadu" is "Khanbaliq."

languagehat -- 不就是传说中的 "言者不知,知者不言” 嘛.
posted by bokane at 7:03 AM on May 5, 2008

Mod note: A couple comments removed. Take it elsewhere, guys.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:38 AM on May 5, 2008

Ah bokane, we meet again! I must submit, because when all's said and done, a) you're mostly right and b) you're far clever than me. But then we knew that.
posted by Abiezer at 11:40 AM on May 5, 2008

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