Tag Archives: Beijing

Chinese pronunciation tips part 1: Beijing, Zhongguo, Zhang

I know that Chinese names can be challenging for English speakers to figure out how to say. So I’m going to give you some tips. First up: what sounds j and zh actually stand for.

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Exotic city names that are actually pretty dull

TheWeek.com has posted another article by me, this one on city names that may sound exotic but actually mean something rather plain in the language their residents speak:

14 exotic city names that sound boring when translated

Kuala Lumpur just doesn’t sound as magical when you translate it to Muddy Confluence

Peking, Beijing, whazzup?

Pity the capital city of China. No matter what, its name gets mispronounced. It used to be written Peking, but that led to millions of people saying it like an act of voyeurism. Now it’s written Beijing, and anglophones all over the world can’t believe that a j could represent anything like how we say it in English, so in the spirit of foreignness they blubber the b and say the j as though it were French.

In fact, the phonemes involved in the name of China’s capital are such that Peking (the Yale transliteration), Pei-ching (Wade-Giles style, but never commonly used) and Beijing (Pinyin style) are all arguably viable, but all misleading in one way or another for the simple reason that the sounds used are not all sounds we make in English. Continue reading

silly place name limericks

These limericks are all based on dual versions of well-known place names (well, except for one, which uses a disjunction between spelling and pronunciation). You read the one and say the other…

Thanks to Antonia Morton for inspiring me.

A lively young miss from Bombay
Sent a note to her beau to combay.
She said, “Have a look –
I’ve learned how to cook!”
But she burned him while making flumbai.

A man with a flat in Peking
Was forever inclined to reking.
“The bathtub is leijing!
The neighbours are beijing!
This place is all just gilded ceking!”

A teak cutter living in Myanmar
Came down with quite bad sclerodyanmar.
He found it a bon
To lie low in Yangon
Getting rubbed by a tart named Miss Yanmar.

Two newlyweds visited Ho Chi Minh City,
But the bride soon asked, “Where’s my go chi minh city?”
He was found with another.
Quoth she, “I’m gone to mother!
I just can’t let bo chi monh citys be bo chi minh city!”

A young lass who lived in Krung Thep
Went out one fine night for a wep.
She soon happened bhai
Her Thai sweetie-phai
And they stayed up until three o’clep.

A rude dude who visited Kalaallit Nunaat
Declared, “This is such an obsalallit nunaat!
Just come up to Godthab
And have a quick lodthab!
Next time I’ll just go to maralaallit nunaat!”

A Philly lass known to be fruylkill
Was taking a walk by the Schuylkill.
She picked up a dollow
Stashed away in a hollow –
Which she’d found through a map search on Guylkill.

A moocher who hung out in Báile Atha Cliath
Said “I surely don’t mean to be tràile atha cliath;
Begorrah, ’tis true,
I ate all your stew,
But I couldn’t just let it sit dàile atha cliath.”


Late addition: two more on pronunciation:

There once was a fellow from Worcester
Who had slept with a school-friend’s sorcester.
He explained to his mate,
“She’s so saucy and great,
Man, I’m sorry – I couldn’t resorcester!”

A jaunty young fellow from Cirencester
Saw a pretty lass and blew a kirencester,
But the poor silly fool
Was so gobsmacked with drool
That he just managed to spit and hirencester.