Pronunciation of Kim Jong-Il

I have heard several British people pronounce Kim Jong-Il’s name as if it were pronounced Kim Yong-Il – comedians John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman are examples.

So far as I can tell, there is someone named Kim Yong-Il, a relative of Kim Jong-Il, but a different person.

Furthermore, so far as I know, J is not used to transliterate a /j/ sound from Korean, but for its ordinary English pronunciation /dʒ/.

Anyone know what’s going on here?

His name is “김정일”, standard transliteration into the Latin alphabet is “Gim Jeong-il”. (Korean names are rarely transliterated by the new standard, though. And he doesn’t.) To spell it so Americans would pronounce it reasonably correct: “Keem Juhng-ill”. That’s definitely a “j” sound (as in “jump”) and not a “y”. The vowel is a schwa. There’s no “g” sound, so his name rhymes with “rung”. The last syllable is exactly like the word “ill” in English.

His family name is harder to pronounce for English speakers. The “K” is like an English “k”, but without aspiration. Or like an English “g”, but without being voiced. Probably the closest is the “k” in “baker”. The “i” is not a short English “i”, but closer to a long “e”.

So what’s the explanation for the Yong I’ve heard?

I blame Carl Jung.

I don’t know. Either there’s someone with that name, or they were ignorant about the correct pronunciation of “Kim Jong-il”. The second option is reasonable–all of the English-language press (that I heard) was consistently mispronouncing the name of figure-skating gold-medal winner from Korean, Kim Yu-na. Although the poorly chosen transliteration is to blame, it’s not that hard to find the correct pronunciation.

I know someone who pronounces it “Kim Jong the second”

I corrected him once in a lighthearted manner, but he must have thought I was joking because he still says “Kim Jong The Second.” Maybe he’s joking. I don’t dare ask.

I heard “Kim Jong the Second” at least once from the late Sen. J. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), but he was reading from a script and probably had no idea what he was saying anyway.

It’s even more funny when you know that “il” also means 1 in Korean.

When I was in high school, in our Civics class, we were assigned to do bios on various Communist leaders. One of my classmates was going down the list and said, “What’s this guy’s name? Kim Two Sung?” (Kim Il Sung)

English-speakers seem to have a tendency to “foreignize” foreign words. It’s the same reason the pronounce the [j] in Beijing as “zh” (/ʒ/) rather than “j” /dʒ/ (English value) or “ch” /tʃ/, the closest English approximation of the Mandarin value.* People seem to have grokked that [j] makes different sounds in different languages, but they map it at random onto Nearest Familiar Foreign Language, usually French or German. It never seems to be Spanish, I don’t know why.

Another common example is Italian bruschetta, where sche is given the German pronunciation of “she” /ʃɛ/ rather than Italian “ske” /skɛ/, which is pretty easy for English speakers.

It’s a strange phenomenon to me. It’s like people give the English values to most letters in a word, but make exceptions for certain agreed-upon rare letters or foreign-looking combinations.

*I think—I don’t speak Chinese, and my reference book lists it as /tɕ[sup]j[/sup]/.

Don’t forget “Rajiv,” which I hear pronounced as /rəʒiv/, when The “zh” sound doesn’t exist in most Indian dialects.

Actually, the last name (surname) is transliterated Kim, but prounced Geem (with a “hard g”). The last syllable of the name is pronounced like the English word eel. The “standard transliteration” referred to above is the one in current use by South Korea. North Korea, of course, isn’t all that concerned about following that convention.

I went to Istanbul a few years ago and was telling my mom about it. She repeatedly referred to it as “Ishtanbul”. When I pointed out that there is no “sh” sound, that it really is just “Istanbul”, she got super duper offended and acted like I was being all hoity toity, wanting people to pronounce foreign names like the foreigners do.

She may have had a point if I’d wanted her to call “Budapest” Budapesht, but come on, you know she just made that up because she thought it sounded more exotic and foreign. Who the hell calls Istanbul Ishtanbul?

It was weird.

I’m pretty sure that people in general do that. I don’t think speakers of English are special in this regard.

I don’t wanna start a new thread but I have always wondered when translating non latin based languages into english why don’t they translate them phonically? Or do they spell them out in a way that MOST of the romantic languages should get it right?

It is “phonically.” The problem is that not everyone pronounces things the same way, not even those who speak the same language. Here is the Wiki page on South Korea’s system, noting both its advantages and flaws.

I can’t speak for any other languages, but I’m not sure that’s true. When pronouncing a written foreign word, there are two poles:

pronounce it by the rules of the original, e.g. Korean <-----------------------> pronounce it by the rules of the second language, e.g. English

Either makes sense. Making an effort to pronounce “Kim” with an unaspirated /k/ is an effort to reproduce Korean, and pronouncing it the English way as /k[sup]h[/sup]/ makes sense for English speakers.

What I’m suggesting English speakers do is different. They ignore the original:

pronounce it by the rules of a prestige foreign language, e.g. French or German <-----------> pronounce it by the rules of the second language, e.g. English

Do other languages do that? I guess they might, I just don’t know. Come to think of it, some English-looking words in French are pronounced with the [w] as /v/, as in German. They might be borrowed from or through German, though.

You might be right, but I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. We’re talking about a situation, for example, in which a native English speaker applies French pronunciation to a Hindustani word, or applies German pronunciation to a Korean word. Is that the phenomenon you observe as being generally true?

I don’t want to say it is generally true, but I want to say that it will be true for speakers of non-English as often or as infrequently as it is for speakers of English. I don’t see a reason why speakers of English would be special in this regard, nor have I ever noticed that they are.

I understand what your suggesting. Someone does not know Korean, but does not want to come across as a hick by immediately applying the English rules to a foreign word, so they pronounce it in a way that does not derive from English in a straight-forward way, but that actually results from familiarity with another language. You say that this is a prestige thing - this I doubt, and I think even the familiarity with another language will be fleeting since most speakers of English don’t speak any language other than English.

Do speakers of other languages do this? I’m going to say yes for two reasons. For one thing, why would the compensation mechanism - trying to approximate a foreign word in some way just to show you are trying - not be true for speakers of non-English? No one likes to come across as a hick, everyone wants to be seen to be trying.

The other reason that I have is that I have heard it done by speakers of several languages other than English (mostly but not exclusively in the realm of sports commentary). I have heard an Italian correct another Italian who was pronouncing ‘Seedorf’ quite correctly (as he would if he followed Italian pronunciation rules) - to pronounce it like an English person would (incorrectly, in this case). I have heard tons of Dutch commentators pronounce the names of football players from the Czech Republic or Russia in ways that were patently false, and that could have been avoided by applying Dutch pronunciation to the Czech or Russian as the case might be.

But there is no [j] in Beijing, neither in the Chinese nor in any English pronunciation of it.