Why Beijing but not München?

Where does Vienna for Wien come from? - It sounds strangely Italian to me

IIRC the adjective is Wiener, which is very close to the English pronunciation.

I believe “Vienna” is the Latin name.

Oh, wait, that’s not right, the Latin name is “Vindobona.” My guess is that it came from the French “Vienne,” which is pretty much pronounced just like “Wien,” with the extra “a” added because English tends to have a’s at the end of place names where French has silent e’s, as in Barcelona/Barcelone, Geneva/Genève, and so forth.

Here’s an amusing take on the mispronunciation of the Chinese capital, plus follow-up.

The consensus from native speakers in the office is that “Bei-jing” (“jing” as in jingle) is a much better approximation to the actual pronunciation than the French-style “Bei-geing”, although “Bei-dzing” is closer still.

Regarding Republican leader Chiang Kai-shek (incidentally, just one of the various different names he used), the romanization is particularly interesting, as it combines rendering of the Mandarin (Chiang [Wade-Giles], rendered in Pinyin as Jiang; but Cheung in Cantonese) with rendering of the Cantonese (Kai-shek; Jieshi in Pinyin, as charizard notes). Such linguistic hybridization reflects the time and place when this name became established: the Republicans were based at the time (the 1910s) in Guangzhou (old Canton), where of course Cantonese was spoken.

Incidentally, Mao Tse-tung is just the Wade-Giles (Mandarin) version of the Great Helmsman’s name. Since he, like Chiang, had strutted most of his stuff before 1958, when Pinyin was adopted, he typically stays in his Wade-Giles incarnation.

The Cantonese version of the Chairman is usually rendered Mou Jaak Dung, following Sidney Lau’s system of romanization of Cantonese.

I always thought Fiorentina was Florence…

That would be the adjectival form: Florentine.

Italian (the national origin of the examples you used) is a Romance language, but so is French. Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian are the other major ones. There are also Catalán, Provençal, “and many more” (to echo the phrase popularized by “Fifty Super Hits of the Seventies” commercials).

Germany is the English name of a country that’s Deutschland in its own native tongue, Alemánia in Spanish, and cognates of the Spanish term in other Romance languages. Except for Italian, whose speakers identify the nation by the Germania designation you mentioned.

Then there’s Switzerland,, also known as Suisse, Schweiz, and Svizzera in (respectively) French, German, and Italian. Those are three of the country’s official languages (the obscure Romansch, a Rhaeto-Romantic dialect, is the fourth). Rather than clog its stamps with all these different versions of its name, however, the country opts for neutrality with the Latin Helvetia, which historically referred only to the western part of Switzerland. Still, it explains why the suffix for Swiss web sites is .ch – the letters stand for Confoederatio Helvetica, or Helvetic Confederation.

Wonder if any Dopers from Bharat, Magyarorszag, or Suomi (to name just a few) would care to add their contributions to this discussion…

I still wonder how the Guangdong province of China picked up the name Canton. I can kind of see how it probably came from the Cantonese/Mandarin pronunciation, but which colonial power was it that got it all the way to “Canton?”

Interestingly enough, the Japanese and Koreans apparently use the old English pronunciation for Beijing and Hong Kong, as in “Peck-king,” and “Hong Kong.” Just kind of interesting to me because the Japanese have the Chinese characters for those cities, but use the English pronunciation instead of either the Chinese pronunciation or even their own pronunciations for the individual characters.

First, I’m pretty sure that most of the older names/romanization had at least roots in wade-giles. The problem is that wade-giles was for linguists, and of course the newspapers and other popular press did not include the apostrophe, which denoted an aspiration mark. For example, K’ was pronounced like “K” and “K” (no apostrophe was pronounced like “J” as in “jingle”. Therefore, one sees Nanking and although the words are pronounced like “Nanjing.” If one wanted Nanking to sound like Nanking, then it should have been written as Nank’ing.

Taiwan also used some sort of Wade Giles derivative, and that’s why most westerners refer to the capital as Taipei 台北 when the pinyin would be Taibei and very close to how it is pronounced in Chinese. Earlier name for Beijing was actually “Beiping” 北平 or “northern peace” rather than “Beijing/northern capital”. Remember, Beijing was primarily the capital of invading overlords rather than the Chinese capital of China for significant parts of Chinese history. “Peiping” romanization was still used occaisionally in Taiwan through the 1980’s.

Oddly enough, Taiwan now uses pinyin rather than their old wade giles derivative romanization system.

The other romanization that was used but never became popular was Yale. That was basically romanizing in a way that made a certain amount of sense to native English speakers who were not linguists. Never really took off.

Finally, to get to the OP, the news wire services and print adopted pinyin as their system for Chinese romanization system IIRC in 1980 or 1981. A big announcement was made by the news services, and today that’s pretty much what one sees. There are still a few exceptions such as China, and the names of prominent leaders such as Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek (this is actually a Cantonese name). You also see it on the obsequitous Chinese beer “Tsingtao”, which in pinyin should be “Qingdao.” Again, Tsingtao was a historic name and a few of these still float around (any other non-beer reference to “tsingtao” is romanized as “qingdao”).

Are you confusing England with Poland? The J in showjumping is hard. For a soft J we have Y.

It is not just lazyness that gets Beijing mispronounced. A friend of mine is a linguist and thought that I was wrong for saying the hard j and not the zh that most use. He certainly can say it correctly but did not realize the correct pronunciation. I learned watching an interview with someone who pointed out that this was a common error.

The Scandinavian countries of Suomi, Norge, Sverige and Danmark, Nedeland and France. I think Deutchland and Oestreich squeeze in unchanged, too.

It’s a hard J, but not the same as in eg blackjack (where it follows a consonant).

The Bombay-Mumbai change hasn’t been all that successful only because those people who had always called the city Bombay continue to do so, and the same applies to Mumbai.

Now that I think about it, I really have no clue about the origins of the name Bharat. It is the Hindi name for India, and I’m sure a few other Indian languages also use Bharat as well. Other Indian languages may have different names for it too. Hindustan was used fairly commonly a few decades ago, but no one really uses that name anymore.

Uh-uh. K meant “G” (the hard kind) and K’ meant “K” - the difference between the two sounds in Chinese is one of aspiration (the /g/ in English is unaspirated and voiced, and /k/ is aspirated and unvoiced. Both are unvoiced in Chinese, but pronouncing pinyin “G” as /g/ and “K” as /k/ is close enough). The “J” thing has to do with the fact that older “K” initials turned in some circumstances to “J” sounds in Mandarin, but remained the same in Cantonese and most other dialects. Nanjing has always, IIRC, been a Mandarin-speaking area, but I believe this change is recent and the spelling may actually just reflect the older pronunciation.

The Mandarin “J” is why Canada is Jianada in Mandarin, when it’s something like “Kanada” in Cantonese. The middle syllable in the Mandarin word for Chicago is “jia” as well, and also “ka” in Cantonese. But “K” was never used to write a “J” sound.

Don’t think that’s true. They recently invented a more modern romanization to replace Wade-Giles, but while it’s similar to pinyin, it’s not identical. I’m sure it’s heavily based on pinyin, but the Taiwanese of course have to make sure it’s quite clear that they don’t support anything the PRC has ever done, so they can’t use pinyin.

It’s a good thing I’m not at work- everyone would think I’m insane for saying, “showjumping, blackjack” over and over.* I do not hear or feel any difference between the two Js. What am I missing here?

*Like they need another excuse.

Try dropping the K from blackjack - the J changes from being close to ‘ch’, to more like ‘dg’. A more obvious example of how we change sounds according to context is “The owl and the pussycat.” Try saying “Thuh owl and thee pussycat” - the two different sounds for ‘the’ are swapped, making it sound strange and feel awkward.


Nope - I’ve been repeating it too, and I can’t see the difference either (and I’m from the same place as you Gorillaman!).

Surely a soft “j” would be the “zh” sound in Dr Zhivago?