As a viewer of the Olympics and a bilingual speaker of English and Mandarin Chinese, I feel like it is my duty to point out an ongoing error in broadcasters’ pronunciation of the city “Beijing.” With the current Olympics going on, there have been opportunities aplenty to reference the previous 2008 Olympics that, of course, took place in Beijing. So I am hearing this error repeated time after time…after time…after time (and I can’t possibly be the only one who is annoyed by this).
Here’s the thing: “Beijing” is one of those words that should just be pronounced as it’s written in English. Don’t try to get fancy with it. For some reason, I keep hearing broadcasters pronouncing the “j” as a “ziuh” sound (as in “je ne sais quoi” or “photogenie”).
Let me clue all you people in on something with my somewhat-limited knowledge of the Mandarin language: that “ziuh” sound DOES NOT EVEN EXIST IN MANDARIN. “Beijing” is pronounced with a hard “jay” sound. BEI (bay) JING (jing). Get it?!
I suspect that the confusion might be a result of the attempt to standardize (via pinyin) the way Chinese words are written in English. Since there are certain sounds that exist in Mandarin that don’t exist in English, certain letters or combinations of letters in English had to become stand-ins for non-existent sounds in the English language (as a very strange example, the “ts” sound in my last name is represented by the letter “c” in standardized pinyin). Letters like “zh” come to represent a sound that is roughly equivalent (and I do mean “roughly”) to the “j” sound in the word “conjure.” I suspect that this is the source of confusion for many English speakers who are not necessarily versed in the sounds of the Mandarin Chinese language.
I do understand that it is probably an honest mistake and an attempt to be respectful of the way foreign words are supposed to be pronounced, but this is definitely an instance where people are trying to outsmart themselves.