Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 11:27:56 -0400
From: Larry Horn
Subject: Re: Beijing /j/

At 12:14 AM -0500 5/13/98, Donald M. Lance wrote:
>>Does anyone know why the j in Beijing is frequently pronounced as if French?
>>The Mandarin pronunciation is clearly like a "regular" English j, and the
>>switch from Peking happened recently enough that it shouldn't have gotten
>>mixed up.
>For the same reason people say 'machete' and 'Chicano' as if they were
>French words. Also the -ch- in 'Appalachian', said like 'appelation'. And
>some other words I can't think of at the moment. Radio and TV announcers
>seem to have a rule that says "when in doubt, assume French origin." But,
>when in doubt, -ei- is treated as if it were German. Thirty or so years
>ago, before news people knew that Brunei existed, I knew someone from
>there. He said it 'bru-nay'. Now we just hear 'bru-nigh'.
Clearly, there's a real phenomenon of generalized "foreign pronunciation"
that may well encompass the [zh] pronunciation of Beijing. But I'm not
sure all the above fit under that category. I've usually heard "Chicano"
with a Spanish affricate rather than a French fricative, but I think
there's also a phonological process whereby a number of words in which [ch]
occurs in a totally unstressed syllable is de-affricativized. Consider,
for example, Chicago (with a [sh]) vs. Chi-town and Chisox ('Chicago White
Sox') with a [ch]. Or chiropodist, with either initial [k] or [sh], but
not [ch]. Or cheroot (evidently from Tamil), usually (in my experience)
[sh] rather than [ch]. I think the key here is not the extension of [+
French] but the lack of stress on the first syllable; maybe Chicano (in
losing its [+ Spanish] feature?) is assimilated to this class rather than
treated as specifically French.