Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 09:40:13 +0900
From: Andrew Moody
Subject: Re: Beijing /j/

>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.

The change to "Beijing," as opposed to "Peking," is probably a borrowing
from the "pinyin" transcription system. "Pinyin" is the romanization system
that is used in the People's Republic of China and does not necessarily
represent the way that a native speaker of English would hear the Mandarin
pronunciation. At any rate, though, I don't think many English speaker
would have access to the Mandarin pronunciation.

There is also a tendency for English speakers to use sounds that are less
nativizing when pronouncing place names, especially foreign place names.
This may be part of the reason for variation in names like "Colorado" were
the "a" (Color_a_do) may be pronounced as /ae/ (as in Am. Eng "bat") or /a/
(as in Am. Eng. "father"). If the fricative "j" (the French sounding one)
is less native than the affricative "j" (the "regular" English one), then
the French-sounding pronunciation may be a way to make Beijing sound more
foreign and exotic.

Andrew Moody
Nagoya University of
Commerce and Business Administration
Nagoya, Japan