Landslide dams and flooding

Well, that’s your opinyin [sic!].

Pinyin (拼音) is the romanisation of Chinese that’s currently in common use. Many, but not all street signs have both Chinese characters and pinyin transcription, which is helpful to say the least. It’s not a particularly transparent system. For example, foreigners who don’t know pinyin will no doubt pronounce 四 “four”, 是 shì “be” and 戏 “play” as


respectively, whereas they’re actually (senza tone marks)


In pinyin, the pronunciation of -i depends on the initial. Once you know the principles, there’s no problem, but the system isn’t immediately transparent.

Recently, Danwei has been publishing a series of articles by Graham Earnshaw who was the Daily Telegraph’s man in Beijing from 1980 to 1984. The latest article, The March of Pinyin English, is about the promotion of pinyin as the system of romanisation for Chinese back in the early 80s.

I remember the days when Peking suddenly became Beijing, but had no idea that only the transcription had changed. The pronunciation remained the same and the way we pronounce Peking in English is inaccurate to say the least, although it must baffle the hell out of the Chinese to hear their capital called


as if the name is French (since when?), where


is a little nearer the mark. In other words, pinyin j- as j in English, although properly speaking, pinyin j- is a plain, voiceless palatal affricate [tç].

I’m also amused and irritated by DS9. In that, the runabouts are named after rivers, one of which is the Yangtze Kiang, which is pronounced


The Chinese is 扬子江 (yángzi jiāng)


I find, although I didn’t know this before, that 开洋 (kāiyáng), which is what the mangled pronunciation of “kiang” sounds like, means “dried, shelled shrimps”.

A scene from 19th century China…

Foreign missionary: I need to get to the Yangtze Kiang.
1st Chinese person: What did the foreigner say?
2nd Chinese person: No idea. I think he’s looking for a seafood rest­aur­ant.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s