How to Say: Chinese names
An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.
The devastating earthquake in China has affected many towns and cities in the Wenchuan county in the south-western Sichuan province. Some of our recommended pronunciations for Chinese place names and people's names are given below.
Note: where only two syllables appear, each should be stressed. Otherwise, stressed syllables are shown in upper case.
BEICHUAN - bay chwann (-ch as in church; -a as in hat)
BEIJING - bay jing (-j as in Jack). The pronunciation bay-ZHING (-zh as "s" in measure) is common but is not as close to the Chinese pronunciation)
CHENGDU - chung doo (-ch as in church; -u as in "cup")
CHONGQING - chuung ching (-ch as in church; -uu as in book)
DEYANG City - duh yaang (-uh as in the; -aa as in father)
DUJIANGYAN City - DOO ji-aang YENN (-j as in Jack)
HU JINTAO, president - KHOO jin TOW (-kh as in Scottish loch, not lock; -j as in Jack; -ow as in now)
MIANYANG - myenn yaang (-my as in mute; -e as in get; -aa as in father)
MIANZHU - myenn joo (-j as in Jack)
RUIJIN - ray jin (-ay as in day; -j as in Jack)
SICHUAN (Szechwan, Szu Ch'uan) - suh chwann (-uh as in the; -ch as in church; -a as in hat)
WEN JIABAO, prime minister - WUHN ji-aa BOW
WENCHUAN - wuhn chwan (-uh as in the)
YA'AN - yaa an (-aa as in father; -a as in hat)
XINHUA news agency - shin khwaa (-kh as in Sc. loch, not lock; -aa as in father)
It is important to point out that the above pronunciations are anglicised and are not intended to reflect native Mandarin Chinese pronunciation.
One important difference between our pronunciations and Chinese pronunciation is the absence of tones which are used in Chinese to differentiate meanings. For example, the Chinese syllable "ma" can mean four different things (mother, hemp, horse or to scold), depending on which tone is used.
Monolingual English broadcasters are not expected to recognise, much less reproduce, this level of detail, which is why the Pronunciation Unit has a systematic way of anglicising Chinese syllables. For example, as the pronunciations for Mianyang and Mianzhu above demonstrate, the syllable "mian", is always rendered as "myen" in our anglicised system.
Standard Mandarin Chinese characters tend to be systematically transliterated using the Pinyin romanisation system. This system uses the Latin alphabet to represent sounds. However, the spelling in English can sometimes be misleading when it comes to pronunciation. For example, the vowel letters a, e, o, u represent the following sounds: a (as in hat), aa (as in father) or e (as in get); uh (as in ago) or u (as in cup); uu (as in book); oo (as in boot) or ue (as in French vu) respectively. Similarly, the consonant letters h, j, q, x and zh represent the sounds: kh (as in Scottish loch), j (as in Jack, not "s" as in measure), ch (as in church); sh (as in shop) and j (as in Jack) respectively.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the correspondence between the romanised spellings of Standard Mandarin Chinese and their usual pronunciation in English but the examples above should give readers some idea of the way we treat certain Mandarin Chinese sounds in English. While it may seem confusing at first, our anglicised pronunciations follow a system which is simplified but consistent and, therefore, relatively easy for non-native speakers of Mandarin Chinese to follow.
To download the BBC Pronunciation Unit's guide to text spelling, click here.