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series_hybrid t1_j6f7fuv wrote

The British called the capital of China "Peking" when they forced trade onto China, and it remained Peking in the west for a long time. In 1979, China requested that the west pronounce it a more accurate "Beijing", and it has continued since then.

When Alexander the Great took over Egypt, the people from that country called themselves "Kemet" (or something like that). The way we pronounce Egypt is a rough translation from the Greek.


simplythere t1_j6gelqj wrote

Ohh… I always thought it was because “Peking” is close to the Cantonese pronunciation of Beijing (bak-king) and the historical European trade routes were through HK and Guangzhou. Then after the Communists made Mandarin the main dialect, the spelling was changed to reflect the pinyin of the Mandarin pronunciation of the capital which is Beijing.


series_hybrid t1_j6huu5h wrote

I'd be willing to bet that your understanding of this is accurate!


mario61752 t1_j6fx19u wrote

I've been wondering why Peking duck (北京烤鴨 Beijing roast duck) is called Peking duck...


fiendishrabbit t1_j6fju4s wrote

Peking is actually a victim of european pronounciation drift. When we started spelling it Peking (17th century) the pronounciation of those letters were relatively close to the chinese pronounciation. Then the p:s hardened and the normal pronounciation of k:s became /k/ instead of /ʒ/


furrykef t1_j6gpdka wrote

No, that's not it at all.

The p sound didn't change, either in Europe or in China. The Wade-Giles romanization system recognized that Mandarin Chinese doesn't distinguished voiced and unvoiced consonants like European languages, but rather aspirated and unaspirated. So p' (with an apostrophe) was used for an aspirated p sound and a plain p was used for an unaspirated one.

Unfortunately, these apostrophes were frequently omitted by people uninterested in accurate Chinese pronunciation, so one often saw things such as "Tang dynasty" instead of "T'ang dynasty". For that reason among others, a new romanization system called Pinyin was developed. Now an aspirated t was written t instead of t' (incidentally making "Tang dynasty" actually correct) and an unaspirated one was written d. Likewise, an unaspirated p was now written b, and so that's why Beijing starts with a b.

As for king becoming jing, that was a Chinese pronunciation shift, not a European one. The letter k has not changed in pronunciation much in over 2000 years.


jrhooo t1_j6gqfwb wrote

> The British called the capital of China "Peking"

Also worth noting, a lot of slightly "off" spellings/pronunciations of Chinese are just transliteration problems.

Basically, if some other country (like China) has words not in your language, that don't even have a "correct English spelling", because that country doesn't use an English alphabet, better yet doesn't even use a phonetic alphabet,

then all the "English spellings" of those words are just someone coming up with their best attempt to write something that tells English language speakers "it sounds like this."

Now, someone important at some point will try to come up with a whole system that doesn't JUST spell out words, but spells out in general "ok if it has this sound, we'll spell it like THIS."

Way back when, some British guys, a Mr. Wade and a Mr. Giles, came up with a system like that, and it caught on, and the world (or the English, which close enough) adopted the "Wade-Giles" system of spelling Chinese words.

Unfortunately, Wade-Giles honestly isn't that great. It has some spellings that don't do a great job of telling you what the words actually sound like. Which is why many years later someone came out with a newer (IMO better system, Pin-Yin)

But some examples of weird spelling,

A sound the most English speakers would associated with B they chose to use P, thus "BeiJing" being mis-transliterated as "PeiKing"

Another infamous one, the sound most English speaks would associated with "Ch" or maybe a Soft Q, Wade Giles chose a Ts. They also chose a T to represent what most modern speakers would associated more with a medium D.

Thus "TsingTao" beer, brewed in a place that is actually spelled QingDao and both the beer and place are more accurately pronounced as "CHing-Daow".

Also on that same Hard T should be a medium D, that's why the Rap group "Wu Tang" clan is named after the kung fu (gung-fu) movie representation of the "Wu Tang" temple that should actually sound more like "Oo Dang"


series_hybrid t1_j6hvfet wrote

Thanks for taking the time to share all that. More recently, an infamous chap was called Osama...and near the end of his life, the news began calling him Usama.

Same with Khadaffi/Gudaffi

A small distinction, but it reflects the difficulty in translating a foreign name into english...


jrhooo t1_j6iyueb wrote

Interesting note about that, because Arabic presents that same transliteration issue, a lot of U.S. units working in Middle Eastern countries had to pass out a standardized "you will spell names like this" guidance.

Because there was nothing keeping Soldier 1 from spelling a name Mohommad, and Soldier 2 from spelling it Muhammad, and then when the guy showed up on a base to look for a job, or clear security, whatever, Soldier 2 wouldn't be able to find "Muhammad" in the computer system, and the databases would be all messed up.


series_hybrid t1_j6jgg3e wrote

I knew Google was going to be successful when I typed in a search for a word that I wasn't sure how to spell, and one option was "did you mean XYZ?"