Wednesday, December 14, 2005

For film critics: how to pronounce the names of Chinese actresses portraying Japanese geisha....

Since Shrub hasn't done anything particularly funny today, here is the Mandarin's short Mandarin pronunciation guide for film critics.

Dear film critics, fifty years ago or so, the mainland Chinese government decided to play a joke on you. They mandated a Romanization scheme for Mandarin called Hanyu Pinyin ("Chinese Phonetic Spelling") that uses a few familiar letters in unfamiliar ways, the better to make you mispronounce the names of the three Chinese movie stars pretending to be (or if you prefer, "acting" ) Japanese in "Memoirs of a Geisha."

Zhang Ziyi 章子怡

Zhang is her surname, but for some reason, she is often listed as Ziyi Zhang. "Zh" is the sound of the "j" in "Joe," not the sound of "s" in "pleasure." The "a" is the same vowel as in "father." So the "Zhan" part sounds like the English name "John." Then just change the "-n" to "-ng" and you have it.

Ziyi is two syllables. The first, "zi," is a buzzing "dzz" sound with no real vowel - like the final sound in "heads." The "y" in "yi" is there to confuse you. "Yi" isn't "yee;" the whole syllable is exactly the sound of "ee" in "meet."

Gong Li 鞏俐

Gong is her surname. The "o" in Gong is one of those trick letters. In this word, it represents more or less the same vowel sound as the "u" in "pull."

Li is easy, just like "Lee," as in "Ancient Chinese secret, Mister Li...."

Michelle Yeoh 楊紫瓊

The Mandarin will assume "Michelle" isn't a problem for most English-speaking film critics.

Yeoh isn't so easy. "Yeoh" isn't even Mandarin. It is Hokkien, the dialect of the area around Fujian Province, and also the predominant dialect of overseas Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia. [Michelle Yeoh grew up in the U.K., but was born in Malaysia and lived there until she was four years old.] The character for Yeoh , a very common Chinese surname, is pronounced yang in Mandarin and yeung in Cantonese. In Hokkien, it is pronounced something like the English word "you" with a nasal vowel sound, and perhaps a faint, soft "-ng" sound on the end.

By the way, Michelle's Chinese personal name is Ziqiong in Mandarin and something like Dzee-king in Hokkien. We will leave them for another lesson.

Now, the Mandarin is sure everyone is ready for a return to the usual cheap political sarcasm, aren't you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pretty useless advice all round. You should just stick to the essentials and get them right, instead of pathetic attempts to be cool and funny.

For example: Yeoh is pronounced like English "yo" -- the African-American greeting.