NBC Olympic Announcers: Please Read This

Interesting coverage so far! Thanks and keep it up.


Here's a minor tip. In your coverage, you must often refer to the site of the 2008 Olympics. For instance, in comparing how Michael Phelps is doing in London versus Beijing.

When you do that, please remember that the "jing" in Beijing is pronounced basically like the "jing" in Jingle Bells. It's essentially the normal English j- sound. What it's not like is the Frenchified zh- sound you hear in "azure" or "leisure," or at the end of "sabotage." (Jīng, meaning capital, is the right-hand character above. The other is Běi, meaning north.)

BeijingWelcomesYou.jpgYes, I know: place names and proper nouns never fare well when crossing language barriers. We don't say "Venice" or "Paris" the way their residents do; the Chinese pronounce the site of the 2000 Olympics as Xīní.

But often these changes occur because the "real" foreign pronunciation is rare or awkward in your own language. It's the opposite this time. The right sound is closer to the familiar "Jingle Bells" one than to zh- style exotica. You can read more on the linguistics of the matter here.

When I asked my in-house linguistics-and-Chinese-language expert why she thought American broadcasters liked saying Beizhing, she said that it was probably because people somehow felt that a foreign word should have a "foreign" pronunciation -- and because they've heard it that way so often. In fact, we heard it that way about 500 times on NBC today. Olympic announcers, you can make the difference! Just repeat to yourself, "Bei-jingle bells, Bei-jingle bells, Bei-jingle all the way," and it will come naturally.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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