Thursday, March 30, 2006


I noticed this bit from an article about international adoption:
Qiu Meng Fogarty, 13, prefers her Chinese name (pronounced cho mung) to Cecilia, her English name.
I've always wondered about this: If you're transliterating a Chinese word into English, it's not as if you can maintain the same spelling (as you might with words adopted from French, such as "colonel"). Chinese doesn't have the Roman alphabet. You have to choose some English letters that represent the sounds heard in Chinese. So why on earth would you come up with "Qiu Meng" as the English representation of the sounds "cho mung"? I vaguely remember that there is a standard transliteration system that requires these sorts of bizarre outcomes, but why would anyone use it?


Blogger dave said...

I don't know about Chinese but in Japanese the system of "romanji" is used. At first, it didn't make sense to me either why something pronouced "ohio gozaimas" is spelled "O-haiyo goziamasu". That was until I started speaking it to a japanses person and realized that when they said it veeery slowly, they included the supposedly silent sounds.

Omosiroi desu nee...

P.S. That means it's very interesting, and its not pronounced at all like its spelled... ;-)

8:05 AM  
Blogger Kirk said...

"Qiu Meng" is written in Pinyin, the official PRC romanization system. Pinyin is not intended, first and foremost, for the non-Chinese speaking audience. Rather, it is intended to help Chinese speakers have a consistent and sensible (to them) way to render Chinese sounds in a phonetic alphabet.

An older, Western-devised, system (Wade Giles) would have rendered the name "Ch'iu Meng"

11:46 AM  
Blogger Where are my blogs? said...

All fine and good, but how does "Qiu Meng" become "Cecilia"? As a teacher of English to foreigners - mostly young people whose parents wish them to go to university in England - I am often confronted with names I can't pronounce, and unlike, for example, Korean students, whose double-barrelled names are not only practically identical to one another, but also almost impossible for me to keep in the long-term compartment of my memory, and who are not happy unless you pronouce their names correctly, Chinese students generally jump at the opportunity of being called something else entirely, like Nancy, Sherry or Wendy. I wonder how that leap happens.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Hello Qiu Meng!

I'm sorry if this caused you any offense. I certainly had no such intent! I'm happy for your adoption, and you should know that I myself have adopted two children (one from Haiti). I don't intend to judge or denigrate your name in any way. The only reason for my post was that the New York Times story reminded me that I've always wondered how Chinese-to-English transliteration works.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

No problem! I understand. It probably feels a bit weird to see people on the Internet discussing you or your family.

9:22 PM  

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