Victor Mair has provided an invaluable post over at the Log, giving audio clips of “how the most important Xinjiang names are actually pronounced in Uyghur and in Mandarin.” I never would have guessed that Taklamakan (or, as he prefers, Täklimakan) sounded like that, or that there was a strong initial stress on Tarim.
Mair quotes NY Times correspondent Ed Wong as saying that the Times had “received an email from a reader saying the NYT should change its ‘pronouncer’ on Uighurs. Right now, in our articles, the editors insert (WEE-gurs) as the pronouncer. One reader said this is not the correct pronunciation, and sounds strange to the Turkic speaker’s ear.” As I wrote in a comment there:
I will issue my standard disclaimer that English spellings and pronunciations are for the use and convenience of English speakers, and it is foolish and presumptuous to expect them to sound correct to speakers of other languages. I seriously doubt that a Uyghur speaker’s rendition of, say, “New York” would pass muster to an English speaker, and that’s as it should be. Different languages are different.