Another useful internet resource is the Cal Poly Pomona Asian name pronunciation guide: “This web site has been developed to help the campus community more accurately pronounce some common Asian first and last names. Native speakers who were/are Cal Poly Pomona students provided all sound samples (in .wav format) for Cambodian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese names.” The audio files are indispensable, because the respellings intended to aid pronunciation range from vaguely helpful to actively misleading (the Indonesian name Harjanti is respelled as “harjantee,” when the written j actually corresponds to /y/). But the audio files make it a must-bookmark; I could listen to native speakers say names all day. (Thanks for the link, Lobster Mitten!)


  1. It didn’t work for toyota, honda, nissan or hyundai.

  2. Garrigus Carraig says

    Those transcriptions are alarming. The Japanese page cannot even manage internal consistency.
    In my memories of the ’70s and ’80s, when I spent a fair amount of my childhood buried in dictionaries and encyclopedias, there were somewhat rigorously designed phonemic transcription systems for English sounds. They varied from publisher to publisher, but they all seemed to make some sense. The web seems to have kind of done away with this. On this ANPG site and on Wikipedia, for example, non-IPA transcriptions adhere to many systems and none. Part of me wonders whether the relative difficulty of hunting down codes for macrons and breves and what-not is one of the issues.
    And I guess the same part of me wonders whether, because people younger than me did not grow up with as many paper dictionaries, those old transcription systems don’t mean anything to them, or they don’t know about them, or something. I’m not sure.
    I still think those systems are useful, because I’m guessing there’s a segment of the Anglophone population who are disinclined to learn IPA but could pick up a dictionary-type transcription relatively easily.
    This is an overlong comment, a bit of a muddle, and is tainted with a bit of Golden Age syndrome…, but I’d welcome any thoughts.

  3. Garrigus Carraig says

    Oh in case it wasn’t clear, I’m talking about English sounds in this context, because I don’t think it’s ideal to try to disseminate among English-speakers the distinction between, e.g., pinyin sh and x, zh and j, &c. Rather I think the idea is to consider how a native English speaker would say “Deng Xiaoping”, and represent that phonemically.

  4. Rare insight: The homepage announces that they removed national flag icons for languages! Most multilingual site owners seem to believe that whatever has an army and a navy has a 1:1 correspondence with a language. Using national flags for languages not only introduces political bias, it simply doesn’t work. This is the first site I’m aware of that gets rid of this stupidity.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    Although the site takes the position that pinyin and Wade-Giles romanizations of the same Mandarin family name should result in the same pronunciation, “Zhou” is pronounced perceptibly different from “Chou.” Did they get someone from Taiwan with a different regional accent to do the Wade-Giles version? Why wouldn’t you take one recording and put two different labels on it?
    I would think an equally and perhaps more useful resource would be recordings of the names being pronounced by native AmEng speakers (with some generic “California” accent) who had been carefully coached by native speakers, because you’re never going to do better (in terms of educating well-intentioned AmEng speakers) than figuring out what’s the closest approximation to a native-speaker pronunciation that’s possible within the basic phonological constraints of AmEng.

  6. That particular example is hard, because there’s no clear way to write the MOUTH vowel at the end of a syllable. The usual spelling is -ow, but that has a much stronger implication of the GOAT vowel.

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    Rocio, I believe there have been several incidents in California in which local politicians have learned to their chagrin that being associated in any way with the public display of the flag of the current Communist regime governing Vietnam will create considerable hostility and backlash from California voters of Vietnamese ethnicity, who are predominantly refugees (or the children of refugees) who came to America to get away from that regime (appearing at events where the flag of the old South Vietnamese government is publicly displayed is by contrast a good way to court that voting bloc). I’m not sure if choosing between the PRC and ROC flags to stand for Mandarin would be quite as hazardous in terms of alienating potential voters (although California has enough Taiwanese immigrants to form a self-conscious subset that may or may not fully identify with other “Chinese-Americans”), but it might have more downside than upside. I suspect this particular sort of prior local vexillological controversy may have something to do with why a California public university might have gotten ahead of the curve in ducking the issue.

  8. Trond Engen says

    Garrigus Carraig: In my memories of the ’70s and ’80s, when I spent a fair amount of my childhood buried in dictionaries and encyclopedias,
    Hey! Those are my memories!

  9. Trond Engen says

    No, it’s not, sorry. I read maps, not dictionaries. Not then.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    Hey, there’s nothing saying you can’t read both, although then they occasionally up and change the rules on you. (I wouldn’t hate the Communist system for transliterating Chinese placenames quite so much if I hadn’t already learned the place names from atlases using the a transliteration. And don’t get me started on Kirghizstan->Kyrghyzstan.)

  11. Garrigus Carraig says

    @John Cowan – Yes, not the best example. @Trond – Oh I read maps too when I wasn’t drawing them.

  12. Whoever is reading “Chou” is reading it as (pinyin) zhu1 rather than as (pinyin) zhou1. I’m guessing that they just showed the spelling “Chou” to a random Chinese person and asked her how to say it, and she thought it represented Zhu, which is a fairly common surname as well. This is not a matter of a Taiwanese accent (where it might come out as zou1 instead of zhou1) or of Taiwanese dialect (a/k/a Hokkien or Southern Min, where it would be pronounced jioo1).

  13. there’s no clear way to write the MOUTH vowel at the end of a syllable. The usual spelling is -ow, but that has a much stronger implication of the GOAT vowel.
    What about “-au” ? Americans are familiar with “Mao”, “Macao” and “Mindanao”. It shouldn’t be hard to learn that “-au” is like “-ao”, except that it ends with “u” instead of “o”.

  14. What about “-au” ?
    Yeah, I was thinking the same as Stu. Especially the Norwegian pronunciation, which is like that of an old Somerset farmer.

  15. Rocio: Many important sites have the common sense of not using flags to represent languages (say Wikipedia or Google). It’s even a w3c recommendation.

  16. But “Chou”, “Zhou” is just like “Joe”!

  17. It’s even a w3c recommendation.
    I’ll take some credit (not full credit by any means) for that one.

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