Perplexed by a name!

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If there’s one thing you’ll learn early on when studying Mandarin, the Chinese ‘alphabet’ is pronounced differently to our own. You will become intimately acquainted with pinyin; a system developed to help Romanize the Chinese characters into something readable for us English speaking westerners.

Once you have pinyin under your belt, you can strut around with a certain arrogance, as you listen to sports commentators and news readers continually mis-pronounce Chinese words. In particular, anything that begins with letters such as zh or x are always cause for amusement.

It must then be a pleasure to commentate a tennis game with a player whose name as simple as Na Li, such as the current Chinese champion who is playing in the Australian Open. Though even Na Li – which as simple as it sounds, is still not correct Chinese – family before first name, aka Li Na, not Na Li.

Now I am very familiar with Pinyin, having once upon a time suddenly turned a corner and remembered most of the pronunciations. Which brings me to Li Cunxin, author of Mao’s Last Dancer – a book which at least five people will recommend to you every year, and a book I have to jump on the bandwagon and recommend myself. A book whose movie also did it absolutely no justice I have to add..but that’s another story.

This guy’s name simply does not make sense to me. Li – easy, that simply sounds like Lee. But Cunxin….this has me stumped. The proper pronunciation is supposedly, “Schwin Sing.” The Sing makes sense for Xin. Xin can either be Shin, or Sin, depending on which part of China you come from and your accent. Sing is obviously just another accent (it’s not a confusing language at all is it?)

But Schwin?! That I absolutely cannot understand. Cun to me should be ts-un. C in Chinese is usually the ‘ts’ sound, like the ts at the end of ‘cats’. So ‘ts-un’ as a sound would make sense. But where Schwin comes from….if anyone knows how that works, I would love to hear from you.

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One Response to “Perplexed by a name!”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Maybe it’s because he’s pronouncing it as he grew up with it – in the QingDao dialect?

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