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The T/Daos shall meet: The failure and success of English transliterations of Mandarin Chinese: English transliterations of Mandarin are often inconsistent, but is there even such a thing as a single Mandarin language?

  • Sophie Zhou

When a Canadian exchange student returns home from a semester abroad in the capital city of China, she might tell her friends that she had Peking duck every day, but she would never, as a 21st-century liberal arts student, say that she stayed in Peking for a semester. Rather, she would say Beijing, as would most English speakers in the present day. But such discrepancies between English transliterations of Chinese words are far from uncommon. Is it the Nanking Massacre or the Nanjing Massacre? Who is the author of Tao Te Ching: Lao-Tzu or Laozi? What, then, is the Daodejing? This paper will focus on the English representation of Mandarin Chinese phonology, particularly the consonant sounds. The inconsistency of English transliteration of Mandarin is caused by historical exchanges and encounters between the British and the Chinese and a lack of a monolithic standardization of Mandarin. Paradoxically, while these transliterations attempt to unify and standardize themselves and the representation of Mandarin sounds, they simultaneously represent the concept of a diverse Mandarin.

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English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
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