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Why not ベジン or even 北京{きたきょう}?

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  • I imagine it would be ベイジン, rather than べジン
    – Leebo
    Apr 4 at 4:49
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    Note: According to Wiktionary, [北京]{ほっきょう} (note the different reading) was a historical term for Kyoto (the "Northern Capital"), as opposed to Nara (the "Southern Capital"), attested from the 13th century.
    – V2Blast
    Apr 4 at 18:45
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    As an aside, this is not unique to Japanese. (That article also lists French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese, Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Dutch, German, Hungarian and Polish as languages that keep the old name).
    – Arthur
    Apr 5 at 12:31
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    Interest only: When in China inadvertently referred to Beijing as Peking. I immediately corrected myself - and was immediately told by several Chinese friends present that use of Peking was entirely acceptable.
    – ATCSVOL
    Apr 5 at 12:38
  • @ATCSVOL given how the speech and pronunciation is regarded as one of the most difficult things in Chinese for language learners, I can imagine how the distinction between Beijing and Peking does not really matter since when spoken by a non native speaker, either Beijing or Peking is going to sound wrong anyway when compared to the actual pronunciation of the word.
    – jarmanso7
    Apr 18 at 4:59

2 Answers 2

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Supplementing the existing answer. Short answer: because there's neither /b/ nor /j/ in that word. Nor do they even exist in modern standard Chinese to begin with.

This may come as a surprise, but modern standard Chinese, aka Mandarin, lacks most voiced consonants. So there's no /b/, /g/, /j/, or /d/. Although the official romanization system for modern standard Chinese, aka pinyin, prescribes these phonetic symbols, they are really realized as non-aspirated voiceless consonants. But in Japanese—and English I may add, as well as most European languages that I have knowledge of—voiced consonants are prevalent.

The way Beijing is actually pronounced is something close to /peiching/.

For more accurate and technical explanations, check out this Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Chinese_phonology

Technically, the sound that the pinyin j represents is [t͡ɕ], the voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant affricate, and it's the same consonant as /ch/ in ち.

The sound that the pinyin b represents is just a good ol unaspirated /p/, as the /p/ in spy.

This is actually the reason why native Chinese speakers seem to have a hard time telling apart か and が, ぱ and ば, た and だ, etc. See, for instance, this Q&A:

What's the pronunciation of か in ですか?

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    I think you mean /ʒ/, not /j/. Apr 4 at 10:36
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    As a note, WWWJDIC lists "ペイチン" as an alternate spelling, presumably for exactly the reason you mention.
    – V2Blast
    Apr 4 at 18:36
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    @KarlKnechtel The pinyin romanization system was actually designed in the PRC. It's more economical than the previous dominant system (Wade-Giles) because it requires fewer doubled letters and doesn't rely on apostrophes to mark different sounds (e.g. WG ching and ch'ing for Pinyin jing and qing). Additionally it often maps more naturally to English letter values--most English speakers will read b as unaspirate and p as aspirate (even if we also wind up voicing b when Mandarin speakers don't) so at least people make part of the right distinction without instruction.
    – Tiercelet
    Apr 5 at 18:34
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    @sundowner Sorry, are you asking if Chinese b sounds closer to English p to native speakers of Chinese, English, or Japanese? (Keep in mind "English p" is a little underdetermined here as it's realized in both aspirate and non-aspirate allophones anyway--the first and second p in "prosper" make different sounds that English speakers hear as the same thing. (The first, aspirate, one is pinyin p while the second, non-aspirate, one is pinyin b.)
    – Tiercelet
    Apr 5 at 18:44
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    I am a native Mandarin speaker and this is just flat out wrong. Not sure about other dialects, but b in Mandarin is exactly the same as b in English.
    – Aqualone
    Apr 5 at 19:26
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It came from a reading that existed in China. Note 北京大学 is Peking University.

Wikipedia/北京市

日本では一般的に「ペキン」と読む。この読みは中国南部の方言の唐音に由来する歴史的な読み方である[2]。1906年制定の郵政式アルファベット表記でもPekingと表記されている。

I believe PekingPékin is used to call 北京 in French as well (like ペカン).

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    In French we say either "Pékin" or "Beijing". I've never seen "Peking" before, and Wikipedia tells me it's English that uses "Peking".
    – Stef
    Apr 5 at 8:49
  • I never knew the spelling is different, thanks. As far as I remember, RFI always uses Pékin.
    – sundowner
    Apr 5 at 9:51

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