Pinying Issues

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m planning a trip to Korea this year. After failing to find truly cheap airfare, I ended up buying from one of those online sellers where the price looks great and then you’re suddenly hit with a thousand kuai in “fees”. I’m still working through the bitterness.

It turns out there were still some issues once the ticket had been purchased. The flight I had signed up for didn’t actually exist. They were kind enough to email me and let me know though, offering an alternative flight at close to the original time.

The original flight I had was to land in Gimpo 김포, and the only other one I knew of was landing in Incheon 인천. Gimpo is in a better location but either would work. The problem was that the new flight was to land in Rengchuang.

Rengchuan? What?

Oh, 仁川. I was doing my best to not read it as Mandarin as I have a tendency to do when confronted with new words in Korean. Turns out that was the wrong thing to do. Not only that, but that extra g pretty much killed any ability I might have otherwise had to make sense of it. 仁川, rénchuān, is the Mandarin reading of the hanja (漢字) that in English we spell Incheon. Having known the hanja would have probably helped as well. It wasn’t until I emailed the agent back to ask where the hell Rengchuan was that I realised the mistake.

But here’s the thing. The misspelled pinyin is in their system. The new timetable I was given was not done by hand. That means that this company, a Chinese company, is daily seeing on their computers mis-spelled pinyin.

As a Shanghailander I have a particular appreciation for this particular n/ng issue. My regional friends don’t make the distinction in speech and so I have a great many words where I couldn’t tell you if it was an -n or -ng final syllable. Put it with another like 应该,因为, and I’m just dead in the water.

It’s got me wondering about how common this mistake, or in fact any other pinyin mistake, is in the world around us. Despite typing with pinyin, and possibly thanks to the availability of fuzzy pinyin input methods, most people don’t really think with pinyin. They’re oblivious to it almost every minute of the day. And again at least with my friends who grew up in or around Shanghai, asking them how to spell a word won’t give you much consistency when it comes to nasals in syllable final position.

Have you seen other examples of pinyin being mis-spelled in a place where it should have been noticed by now? It’d be great if people had photos of such mistakes.

3 responses to “Pinying Issues”

  1. Chris says:

    I’ve seen Tianjin spelled and pronounced Tianjing a few times. Sorry, I have no photographic evidence.

  2. DylanK says: — at the public market down the road, there’s a “TIAN JING,” not as good without the characters visible at the top.

  3. Mel says:

    When I was in Taiwan I saw these -n/-ng mistakes quite a lot too, and in very noticeable places such as street signs and company names. An example that comes to mind is the street name 民生路 Minsheng Rd, which I have seen spelled Ming Sheng Rd, Min Shen Rd and even Ming Shen Rd. I always assumed it happened because a lot of Taiwanese people don’t make the distinction in speech either (with the added bonus that romanisation in Taiwan is chaotic in general).

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