Bye Bye Bai Bai; Outrage Over Correct Chinese Pronunciation

Bye Bye Bai Bai

Chinese citizens, nay netizens, love little more than a fierce online argument. One of the most recent and hottest is seeing uproar over the official pronunciation of common, and not so common, expressions, given their revised appearance in Chinese dictionaries.

At the heart of the debate is the accusation that a large number of people are mistaking words by adopting so-called wrong pronunciation of Chinese characters.

Literary scholars and linguistics experts are particularly up in arms over Tang Dynasty poem, “Mountains”, in which the pronunciation of the final character in the first part of the stanza, “远上寒山石径斜,白云生处有人家”, is taken by many to be “xia” in order for it to rhyme with “jia” at the end of the stanza, and keep the rhythm of the poem. Yet, the correct pronunciation of the character in question is clearly “xie” rather than “xia”.

There arose a fierce argument online. One group of people encourage such improvement, as it makes language more flexible and convenient to use, but most disagree with these types of revisions. Some reckon it is unacceptable; netizen, Xi Yang, said, “Once some Pinyin changed, the atmosphere completely changed as well. Poetry in particular, was supposed to have a beautiful rhythm, but now it is different”.

Most though, are in agreement that supporting the use of multi phonetics is also a sign of a rich culture, and that is what makes Chinese a beautiful language. Another netizen commented, “If I read the word wrong, I would like to learn the correct pronunciation. I hope not to change the pronunciation, just because the majority of people are using it wrong. That is just an excuse for mistaking them”.

Last but not least, for there can few expressions in more common usage, “拜拜” (bai bai), transliterated from the English “bye-bye”, is originally pronounced as “bài”. With its fourth tone pronunciation, “拜” is a means of etiquette for showing respect to people. Over the past few years, however, more and more people have started to use bái bái with a second tone pronunciation, but confusingly, the same character. As a result, this pronunciation has been officially added to dictionaries.

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Kristen Wang
A Nanjing local, Kristen studied Media and Public relations in Newcastle University (UK), has researched social media and online publishing and previously worked for different new media platforms. She is passionate about discovering new stories and helping expats involved in this city. 南京人Kristen毕业于纽卡斯尔大学,媒体与公共关系硕士学位。她的研究专注于社交媒体和网络发行,在不同的新媒体平台工作。她喜欢发现新鲜事,也希望帮助在南京的外国人融入这里的生活。