syz takes me to task for wanting people to follow the BBC (and John Wells’) recommendation for Beijing, and implies that as linguists should describe language, I am guilty of prescriptivism.
Linguists are in a bind here: we all pay lip service to the need for the objective description of language, but as soon as we start to teach a language, we become prescriptive. Necessarily so, because otherwise, what would be the point of the teaching? If anything goes, because native speakers will (generally speaking) make allowances for foreigners, and native speakers don’t need to be taught grammar, spelling, pronunciation, because they already “know” it (do we/they?), then we are all redundant, surely? A much discussed word in the linguistic blogs is “whatever” (or wev), and this is what (in my humble opinion anyway – I refuse to use textspeak abbreviations) is the end result of pure descriptivism.
One of the justifications to me for making recommendations, especially for the pronunciation of names, is courtesy: I think that very few of us are complacent about the mispronunciation of our own name, and are grateful when non-native speakers make the effort to get it right. [Digression: I remember being amazed when a Frenchman actually pronounced “Graham” correctly (in two syllables, with the first like the word ‘grey’). I asked him how he knew, and he said he was a fan of Graham Norton (comedian and TV chat show host). It turned out that this man, a waiter at a hotel in northern France, had spent six months in England. I asked him where: “Dover”.] Place names, for me, are an extension of this. While a personal name is “owned” by its bearer, a place name can be said to be “owned” by its inhabitants. This was always the BBC’s reasoning for advising the pronunciation of British place names that was favoured by local people, and why I stuck to the recommendation for Althorp that was used by Earl Spencer and his family even when the senior management of the BBC insisted otherwise (see my post on Althorp).
Now syz tells us that there are Mandarin-speaking expats who use [beɪʒɪŋ] rather than [beɪdʒɪŋ] as the pronunciation of their capital. I assume he means native English speakers living in China. I wonder what pronunciation they use when speaking Mandarin. The BBC’s correspondents have all continued to use [beɪdʒɪŋ], even the ones who often disagreed with the Pronunciation Unit’s recommendations, and so can’t be accused of simply following the party line, so some of the toothpaste must still be in the tube!
There may well come a time when [beɪʒɪŋ] is accepted universally as the anglicization, but until that time, my view is that the BBC is right to try and uphold a more authentic pronunciation.