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Most English-language news sources and people in America pronounce the name of the city (上海) with a long a sound as in "way" within the "shang (上)" syllable, but it's not pronounced that way in Chinese; the actual pronunciation of 上 is with the "ah" sound as in "father," and most Chinese dialects pronounce it more similarly to Mandarin than how it's pronounced in English. Why?

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    I have never heard anyone say it with "ay" in the first syllable.
    – fdb
    Jan 28, 2015 at 0:40
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    Yes, for many of us, "shang" is like "bang". "Bang" has the glide of "way" because a "y" glide is inserted between a front vowel and "ng", since in going from the vowel to "ng", the tongue has to go through a "y" position. Since you tell us that the Chinese vowel is not front, I guess the American English pronunciation is do to the spelling "ang".
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 28, 2015 at 1:00
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    @GregLee Neither "bang" nor "shang" include a glide for me. Also, the vowel is an [a] not an [e]. I'm a Canadian English speaker but I'm almost positive this is true for most American English dialects as well since "bang" pronounced [beng] or [beyng] sounds vaguely Kiwi to my ears (I'm not sure if Kiwis actually pronounce "bang" this way. It sounds foreign, is my point).
    – acattle
    Jan 28, 2015 at 2:41
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    "Bang" is [bæ̃j̃ŋ], for those of us with the inserted glide. (Before phonetic [ŋ] that is not the phoneme /ŋ/, I do not have a glide, either: "Ban kids! = [bæ̃ŋkɪdz], where the velar nasal is by regressive place assimilation to following [k],
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 28, 2015 at 3:30
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    I'm not so sure most Chinese "dialects" pronounce it so much like in Mandarin: Cantonese: soeng6 hoi2, Hakka: Sông-hói, Min Nan: Siōng-hái, Wu: zaan he. Jan 29, 2015 at 6:47

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As a general rule, English speakers don't learn the pronunciation of place names from speakers of that language; they use general rules for pronunciation. Hence [br̩lɪn] instead of [bɛrlin], [ɔzlow] instead of [uʃlu], [pɛrɪs] instead of [paʁi], and Qatar (Standard Arabic [ˈqɑtˤar]) is a real problem, so I've heard [ˈkɑɾṛ], [kəˈtɑr] and [kæɾr̩]. Colin Powell would pronounce it as [gʌtr̩], close to the local dialect pronunciation [ˈgitˤar]. We also never pronounce Mandarin "h" as [x], and "zh" and "j" are not distinguished. Additionally, in American English, front vowels are raised a bit more before the voiced velars (g, ŋ) since there's no tense-lax contrast.

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    Actually, some people would distinguish zh and j as /ʒ/ and /dʒ/... that just goes to demonstrate your point. Jan 28, 2015 at 20:31
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    Also English just took the transliteration of Chinese into Latin script made by Chinese and did not make its own. So while pinyin is also inspired by English, in many majour ways, it is very different, thus words like "Beijing", "Mao Zedong", "Zhou" or "Qing" get very often totally butchered by English speakers.
    – Eleshar
    Mar 12, 2017 at 20:21
  • Another relevant example would be - any Polish name. Warsaw is (in my own British English) [wɔːsɔː], not [varˈʂava]
    – Lou
    Mar 12, 2017 at 23:13
  • But Warsaw is an exonym, no? @LeoKing Jun 12, 2017 at 9:46
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    I've never heard Paris pronounced with the DRESS vowel, always TRAP (at which point the presence of the original s is the only difference not following from simple adaptation to English phonology)
    – Tristan
    May 4, 2020 at 11:27

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