Is the sound of a word as important as the way it is spelt? Yes, I feel it is, possibly more so.
The sound of a word in the air creates a different resonance than writing on paper or typing into a computer. How we speak is as significant as the way we write, possibly more so as we learn about sound healing.
There’s a difference of energy experienced with sound. To speak is to share your resonance, creating waves in the air which have an effect on surroundings, which can be picked up by ears creating connective communication. Language grew due to the need to convey information, using pictures, sounds and smoke signals.
“In the beginning was the word.” I very much doubt this was written.
The power of writing and making word-marks as expression is a vital part of the transmission of our ideas and knowledge. So which is the more important? Speaking or writing?
It’s not either/or, it’s both. This is where a confusion comes to play with qigong.
The Mandarin sound for ‘q’ does not exactly exist in English. The nearest we have is ch, and this is where the unsureness over spelling qigong occurs, which can cause division in the qigong ranks and uncertainty where unity could be encouraged. We do require a way to share these profound teachings in writing as much as with the personal energy experience. If the English ‘q’ had an option on being pronounced softly, we’d be sorted.
Here is a brief history on how and why there are different spellings for the same practice.
After all, we wish to share the benefits, not tussle over linguistic preferences.
All currently used spellings are correct from their sources. Originally they were rather more phonetic, enabling a truer pronunciation of ‘chee gong’. Qigong is a more precise written translation of the alphabet characters from the Mandarin pictogram. However, there cannot be a truly direct translation due to the many subtleties contained in the pictogram and the different way our Western alphabet creates words, resulting closest corresponding letters being used and a transliteration occurring.
Below is an overview of the most used systems for transliterating Mandarin into English:
- PINYIN (Qigong) – Developed in the 1950s by many linguists, including Zhou Youguang, based on earlier romanisations of Chinese. It was published by the Chinese government in 1958 and revised several times. The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) adopted Pinyin as its standard in 1982, followed by the United Nations in 1986. Pinyin means ‘spelled sounds’ and is now the accepted system of romanising spelling and has largely taken over from the following.
- WADE-GILES (Chi Kung) – This is a system devised in 1859 by the British diplomat Sir Thomas Francis Wade professor of Chinese at Cambridge, and further improved by his successor Herbert Allen Giles in the Chinese-English dictionary of 1892. This was used widely in English language publications outside China until 1979.
- YALE (Chi Gung) – The Yale romanisation of Mandarin was developed in 1943 by the sinologist George Kennedy to help prepare American soldiers to communicate with Chinese allies in the field, who did not have time to learn the Wade-Giles system. This used English spelling conventions to represent Chinese sounds, to assist verbal conversation. The Yale system avoids the difficulties faced by the beginner trying to read transliterated pinyin using roman letters that no longer carry their expected phonetic values. Qigong is a classic example of this. The Yale method was widely used in Western textbooks until the late 1970s.
The ‘q’ in pinyin is pronounced like ‘ch’ and thus written as ‘ch’ in Yale and Wade-Giles. This is why the more phonetic spellings have been continued to be used.
You can see the older transliterations were helping to convey the pronunciation of words as well as how to write, whereas, after the cultural revolution, the Chinese government installed a new method of sharing their language with outsiders, where the pronunciation was not as paramount.
During the height of the Cold War, it is said that preferring the Communist pinyin system over Yale was something of a political statement. The situation was reversed once the relations between the People’s Republic of China and the West had improved. Communist China became a member of the United Nations in 1971 and by 1979, much of the world adopted pinyin as the standard romanisation for Chinese geographical names. In 1982, pinyin became an ISO standard.
Interesting note. If pinyin is the industry standard, why has the more well known Wade-Giles spelling of Tai Chi Chuan (Tai Chi) usurped the pinyin Taijiquan (Taiji)?
I’ll leave that query to hang!
Simply, lets write ‘qigong’ and pronounce ‘chi gung’.
Your Chi is Qi.