Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Language Game

The confused girl is from the Ceqli Blog.
There's a very silly idea on the amorphous left that there's something slightly disreputable about the English language, and this results in the notion that instead of traditional English names of foreign cities, countries, etc. we should substitute the native names. At first glance, this seems almost reasonable, until you realize that just about all languages have different names for place names in other language areas, including the areas where English is predominant.  In French, London is Londres, and the United States is les États-Unis. But, hey, instead of giving you a list out of my memory, here are all these foreign versions from Wiktionary.

So you see, I imagine, that there's nothing especially perverse in the English language that leads us to call foreign places things other than their native names. Indeed, when people decide to opt for native names instead, they're oddly selective about it.  They want to call Bombay "Mumbai," for example, but have no urge to call Munich "München."  They switched from Peiping to Beijing, but didn't change Rome to Roma. They want to say Myanmar instead of Burma, but show no interest in calling Germany Deutschland.

But the big new idea now is to change not just Peiping, but all the traditional English names for Chinese places to the Mandarin equivalent.  This from Language Log.

No more Hong Kong, no more Tibet
The Encyclopaedia Britannica has begun to refer to Hong Kong as Xianggang, the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation of the name.
The above screen shot is from the Facebook group "Hong Kong & China NOT the SAME 中港大不同". Needless to say, not only are the people of Hong Kong unamused by this attempt on the part of the EB editors to please the Beijing government, they are quite upset.
For a Hong Konger, the top line in Chinese (see above) registers as "Has Hong Kong become soeng1 gaan1?!". The last two characters, 傷姦 (pronounced shāng jiān in Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM]), literally mean "injure-rape", but are here being used to transcribe in Cantonese the MSM pronunciation of 香港 ("Fragrant Harbor"), viz., Xiānggǎng. In Cantonese, 香港 would be pronounced Hoeng1gong2, whence our "Hong Kong".
As another example of the rapidly encroaching Mandarinization of Hong Kong, a while back the new Cantonese opera complex was referred to as "xìqǔ" 戲曲, using the MSM Pinyin spelling of its name instead of Cantonese romanization hei3 kuk1, in English texts written about it. The name for Cantonese opera is actually jyut6 kek6 粵劇 (MSM yuèjù).
The imposition of MSM terms and pronunciations over local language preferences is being carried out aggressively throughout China, not just in Hong Kong. For example, in Xinjiang, Kashgar, by central government fiat, has become 喀 什 Kāshí and Ürümchi has become Wūlǔmùqí 乌 鲁木齐.
The changes in Tibet are even more drastic. The Chinese insist on calling the place Xīzàng 西藏 ("West Zàng") instead of Tibet, by some form of which it is known to much of the world. Xīzàng is a relatively new place name, having been coined only in the late 18th-early 19th century. Literally, zàng 藏 means "storehouse; depository; (Buddhist / Taoist) canon"), but in the name Xīzàng 西藏 ("West Zàng") refers to a traditional province in western and central Tibet. I suppose, but am by no means certain of this, that zàng 藏 in this transcriptional sense may be linked to the name of an ancient Tibeto-Burman people calledQiang (sometimes referred to as proto-Tibetans).
The Tibetans themselves call their country Bod བོད་ (transliterated as Bhö or Phö and pronounced [pʰøʔ]) or related terms based upon it. For instance, when referring to Greater Tibet — all the Tibetan-speaking areas collectively, which range far beyond the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) — one would say Bod-chen-po.  Historically, from around 1698 at least, there does seem to have been a sense of a greater Tibet (Bod-chen), which appears to have mapped more to the spread of Gelukpa (Yellow Hat sect) monasteries than to any other feature.
In addition to the TAR, there are also Tibetan-speaking populations in the PRC provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan, which would be included in Khams and Amdo in traditional usage.
This is a grossly simplified account of the names for Tibet across time and space.  For a detailed discussion of the historical and linguistic evidence concerning a whole range of names for Tibet in different languages, see this excellent Wikipedia article.
[Thanks to Bob Bauer, Matthew Kapstein, Robbie Barnett, Gray Tuttle, and Patricia Schiaffini]

1 comment:

  1. PeKing.

    I only point it out because it's misspelled twice.