Following the serious unrest in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the Peoples Republic of China that erupted last week, "Xinjiang," "Uyghur," "Urumchi," and other names pertaining to the region have become household words. Unfortunately, people around the world have been confused about how to pronounce these words. This is understandable for several reasons. In the first place, we have to confront both the original Uyghur terms and their full and truncated versions in Mandarin. Second, there is often a plethora of variant romanizations for each name.
Ed Wong, the New York Times correspondent who has been keeping us so well informed about the events as they unfold, told me that the NYT had
"received an email from a reader saying the NYT should change its 'pronouncer' on Uighurs. Right now, in our articles, the editors insert (WEE-gurs) as the pronouncer. One reader said this is not the correct pronunciation, and sounds strange to the Turkic speaker’s ear."
As I told Ed, it would have been helpful if the person who sent the NYT the e-mail would have indicated the correct pronunciation, not just told them that WEE-gurs sounds wrong.
In an attempt to clarify how the most important Xinjiang names are actually pronounced in Uyghur and in Mandarin, I here provide various orthographic forms along with audio clips. As to what sort of "pronouncers" should be developed for the major media, presumably to represent appropriate Americanized pronunciations, I invite suggestions.
[Update: I give "pronouncers" and recordings of suggested American English renditions in a later post, "American English pronunciation of Uyghur proper nouns", 7/15/2009.)
The names are read first in Uyghur and then followed by their Mandarin versions.
1. Uyghur — Wei2wu2′er3 維吾爾 ／维吾尔 ئۇيغۇر
Variant romanizations of the Turkic include Uighur, Uigur, and Uygur. I prefer Uyghur as being closest to the Perso-Arabic orthography.
2. Ürümchi — Wu1lu3mu4qi2 烏魯木齊／乌鲁木齐 ئۈرۈمچی
Variant romanizations of this Uyghur word for the capital of the region include Urumchi, Urumtsi, and Ürümqi. The latter is the official cartographic spelling in China; it's a combination of Turkic and pinyin.
3. Täklimakan — Ta3ke4la1ma3gan1 塔克拉瑪干／塔克拉玛干 تەكلىماكان
Variants: Taklimakan, Taklamakan. This is the huge desert that occupies most of southern Xinjiang; it is one of the largest and most arid deserts in the world.
4. Tarim — Ta3li3mu4 塔里木 تارىم
The name of the basin in which the Täklimakan Desert sits.
5. Tarim River (Daryasi) — Ta3li3mu4 He2 塔里木河 تارىم دەرياسى
The long river flowing along the northern edge of the Täklimakan Desert from which the Tarim Basin derives its name.
6. Kashgar — Ka1shi2ka1′er3 喀什喀爾／喀什喀尔 قەشقەر
Variant: Qäshqär. The large oasis city at the far western edge of the region that is famous for its Sunday bazaar, the largest mosque in China, and other important monuments.
7. A shortened Mandarin version of no. 6.
8. Tängri Tagh — Tian1 Shan1 天山 تەڭرىتاغ
Variant: Tien Shan. The Celestial / Heavenly Mountains that divide the northern part of the region from the south.
While it cannot be expected that this post will instantaneously clear up all the confusion surrounding the pronunciation of proper nouns related to the situation in Eastern Central Asia (recall how hard it was just to deal with Beijing last year during the Olympics: "How they say 'Beijing' in Beijing"), I hope that it might serve as a reference for those who strive for accuracy.
Incidentally, Xinjiang (Xin1jiang1 新疆) means "New Borders," "New Territories," or "New Frontier," and is the name that was given to the region after it was subdued by the Manchus in 1884 and incorporated into the empire of the Qing Dynasty. To avoid using politically sensitive names such as East Turkestan or Uyghurstan, I refer to the region by the purely geographical designation as "Eastern Central Asia."
My thanks to Dolkun Kamberi for providing the Uyghur and Mandarin recordings.