No more Hong Kong, no more Tibet

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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 called Qiang (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. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

    Using the traditional English orthography for "kowtow" is a nice touch, since I assume it would come out differently in PRC-approved transliteration from MSM.

  2. AntC said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 4:26 pm

    Thank you Victor, wikipedia talks of … a recent tendency by some authors writing in Chinese to revive the term Tubote (simplified Chinese: 图伯特; traditional Chinese: 圖伯特; pinyin: Túbótè),

    And says that Tibet derives from the Arabic name.

    Since none of these names derive from the locals themselves, is there specific grounds for condoning or condemning any in particular?

  3. JQ said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

    I would accept the title "Xianggang" if their entry regarding Finland is titled "Suomi", etc. Anybody know if this is the case?

    The current topical question would be – Kiev or Kyiv?

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

    I am pleased to be informed by wikipedia that free variation between "Macao" and "Macau" remains so ubiquitous that the usage of the current PRC-controlled government there in its own English-language publications is not consistent. Let a hundred spellings bloom!

  5. C.B. said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

    While it's true that toponyms should be transliterated into Mandarin out of respect for the locals as opposed to just be given new names, the case for Hong Kong and other Cantonese toponyms isn't really that solid.
    Since Cantonese uses Chinese characters too, it's much easier to simply call those places by their Mandarin pronunciation rather than making a phonetic transcription of it. Not doing so is an unnecessary complication which can end up having disastrous consequences, like the eventual loss of the original toponym in favor of the new Mandarin-ized one.

  6. Howard Y. F. Choy said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

    Thanks, Dr. Mair, I, being a native Hongkongese, would not accept any one quoting me as Cai in pinyin, which has happened quite unfortunately! This is both a legal and identity issue, not to mention being respectful. By the same token, Taipei should not be spelt as Taibei.

  7. Chris Atwood said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 7:35 pm

    I am pretty sure that the Zang 藏 in Xizang 西藏 has nothing to do with Qiang 羌. (I don't have references handy, but in earlier Chinese, Qiang 羌 was certainly K'iang or something like it.) It is a common myth that the Qiang are somehow related to "proto-Tibetans". Linguistically they are of course members of the Tibetan-Burman family, but then Russian and Sanskrit are members of the Indo-European family and people don't automatically speak of the Indo-Aryans as "proto-Slavic". Qiang linguistics is still in flux, but as far as I know no one thinks it is particularly closely related to Tibetan or the other Bodic languages. (Tangut is the only historically prominent language usually linked to Qiang, a connection Qiang historians are eagerly promoting.) Geographically, historical references to Qiang concentrate along the western skirts of the Tibetan plateau and neighboring Chinese provinces (Sichuan, Gansu), while the Bodic languages were, before the rise of the Tibetan empire, definitely concentrated in the gTsang-po (Brahmaputra) valley; that river name is connected to the gTsang province which is where Zang 藏 comes from. Bodic languages crossed the pastoral areas of Yulshul and Golog and became ensconced in Amdo only after the rise of the Tibetan empire and the conquest of the Azha (Toyogon/Tuyuhun) empire. To this day, the Sichuan-Kham borderlands are occupied by speakers of mostly non-Bodic, non-Sinitic languages. Only Prinmi/Pumi (at least in Yunnan) and Qiang are recognized as separate nationalities in the PRC, and the Prinmi/Pumi in Sichuan aren't so recognized, but rather treated as "dialects" of Tibetan (a situation rather more egregious than treated Cantonese as "dialects" of Mandarin, since Prinmi/Pumi isn't even Bodic). Other languages of the Qiangic family spoken as vernaculars by those officially registered as Tibetans in Sichuan include Jalrong, Ergong, Lavrung, Horpa, Minyag, Ersu, etc.

  8. Stephan Stiller said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

    @ J. W. Brewer

    Let a hundred spellings bloom!


    I'm reminded of Romania/Rumania.

    Btw, I think the HK gov't doesn't know how to call its citizens in English. I prefer "Hongkongers" (spelled as such), but on gov't websites you do find variation, incl "HK people" (which many HKers will say, so descriptively I can't object).

  9. JS said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

    @ Howard Choy: Well, "Taibei" vs. "Taipei" doesn't reflect a Mandarin vs. Minnan difference but a Pinyin vs. Wade-Giles(ish!) difference (with both versions representing Mandarin)… don't know if there is any impetus to create alphabetized spellings of Taiwanese place names that reflect, a la "Hong Kong," the (relatively) indigenous Sinitic language…

    Then again, maybe "Hong Kong" and "Taipei" are similar in originating, ultimately, with unsystematic renderings of naive (foreign) listeners — the vowels of the two syllables in the former are of course not at all the same. As regards change on this front, though, I suppose a century plus of convention dies hard…

  10. John said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

    @JS: There are some Taiwan place names that are currently offically spelled to reflect either Taiwanese or indigenous languages. The most notable is probably Tamsui (淡水), which has an interesting history: it had been called Tamsui even through the martial-law years, then became Danshui when the government started promoting pinyin in the mid-2000s, then switched back when local leaders petitioned for an exception.

    Bangka Boulevard (艋舺大道) also reflects the Taiwanese pronunciation. Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道) is named after the area's indigenous tribe, and I'm not sure where the romanization comes from but it certainly isn't Mandarin.

  11. Matt said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 10:24 pm

    Since Cantonese uses Chinese characters too, it's much easier to simply call those places by their Mandarin pronunciation rather than making a phonetic transcription of it. Not doing so is an unnecessary complication which can end up having disastrous consequences, like the eventual loss of the original toponym in favor of the new Mandarin-ized one.

    I'm not sure I follow — people should accept the Mandarinization of their placenames, lest they suffer the disaster of Mandarinized placenames?

  12. C.B. said,

    March 4, 2014 @ 11:48 pm

    @Matt Since the Chinese characters that would be used in a transliteration of a Cantonese toponym into Mandarin will differ from the original most of the time, it's possible that for small towns or not so well known places their transliteration into Mandarin will ultimately prevail over its original Cantonese name. For example, the Mandarin transliteration of 香港 (fragrant, incense; port) is 轰控 (rumble, explosion; control, accuse). This can't occur with non-Chinese toponyms like Urumqi and Kashgar, so it's safe to make their transliterations official. Using the original toponym's romanization would be much more respectful, but impractical.
    Anyway, the poster of that image on Facebook was obviously angry at foreigners using the Mandarin pronunciation of 香港, not mainlanders.

  13. zhongguo said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 12:37 am

    Why don't they change China to Zhongguo at the very first place?

    The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify names." "So! indeed!" said Zi Lu. "You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?" The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, You! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."

  14. A Hong Kong Guy said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 2:29 am

    When most Hong Kong people have Cantonese but not Mandarin as their mother language, how could you suggest a translation of their cities, names and cultures, from Mandarin rather than Cantonese? Do you realize their huge difference in pronunciation? May be you can say Hong "G"ong to be Cantonese-correct, but no other options.

    Can we call India "Yidao"? Can we call Russia "Erlousi"? Can we call American "MeiGou"? No. Respect their mother languages. Respect our mother language. Okay? My name is not a joke to you, or to politicians. Why don't you pronounce it like what my mother spoke to me when I was born?

    Hong Kong is a closer Cantonese translation than Xiangang. Take it.

  15. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 4:07 am

    There are many problems with this idea by EB, but I guess the easiest shot to take, along the lines of JQ's complaint, is "did they rename 'China' to 'Zhongguo'?" What about Macau -> Aomen?

    More broadly, to my eyes this sort of purposeless renaming of some remote entity that already has a name (see Bombay -> Mumbai; Gypsies -> Roma; etc) reflects only the impulse on the part of the renamers (here, Encyclopedia Britannica) to show how exquisitely sensitive they are to the plight of the downtrodden. If you have any hope of accomplishing anything for yourself, you're not eligible for "help" of this type. I'm not sure China wants to endorse the idea that they're so hopelessly backwards and weak that they need England to save them from nomenclature-based bullying.

  16. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 4:44 am

    Michael Watts, I agree with much of what you're getting at when it comes to long-established anglicised place names, but surely communities like the Roma have the right to reject derogatory and problematic exonyms.

  17. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 5:04 am

    What is the difference supposed to be between referring to the Roma as Gypsies and referring to the Deutsch as Germans? There's really nothing derogatory about "gypsy" at all; it refers clearly (and incorrectly) to their supposed origin in Egypt. The insulting part comes in because Gypsies are disliked by their surrounding communities, but that's not going to change with a new name. Instead, any new name will immediately become an insult.

    I read once that the people at the political interface between the mentally disabled and the rest of the world were dismayed when "mentally retarded" became a term of abuse. It was supposed to be a gentle euphemism for "stupid", but it turns out (and frankly, I suspect it wouldn't have been hard to predict this in advance) that the problem with referring to people as "stupid" isn't the form of the word, it's the meaning.

    So in sum, no, there's no particular reason to give any foreign group a say in what we call them in our own language, no matter how pathetic and despised they are. It's at best a wildly misplaced showing of false solidarity.

  18. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:06 am

    The word "gypsy", as you well know, has taken on a whole host of meanings and connotations that go well beyond the functions of a mere ethnic descriptor. (And though you refer to them as a foreign group with no right to dictate English usage, many Roma have been anglophone for generations.) By your logic, "negro" is also an appropriate word to use, since there's nothing intrinsically or etymologically insulting about it.

  19. RP said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:35 am

    In the UK the term "Gypsy" seems to be statutory and so is widely used by local authorities as well as by the media ( is one of innumerable recent examples ). I don't think it is as obviously offensive or inappropriate as the word "Negro" has become – even though it may well be preferable to use the term "Roma".

  20. Rodger C said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 7:54 am

    Anyhow, "Xianggang" supports the uptrodden.

  21. david said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 8:23 am

    Is there a relationship between Bod བོད་ (transliterated as Bhö or Phö and pronounced [pʰøʔ]) and Buddha 佛 fó?

  22. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 8:49 am

    I feel like I spent many words trying to make exactly this point, but the connotations of the word "gypsy" that go beyond the role of ethnic descriptor aren't there by coincidence. Saying that we should reject the word "gypsy" because it can carry insulting overtones is equivalent to saying that there should be no word for that ethnic group at all, since no matter what word is chosen, it will carry the same insulting overtones. You picked possibly the best-known example of this phenomenon with negro (the foreign word) -> nigger (the adaptation to english phonology) -> negro (the sign of not being so low-class that you say nigger) -> colored person (the sign of sensitivity)-> African-American (the sign of sensitivity) -> person of color (the sign of even more sensitivity) -> diverse (the sign of up-to-date sensitivity). (I'm not up on the historical ordering of these terms.)

    None of this serves a purpose. Channeling the wisdom of Steve Dallas' mother, where's the hue and cry to get the United Negro College Fund renamed? What about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?

    There is a strain of current thinking to the effect that it's improper to call blacks "black", despite the fact that that is generally their own preferred term (and, you know, more appropriate than "African-American" when referring to Brits). This is, to me, one more piece of evidence that the renamers do not care at all about the objects of their benevolence… they care about demonstrating how much they care.

  23. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    I wonder if the "caring" impulse described by Michael Watts is what led NBC to refer to Turin, when the Winter Olympics were televised from there in 2006, as "Torino" despite the fact that "Turin" has been the English name of the city for centuries AND is the native (Piedmontese) name.

  24. Nuno said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 10:10 am

    I'm reminded of a great article in Der Spigel.* among other things the writer tells an anecdote about her friend whose purse was stolen "by the Sinti and Roma", the lady's use of "Sinti und Roma" is quite understandable since everybody is trained, even very explicitly on kids shows, to always replace "Zigeuner [gypsies]" with "Sinti und Roma". But this is obviously problematic on a number of levels: both the speaker and the listener are thinking "Zigeuner" in their heads anyways, and now two distinct ethnic groups are associated with the stolen purse, at least one of them unfairly.

    *link (in German):

  25. Ellen K. said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 10:13 am

    Levantine brings up a good point, that the word gypsy has other meanings besides referring to a specific ethnic group. Which of itself it a good reason to use another term to refer to the ethnic group, if one is available.

  26. Nuno said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 10:28 am

    Then there are also those code words that seem so much more offensive to me than black, like "urban" and "thug". When was the last time you heard a white guy being refered to as a thug in the media?

    And don't forget "Familly" which tends to just mean (conservative) white, because black fathers abandon their families, Mexicans have four or five families living in a house and libs marry people of the same gender and maybe also dogs.

  27. N.C. said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 10:47 am

    @ Michael Watts –
    I'd disagree with the first two examples you brought up, but a more general point holds: I'd also believe it in good faith to assume that use pejorative or otherwise comes from context; hence the absence of a flinch against the UNCF or the NAACP – but you make a separate point about *overt* attempts to avoid association, and on that I'd say you offer the justification yourself: it *is* distancing; and by definition requires self-regard. (I'd be more reluctant to make judgments of *vanity* – I'd prefer to resort to what is actually said if I needed grounds to disregard someone.) How long it should take until the word is reappropriated in the long run I'd then claim amounts to little; I'm sure we do nothing but constantly recalculate how we wish to be seen and adjust to match – more interesting, though, is whether the association is is attached to "the referent" itself, and what self-improvement self-reflection should call for. I won't argue against the premise, but I'd argue for its irrelevance (in scarily touchy-feely terms): "Obamacare" is an overwrought scheme that'll trip over itself, while "the ACA" is a piece of the safety net that's long been in the making – the differences are both in re-emphasis, and that seems to suffice to make social distinctions that serve both sides of the divide; but neither, though, does that implication require us to completely disregard whatever ulterior purpose the haranguing-of-the-other serves. (Should we be able to find one *there*, then, the question then becomes whether we'd be able to find one on the occasion someone should pipe up with the word "African-American" to make a point – but that we're required to judge relevance of any ulterior point holds independently of this.) That Obamacare'll probably lose that association and become a little bauble showing off cultural awareness of the time and place that was the two hallowed terms of Obama don't factor into the judgements allowing the prior points to be made here and now.

    Whether or not overt signaling is worth an eye-raise is another matter, though: if our maxim happens to be "do nothing that a judicious use of contextual judgment cannot obviate", though, I'd consider the judgment, in turn, then neither worth much attention: surely we'd understand the intent, make a mental note on interpretation, and move on to matters more meaningful to both.

    (I'd also add that I don't find the last two in your first example used as drop-in replacements for the previous – but I'm able to establish little, in any case.)

  28. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    RP, you raise a fair point, but I believe that the only sense in which "gypsy" continues to be widely accepted in mainstream British politics and media is as a legally derived umbrella term for Roma and other traveller communities. The fact that it doesn't even refer to a single group is reason enough to avoid the word when speaking specifically of the Roma.

    Michael Watts, I really don't know how to respond to an argument that would have us all ignore the realities of usage and carry on employing words like "Chinaman", "Jewess", "Muhammadan", and "spastic".

  29. George Grady said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    There are many examples of whites being referred to as "thugs" in the media and elsewhere. Here are five, for starters:

    A Bleacher Report article from 2011

    A letter to the Chicago Tribune in 2011

    An article in the Christian Science Monitor from 2002

    A posting on someone's blog from 2009 referring to both blacks and whites as thugs

    The Wall Street Journal quoting John Boehner calling Vladimir Putin a thug

    There are plenty more if you look.

  30. Ken Brown said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

    "Roma" is a more loaded word than "Gypsy" (here in the South-East of England). It is associated with recent eastern-European immigrants and feeds straight into prejudices and rhetoric about "asylum seekers", "benefits scroungers", and all the other Daily-Mail-bait.

    "Gypsy" seems to be the word that British gypsies most often use for themselves, and if they wanted to use the R-word they wouldn't say "Roma", which positions them as foreign (and is widely confused with "Romanian") but "Romany" which is the form of the word with a long local history.

    "Sinti" (and the other names) are probably unknown to most who aren't ethnographers or else keen followers of European law or politics.

    To add further confusion there is the real and self-identified distinction between "gypsies" and "travellers", often ignored by the general public, or misused to make fake distinctions between "real" gypsies (constructed as following a traditional way of life) and "so-called" travellers (as if they were somehow fake). Travellers get even more stick than gypsies do. Not so long ago they were perhaps the only two ethnic groups that it was socially acceptable for educated middle-class people to say racist things about in public. Now, sadly, trumped by the rise in hate speech against Muslims (which started in the early 1990s I think, but maybe that's a false memory)

    My feeling is that "gypsy" is unlikely to be used as a term of abuse. The insults of choice round here would be "gippo" (which feels a bit old-fashioned) or "pikey". And perhaps in Scotland "tinker".

  31. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

    > When was the last time you heard a white guy being referred to as a thug in the media?

    My media consumption is probably not particularly typical. But assuming you're willing to call Jews "white", it was likely here:

    @N.C. : I'm actually not sure what you're referring to as my first example, but, on the off chance, I'm pretty sure that "person of color" is a drop-in replacement for "colored person", if nothing else. "Diverse" is commonly used to refer to certain (fixed) nonblack groups, but is also a euphemism for black, and is essentially never used to refer to diversity (for example, getting more whites into Howard might be described as making it less diverse).

  32. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

    To try to circle back to where this started, what is the negative historical baggage associating with using the toponym "Hong Kong," that might justify a change of name for sensitivity-driven reasons? Presumably it would be a reminder of the shameful imperialist/colonialist past, when the government of the day did not even bother to privilege Mandarin over Cantonese?

  33. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

    Ken Brown, I'm from London (though I've been living in the States for several years), and my sense of the terms is different. Perhaps your comment bears out Michael Watts's argument (and here I agree with him) that a change in designation does not always bring about a change in perception. But that's beside the point. If a given community asks that they be referred to in a certain way, then surely they have a right to be heard and respected on the matter. I believe that I am least likely to cause offence by using the term "Roma" when speaking of that group, but I'm happy to call a person by the word "Gypsy" if that is what s/he asks of me. The shift to "Roma(ni)" is really too incipient for us to know how the nomenclature will ultimately settle. Till then, I'd prefer to err on the side of caution.

    Michael Watts, "person of color" means something very different from "colored" here in the States, and "diverse", at least in the context of American academia, is used in reference to all nonwhite communities.

  34. JS said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

    @John: Thanks much; I should have known of Damsui from previous LL discussions…

    @J. W. Brewer: Clearly the naming preferences of the P.R.C. government aren't being driven by sensitivity, but it strikes me that the folks at Encyclopaedia Britannica may have been… the use here of "Xianggang" as title, with "Hong Kong" in the main text, looks like an attempt to introduce what someone perceived as a more native~sensitive~sophisticated spelling to an audience to whom only (apparently) cruder "Hong Kong" would be familiar. That is, far from "kowtauing" to the P.R.C., it's possible that the author(s) of this blurb was quite unaware of the political and linguistic issues underlying their spelling choice — they'll be aware now.

  35. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

    And Nuno's point still stands. Sure, "thug" as a standalone word may be used of white people, but terms like "thug music" and "thug culture" are almost always thinly veiled ways of referring to African-Americans.

  36. Lazar said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

    @JS: Yeah, I've often encountered people with a generalized prejudice against exonyms – for example, someone once told me that "Seville" is just plain wrong, and wondered why anyone would say it in place of the correct "Sevilla". Myself, I think it's a sign of respect for a place's importance that speakers of other languages create their own names for it.

  37. Nuno said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

    @Levantine: Thanks for putting what I ment to say in more objective terms.

    @JS: "'Taibei' vs. 'Taipei' doesn't reflect a Mandarin vs. Minnan difference but a Pinyin vs. Wade-Giles(ish!) difference"

    Pinyin is strongly associated with the PRC. Wade-Giles-ish, postal-map-ish, English-ish spellings like Peking, Taipei and Hong Kong are at once associated with both tradition and modernity/cosmopolitanism. Not unlike traditional characters which are at once associated with traditional chinese culture as well as modern technological and cultural hubs like Taiwan and Hong Kong.

    @Ken Brown: "'Sinti' (and the other names) are probably unknown to most who aren't ethnographers or else keen followers of European law or politics."

    "Sinti" is extremely common in Germany (maybe only there), though,in my experience, always in the phrase "Sinti und Roma[always in that order]".

  38. yli said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 3:49 pm

    @David, Bod has nothing to do with 佛. The original form was Bon however -n/-d endings seem freely interchangeable in the old Tibetan. Now, bon is cognate with Chinese 坟. The primitive meaning is believed to mean something like 'a pile of earth' or 'an elevated surface formed by piling earth up'. This meaning evolves to mean 'high land' in old Tibetan and hence Tibetans call their place 'high land', while in Chinese, 坟 evolved to mean tomb/grave. Ti- is something like 'great' or 'big', so 'Tibet' means 'great high land'.

  39. julie lee said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

    I wish someone would put out a dictionary of insulting terms that one should avoid. Frankly, to me, if the word "black" is fine, then "negro" is fine too, because it means "black". But I avoid both words now, for fear of offending. I like the old word "gypsy". I still like the word "oriental" and prefer it to "East Asian" (I'm one). I use the word "whites" but was told by a white person it was offensive.
    I used the word "Eurasian" to describe my grandchildren and a close friend's grandchildren , and was told by the friend that it was insulting. Many years ago, when I was in school in Hong Kong, we all called the Eurasian girls in our school "Eurasians". No one said it was insulting, including the Eurasians themselves. (BTW, the Eurasian girls in our English-language school all grew up in Hong Kong and all spoke Cantonese.) A dictionary of insulting terms would be helpful in navigating newer sensitivities.
    (I also prefer to keep the city-names Amoy (Xiamen in Mandarin), Swatow (Shantou in Mand.)
    and Macao (Aomen). Life is bewildering enough without changing these names.)

  40. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

    The collocations "thug culture" and "thug music" in the sense Levantine references appear from a quick scan of google books to have arisen ex nihilo in the mid-1990's, perhaps by analogy to the collocation "thug life," which the google books evidence suggests may have been an original coinage by the late Tupac Shakur circa '92 or '93. As descriptors of a certain subset of African-American culture they would seem to have first arisen as the analogues of endonyms rather than exonyms. No doubt some and perhaps many other African-Americans heartily dislike the whole rhetorical style exemplified by using "thug" and "gangster" etc etc as positive self-descriptions. It's a shonda fur den goyim and gives outsiders the wrong idea blah blah blah. But communities are diverse and, in modern individualistic/pluralistic societies, lack governance mechanisms for forming internal consensus on issues like this. Which is why "defer to the community" is often not a workable solution to issues of contested onomastics, unless it involves outsiders rather arbitrarily deciding who speaks for the community and who doesn't.

    The history of "urban" as a euphemism would require more digging, although wikipedia tells me the onetime "National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes" switched its name over to just "National Urban League" in 1920, which is farther back than I would have thought. "Urban contemporary" as a radio format (playing primarily black artists and aimed at a primarily black audience) is said to date to approx 1974, and have a known coiner.

  41. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

    Levantine, you're claiming that American academia refers to Chinese as "diverse"?

  42. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

    Yes, in American academia, Chinese and Chinese-American students are included in discussions of diversity in the student body. As too are Latinos, South Asians, etc. LGBTQ students are also often covered by the term. I don't know where you get the idea that people use the word "diverse" as a substitute for African-American, because that simply isn't the case. If someone told me that the students in their class were diverse, I would not in any way understand them to be referring to an exclusively (or even predominantly) black group of individuals. Rather, I would picture a class whose students were of various (hence "diverse") ethnic backgrounds.

    [(myl) In some contexts, "diversity" covers women of whatever ethnicity. Thus recent Chronicle of Higher Education supplements on "Diversity in Academe" have featured articles on women in seminaries, women in STEM fields, etc.]

  43. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:25 pm

    And just to add that "person of color" is also not a synonym for "African-American".

  44. Rex May said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

    Nice post. I've taken the liberty of reblogging and commenting on it here:

  45. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

    In standard academic use, "diverse" refers to the same concept as the term of art URM ("underrepresented minority"). Chinese are not "diverse" to academia, they are "white", purely because of their success, and a diversity program admitting chinese students is a massive failure. Latinos definitely fall under the "diverse" umbrella, and I acknowledged that it is not a pure substitute for "black". But what you would picture when hearing a usage you're apparently not familiar with is not relevant to what it means, and a class of over 90% blacks is highly diverse (and will sometimes be described that way); it is not "monolithic" or whatever the opposite is.

  46. Michael Watts said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    To clarify something a little, while I'm not saying "diverse" is a synonym for "black", I am saying that it is the object of a replacement rule, such that in the same way "my purse was stolen by Gypsies" is ritually replaced by "my purse was stolen by the Sinti and Roma", "my class is all blacks" is replaced by "my class is highly diverse".

  47. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 6:49 pm

    I am part of the American academic system, have frequently heard the words "diverse" and "diversity" said in relation to the student body, and often use the terms myself in this connection. Students of Asian (including Chinese) heritage are part of the discourse, whether you like it or not. Regardless of their academic success, they face prejudices and struggles that white students do not. It seems that you're the one who needs to familiarise himself with others' usage. Try a Google search (and in case you can't be bothered, here's just one of many relevant results that come up:

  48. GAC said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

    I thought I would let you know, another blog copied this post in its entirely (with a link, but it isn't clearly marked) to support what I feel is a very uninformed argument about exonymy:

  49. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

    "Diversity" is a word of diverse meanings in U.S. academic/HR/public-policy jargon, depending on context. Consider, for example, the following sentence I just googled up without much effort: "Racial and ethnic minorities comprise 26% of the total population of the United States, yet only roughly 6% of practicing physicians are Latino, African American and Native American.: De-euphemized, this means in context something like "the last goddam thing we need, diversitywise, is even more Asian-Americans going to medical school." (But chutzpah points for still counting Asian-American potential patients in the 26% contrasted with the 6% to suggest a crisis.) Similarly, "diversity" in this context also means "too goddam many Asian-American kids." But there are also a wide range of other contexts in which "let's have some more Asian-Americans" is perfectly consistent with "diversity."

    There are of course other dimensions of diversity that the high-level bean-counters don't care about. I personally would find interesting a longitudinal study of Chinese-American students (in med school, at Stuyvesant, wherever) showing changes over time in surname spellings, e.g.. the ratio of Zhous to Chous to Chows, thus quantifying the shifting relative influence of PRC-style transliteration versus rival non-Communist or even non-Mandarin approaches.

  50. Auntturtle said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

    An oldie, but still goodie:

  51. Levantine said,

    March 5, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

    Auntturtle, thanks for the fun video! The Greeks continue to call it Constantinople, which is comical to hear in airport announcements (as if the planes will transport passengers back in time). Interestingly enough, the official Ottoman name for the city remained Constantinople (Kostantiniyye) until the very end of the empire.

  52. John Walden said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 3:40 am

    Do the name-change seekers tend to get their way? If Germany started to protest about the use of an old Latin word for a slightly different place or if the Dutch resented what is an apparent confusion with German in German and came up with an alternative, would there be a general tendency to go along with their wishes?

    Have there been cases where a trickle-down edict about toponyms has met with resistance and not been generally adopted?

    For all our brave talk about how English-speakers are dictated to by nobody we do seem to end up calling the place Beijing however much we may have harrumphed at the time.

  53. Levantine said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 4:13 am

    John Walden, this is an example from outside the English-speaking world, but your question made me think of it. Following the 1974 division of Cyprus, the government of the island's newly created (and internationally unrecognised) Turkish north set about renaming dozens of towns and villages whose existing appellations it deemed too Greek-sounding. Most of the new names, despite having been introduced decades ago, have failed to take hold among Turkish Cypriots, or at best coexist with the originals. But this is a strange case of a government trying to recast traditional place names as exonyms and replace them with newly coined pseudo-endonyms.

    As for resistance to toponymic name changes in English, I still encounter Ivory Coast far oftener than I do Côte d'Ivoire, which the government of that country has tried to impose internationally since 1986.

  54. Victor Mair said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 6:42 am

    @John Walden

    I couldn't agree with you more. See "Backhill/Peking/Beijing", Sino-Platonic Papers, 19 (April, 1990), 1-6.

  55. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 8:24 am

    Saigon -> Ho Chi Minh City is a good example of a toponym change that has not been fully assimilated into actual Anglophone usage. I'm not sure of current stats on Calcutta->Kolkata and similar changes elsewhere in India, but my vague impression is that the respellings have at least thus far not achieved the same level of overwhelming success as Peking -> Beijing. An interesting example is Burma -> Myanmar -> Burma, where some Western publications that had dutifully gone along with the official name change subsequently backslid when it became fashionable to treat the regime as a pariah and demonstrate solidarity with the opposition and its onomastic preferences. Since the not-very-nice regime controlling Burma was much less important in the global scheme of things than the not-very-nice regime controlling mainland China, such a gesture was comparatively low-cost.

    As to Istanbul/Constantinople, Wikipedia tells me that while most other Slavic languages have gone along with the preferences of the Kemalist regime, Slovenian still retains Carigrad (= Tsarigrad) as the standard name.

  56. John Walden said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 8:28 am

    "Ukraine" seems to be gaining over "The Ukraine" :

    and there's some chap called Liberman quoted here:

    But not "The Liberman" it seems.

    Anatoly is not a relative, as far I know, but I do get his mail from time to time.]

  57. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 9:05 am

    And within the Anglophone world, there's at least one toponym change that remains the subject of a live political dispute (with one faction not acquiescing in the newer name) four centuries after the name was officially changed

  58. Brett said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 9:06 am

    @Levantine: I have a hard time taking "Côte d'Ivoire" seriously, because it is so transparently the same exonym, only translated into a different European language (although a European language that is more relevant for the country in question than English). I imagine I am not alone in this.

  59. James Bradbury said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 10:30 am

    The motivation behind this change (titling the Britannica article Xianggang) seems pretty transparent to me: presumably some editor said "make sure all the articles whose titles are in Romanized Chinese use Pinyin." So Mao Tse-tung goes to Mao Zedong, Soochow goes to Suzhou, Canton goes to Guangzhou–and Hong Kong goes to Xianggang.
    It's a matter of a reasonable rule being applied unreasonably and without an understanding of the actual topolectal situation.

  60. Ken Brown said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

    @Levantine, I live in inner south-east London and come across a lot of people ready to use racist insults. And in this environment at least "Roma" definitely tends to mean Eastern European immigrants – who may or may not in fact be Roma. Might be different in an academic situation, but that's how it is on the streets or in the pubs or at football.

    And yes I have heard black Londoners complaining about all these Kossovans/Roma/Romanians/Albanians/Bulgarians/Ukrainians (choose one) coming over here to take our jobs because they work for low wages. And yes, I have heard people slagging of fRomanians (or whoever) in general and then pointing out that the Romanian who works on their site is "good as gold" and works hard and fits in.

    The racist tabloid press presentation of these newcomers doesn't really distinguish between ethnic groups – all are portrayed as feckless welfare scroungers. And at least some people believe what they read in the papers. So I'd be very reluctant to call anyone "Roma" in that sort of context (of course I'd be happy to use the word in an academic context)

    Anecdotal, but I did once ask a gypsy/Romany neighbour what she'd prefer to be called. And the answer was "gypsy". She said she'd recognise "Romany" but its not a word she'd use about herself. (she is settled, and doesn't speak the language – very few people do in Britain, not for a couple of centuries). "Roma" implied foreign, and she's not foreign, her ancestors have been here for centuries. And if anyone called her a pikey she'd smash her glass in their face. But that's only one data point.

    I think there are very few gypsies living near me. For many years there was a Travellers site about 200m from me – recently cleared out to make room for rebuilding the bus station. I don't know where they have gone. Despite being near neighbours I had almost no contact with them. They are hard people to get to know. My daughter used to sit next to one of their kids in school. The school also had a specialist Travellers education unit that tried to keep in contact with sometimes very transient children, and also presented information about Travellers and Gypsies to the settled children.

  61. JS said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

    @ James Bradbury: more or less, though this was a temporary front page, not an article (which is titled "Hong Kong"), thus maybe a spontaneous and especially ill-considered attempt at such "standardization"/"nativization."

    Annotation within the Hong Kong article itself — "[t]he area of Hong Kong (Pinyin: Xianggang; Wade-Giles: Hsiang-kang)," etc. — is also consistent with what you suggest.

  62. Levantine said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

    Ken Brown, thank you for sharing your experiences. As I said, I don't doubt that the issue of nomenclature is complicated and far from settled (if it ever will settle). A bit of Googling just now revealed that "Gypsy Roma Traveller" as a sort of compound term is gaining ground among the wider Traveller community, almost reminding me of LGBTQ (see, for example,

    My own personal experience suggests that someone speaking disparagingly of the Roma (or indeed the Irish Travellers) is likelier to use the term "Gypsies". But again, that's my own experience, and things may have changed since I left the UK. Until I have clearer evidence one way or the other, and considering, as I said, that "Gypsy" is now widely used as an umbrella term for and among all Travellers, I prefer to use Roma when speaking of that particular community (unless, of course, one of its members asked me to use "Gypsy" in relation to him/her, as your neighbour did).

  63. Gus Mackenzie said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 6:01 pm

    The most surprising thing about this article is that there is still an Encyclopedia Britannica.

  64. Rex May said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    GAC, I wasn't attempting to cover the whole subject of changing names, just to speculate about the political-correctness tendency of many to follow the herd in such things, in that they think it so important to use endonyms in some cases, and not think about it at all in others — You hear Mumbai in the media, but never, say, Deutschland. I especially think about NPR announcers, who often try really hard to pronounce "Nicaragua" with that soft Spanish "g," and in the next sentence say kew-buh instead of koo-bah. Generally, I'd say keep the old names to avoid confusion, unless there are really strong reasons to adopt new ones.

  65. Rex May said,

    March 6, 2014 @ 8:12 pm

    And Sudan is no longer the Sudan, except now I guess we can say "the Sudans."

  66. Bob said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    until there is some more conclusive evidence, I would say, EB used a young translator, looking thru his/her translating machine. Thus made (from a Chinese language map) Hong Kong into XiangGung.

  67. Bob said,

    March 7, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

    Actually, this thing goes both ways. I have beaten my brains out, to try to figure out the names of American places, in some current Chinese language articles… OH, HE MEANT UTAH!… etc. The author dis-regarded UTAH has been on published Chinese altars for more decades….

  68. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 10:07 am

    Just to follow up on Levantine's 3/5 post re Greek-airport usage, I happened to be at a church service yesterday evening where the senior clergyman presiding (an Orthodox bishop of Greek-Cypriot birth/upbringing) unselfconsciously used "Constantinople" as the present-day toponym while speaking in English. (He was saying something to the effect of he wanted to convey greetings from the Archbishop, who was out of the country attending an important meeting in Constantinople.) I've certainly seen it in writing (in English) in this sort of ecclesiastical context, and quite possibly heard it before, but I think this thread had primed me to notice it as a particularly interesting idiolect feature.

  69. Levantine said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    J. W. Brewer, I suspect the clergyman you heard was making an ideological point (much in keeping with your Londonderry/Derry example above), though perhaps I'm being unfair and it was an unconscious anglicisation of what he would natively call the city. The Patriarchate of Constantinople is still so called in Greek and English, while the Turkish name (Rum Ortodoks Patrikhanesi), uses the somewhat untranslatable word "Rum" (Roman, i.e. Byzantine), which denotes the Greek community outside Greece proper.

  70. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

    You may well be right about the Londonderry/Derry point, although it would be interesting to have data about the usage of (some relevant subset of) Greek-Americans to see if they use the C-alternative rather than the I-alternative exclusively, or whether both co-exist in their speech/writing, not in free variation but with contextual factors determining which is used. In the particular context it seemed particularly "natural" rather than affected since he was referring to the archbishop having gone off to a meeting at the place where the Patriarchate of Constantinople is headquartered.

    AFAIK, none of the current rival holders of the venerable ecclesiastical title "Patriarch of Antioch" currently reside within the boundaries of the present Turkish nation-state (of the five most respectable claimants, three are based in Damascus and the other two in Beirut), so they have presumably managed to sidestep any Antioch/Antakya disputes.

  71. Stephan Stiller said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

    Your discussion of naming reminds me of the flurry around the name "Macedonia".

  72. Sharon Blankenship said,

    May 30, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    I have a silver colored token about the size of a quarter with the kanji words you described at the top of the page as meaning "fragrant port". Would you have any idea what this would be used for? That is all that is on both sides of the token. Thanks for any help!

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