Cartographic cacophony

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Zach Hershey sent in photographs of a map on the wall of an Ethiopian restaurant on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Here's one:

I cringe when I see maps like this, and I've been seeing more and more of them over the last twenty or thirty years, even from reputable organizations like National Geographic.

In the photograph above, you can see "Kyzylkum Desert" and the "Taklimakan Shamo" (from Mandarin "shāmò 沙漠" ("desert"), as well as the "Karakoram Range" and "Kunlun Shan" (from Mandarin "shān" ("mountain"). Also visible are the Sinitically truncated "Kashi" for "Kashgar" and the mixed Mandarin Uyghur "Tarim He" (hé 河 ["river"]). In contrast to thoroughly Mandarin "Kashi", they have mostly Uyghur "Ürümqi" instead of Mandarin Wūlǔmùqí 乌鲁木齐. If they were trying to spell Tiānshān 天山 ("Heavenly Mountains; Tenğri tağ") in a Mandarin fashion, then it should have been "Tian Shan", not "Tien Shan". In parentheses under "Tibet" (at least they didn't write Mandarinized "Tufan" or "Tubo", which I've seen on other maps), they have "Xizang Zizhiqu", i.e., "Xīzàng zìzhìqū 西臧自治区" ["Xizang / Tibet Autonomous Region"]).

There are all sorts of other oddities in the way place names are spelled on this map, only a small portion of which is reproduced here, and not just for areas under the control of the PRC.

And here's information about the map. Note that it comes from an Australian company. Who is the intended audience?

(Click to embiggen)

Eagle-eyed Language Log readers can undoubtedly spot other anomalies in the place names on the map.  It will take a lot of work to clean up the pseudo-Chinese usages from world maps prepared for people who speak other languages.

This map is neither fish nor fowl, bùsānbùsì 不三不四 (lit., "not three not four", i.e., "neither one thing nor another").


  1. Leo E said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 2:38 am

    Speaking of National Geographic and Xinjiang names, the cover of the Chinese Nat Geo (華夏地理) in August last year featured Kashgar and in the spirit of harmoniousness provided the name of the city in Uyghur script: كاشغەر kašġär. Except in accordance with Turkic phonology (vowel and consonant harmony), this is kind of an abomination as it combines the -är of the Uyghur name قەشقەر qäšqär with (Arabic?) كاشغ kašġ; the front vowel ä should not follow the back consonant ġ, and I think the ġ should anyway be a q after the š. There should also be either two a vowels or two ä vowels. However, kašġär is apparently now a way to write the name of the city, though I don't know how that happened. For what it's worth, كاشغەر (kašġär) results in approx. 6,500 ghits and قەشقەر (qäšqär) in 326,000.

  2. John Walden said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 2:58 am

    What's a Straatsgrenze? Is it a street separating Holland from Germany?

    At least they can spell "centred" the correct (and British) way.

  3. maidhc said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 4:11 am

    In these parts, on one of the high-numbered TV channels, we have an English-language news program with a definite PRC slant. I gather these are being provided at low cost to TV stations all around the world. Is this something related?

    I heard that the name of the Taklamakan Desert meant "goes in, doesn't come out". Folk etymology or urban legend?

  4. Bmblbzzz said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    "John Walden said,
    December 2, 2015 @ 2:58 am

    What's a Straatsgrenze? Is it a street separating Holland from Germany?

    At least they can spell "centred" the correct (and British) way."

    There is such a street! One side is in the Netherlands, the other in Germany. It dates from a border settlement in one of the 1815 treaties (I'm afraid I can't remember which one or which town). However, I don't think that's what they have in mind here. ;)

  5. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 10:34 am

    @ Bmblbzzz
    This is probably Baarle-Nassau (q. G.), where the border between Netherlands and Belgium is on a house-by-house basis. Enclaves and exclaves galore.

  6. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 10:52 am

    Nope — It's Dinxperlo (NL) / Suderwick (DE)

    Here's a great site:
    Sorry, Dutch & German only

  7. The Tumbleweed Farm said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 1:38 pm

    "Who is the intended audience?" – HEMA Maps is a major map publisher in Australia, similar to Rand McNally or Hagstrom in the US. So I assume this is a fairly "general purpose" map, sold in bookstores throughout Australia to Australia's general public. How it got to Philadelhia, though, remains a puzzle – I don't often see HEMA products in US bookstores, other than specialty items (maps of Australian states etc). Maybe some American bookstore imported it along with other (more-Australia specific) HEMA products because they thought that a "Pacific-centered" map is unusual.

  8. Bmblbzzz said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

    Great site, thanks for the tip. I think it was actually Kerkrade / Herzogenrath I had in mind, but that site shows it's more common than you'd think. Oh, and the site seems to be working in English (and several other languages) for me.

  9. Mark Mandel said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

    I am geographically quite handicapped, but I gather that part of the point of the third paragraph is that the same topographical entity is labeled twice, in different languages, as if the labels referred to separate things: e.g., "Kyzylkum Desert" in Uzbekistan and "Taklimakan Shamo" in China, apparently separated by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

  10. Chris C. said,

    December 2, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

    @maidhc — Wikipedia provides two possible etymologies for "Taklamakan", neither of which is what you'd heard.

  11. Thomas Rees said,

    December 3, 2015 @ 2:49 am

    The legend has "centred" twice and "centered" once. It also has "division administrativo" for "división administrativa". Sloppy.
    Apparently the map was generated from a Bartholomew database. The venerable Edinburgh firm John Bartholomew and Son was taken over in 1989 by HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation. As concerns the PRC, Rupert Murdoch has form. Ask Lord Patten.

  12. Edward Bear said,

    December 9, 2015 @ 9:22 pm

    Language aside, the cartographic industry is a bit of a joke. I won't elaborate, because it's not really pertinent to LL, but maps are generally awful, and certainly getting no better (yes, even the esteemed Nat Geo).

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