A confusion of languages and names

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Xinjiang  新疆 (lit., "New Frontiers / Borders / Boundaries") is the northwesternmost and largest (one sixth of the whole country) among all of China's 34 provincial-level administrative units.  It got its present official name in the 1880s under the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but it has also been called, among other names, "Western Regions", Eastern Turkestan, and Uyghurstan.  When suitable, I prefer to refer to this region as Eastern Central Asia (ECA), since the latter designation is purely geographical in nature and has no political implications.

Xinjiang is home to speakers of Uyghur, Mandarin, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongolian, Oirat, Tajik, Sibe (also transcribed as Xibe, Xibo, and Sibo; related to Manchu), Russian, Tibetan, Tatar, and 38 other languages.  Since these groups interact with each other for commercial, governmental, social, and cultural purposes, there is bound to be some slippage and misunderstanding when they communicate.

In this post, I will just mention two such items that came to my attention in the course of my reading of the news this morning.

The first — of major consequences — is from this BBC article:

"China: Xinjiang government to 'clear up' ethnic names" by Kerry Allen (7/8/16)

It seems that the Chinese authorities find non-Han names to be difficult to deal with because they tend to be long and divided into two or more distinct segments, whereas Han names are usually only two or three syllables long and are not visually or spatially broken up into component parts.  Although the article is not clear about exactly what the Chinese government is going to do to "clear up" what they perceive to be a problem of lack of standardization of non-Han names, I suspect that they will resort to at least the following three methods:

1. interpunctuation, i.e., the use of an (·) to separate the parts of a person's name (this practice is already in wide use, but not all computer systems seem to support it, so the authorities will probably want to make sure that it is available in all computers in all government offices)

2. discomfort over what the authorities perceive to be the excessive length of non-Han names will probably lead to the elision of many syllables, but that can be tricky, because — if it is done arbitrarily — people could end up with some infelicitous designations on their passport, identity card, and so on

3. a greater effort to standardize the Chinese character transcription of names from other scripts; as we have seen in recent posts (e.g., here and here), establishing consistency and appropriateness for character transcriptions is no mean feat

Incidentally, this morning when I looked at the cited BBC article, it had a different photograph at the top.  I wrote the following to a widely subscribed Xinjiang listserve about it:

…the photograph accompanying this article is embarrassing because it shows Tibetan writing, but identifies it as Uyghur.  Judging from his clothing, the child [who is writing on the blackboard] seems to be a Tibetan, not a Uyghur.

Since the change was made within a few hours of the time I noted the problem, somebody on the list, perhaps someone from BBC itself, must have quickly informed BBC, causing them to switch the photo.

The second item is related to the first, in that it deals with the truncation of a Uyghur name.

"35 killed in landslide in China's Xinjiang province:  Mudslide also cut off electricity and telecommunications in the remote village" by Press Trust of India (7/8/16)

For centuries, the world has known the westernmost sizable city of ECA as Kashgar قەشقەر.  Since the establishment of the PRC, it has come to be called Kāshí 喀什 by the Chinese government.  Kāshí 喀什 is a shortened form of Kāshígé'ěr 喀什噶尔, which is obviously a Chinese character transcription of Kashgar,  This is the sort of lopping off of what the Chinese authorities consider to be excessively long non-Han names that we can expect them to apply to personal names as well.

As a concrete example of how that will likely play out, here is the name of the great 11th-century Uyghur lexicographer of the Turkic languages from Kashgar:  Mahmud ibn Hussayn ibn Muhammed al-Kashgari (Arabic: محمود بن الحسين بن محمد الكاشغري‎‎ – Maḥmūd ibnu 'l-Ḥussayn ibn Muḥammad al-Kāšġarī; Turkish: Mahmûd bin Hüseyin bin Muhammed El Kaşgari, Kaşgarlı Mahmûd; Uyghur: مەھمۇد قەشقىرى‎).  In English, he is usually referred to as Mahmud al-Kashgari.  In Chinese, he is called Máhèmùdé·kāshígálǐ 麻赫穆德·喀什噶里.  As long as we don't think about the meaning of any of those morphosyllables, that's a pretty decent Sinitic transcription of the key components of the scholar's name.  However, if the current authorities encounter someone with a name like that that they think is excessively long, the poor bloke might end up being, at best, Máhè·kāshí 麻赫·喀什 or some other permutation of Máhèmùdé·kāshígálǐ 麻赫穆德·喀什噶里.  We still don't know how all of this "clearing up" is going to play out in practice.

I have a good friend in Xinjiang whose name is Idris Abdursul (I think that his full name is actually longer than that).  The Chinese transcription of  Idris Abdursul is Yīdìlìsī·ābùdūrèsūlè 伊弟利斯·阿不都热苏 勒, but everybody I know calls him (in Chinese) Yīdìlìsī 伊弟利斯; I've never heard any Chinese speaker attempt to say ābùdūrèsūlè 阿不都热苏勒

The reason I mention all of this is to give a sense of where Yecheng (Karghilik or Karghalik, also known as Chokkuka; again, more complexities of naming in Xinjiang), the site where the massive mudslide occurred, is located. Kashgar lies 249 km to the northwest of Yecheng.

Personal peeve:  As a teacher and scholar of Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, I am not a fan of the simplified characters.  Yet, for contemporary Chinese Studies, they are a fact of life, so I have no choice but to use them when discussing matters related to the People's Republic of China, where they constitute the official writing system.  My peeve is that, inasmuch as the PRC simplified thousands of characters, I can't understand why they didn't also simplify the jiāng 疆 of Xīnjiāng 新疆.  Since I spent about twenty years of my life travelling extensively in that part of the world and having to write that character by hand countless times, I actually grew to detest it.  Not only does it have 19 strokes (some people count it as having even more strokes), they are arrayed in such a way that they are very troublesome to write clearly (you have to pick your pen up many times, cross other strokes carefully, make numerous angular strokes, and so on).  It's so time consuming and annoying to have to write jiāng 疆 that many people (even on signs) simply substitute the simple, homophonous, 6-stroke character jiāng 江 ("river") for it.  And while they were at it, why didn't they simplify jiē 街 ("street"), which people often have to write when noting down addresses?  And wǔ 舞 ("dance").  And hundreds of other troublesome, relatively high frequency characters of this sort?  All of them have informal abbreviated forms, but the character police and teachers will penalize you if you use them in a public setting, in school, and so on.



29 Comments

  1. F. said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 8:15 am

    Good article. Thanks for sharing about whats going on in the land of northern china. Here in Macau and HK (also Taiwan), luckily, we are still using traditional chinese, as you may know for sure. Which, to be quite honest, is really an art. As a translator, I love traditional chinese characters. And hopefully, it will be kept for many many years. Otherwise, one day it will be lost just like Cantonese is dying.

  2. Richard Futrell said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 10:05 am

    How do Chinese speakers who do not know other languages perceive these long foreign words? Do they realize that they are the result of transcription into Chinese's highly restricted phonology, or do they just think foreign languages are extremely verbose?

  3. liuyao said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 10:30 am

    I'm sure you know there was a second batch of simplified characters, among which are

    疆 -> 畺
    街 -> 亍
    舞 -> 午

    It was in use between 1977 and 1986. If they had been put out when Mao was alive, we may very well end up using them.

    In handwriting, I'd think the right half of 疆 can be done in one stroke (as I just did on touchscreen) and still be legible.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 10:48 am

    "the right half of 疆 can be done in one stroke"

    I'd love to see that single stroke.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 10:57 am

    "If they had been put out when Mao was alive, we may very well end up using them."

    This sentence is unclear. If that second batch of simplified characters had been promulgated when Mao was alive, of course we would be using them.

  6. Alexander Sugar said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 11:30 am

    My personal pet peeve is commercial airlines and other businesses choosing to translate Chinese transcriptions rather than original Uyghur place names into English. On my latest flight into Urumchi, the stewardess pronounced it [wulumuki] in the English translation of announcements.

  7. Tom Bishop said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 1:31 pm

    Dì-èr Cì Hànzì Jiǎnhuà Fāng'àn 第二次汉字简化方案[—漢-簡—] n. Second Scheme for Hanzi Simplification (issued in 1977 and abolished in 1986)

    Few publications ever used it. I vaguely recall seeing, in 1986 or 1987, hand-painted signs that did.

    Since the 20th-century standardization work was a compromise between conservative and progressive extremes, it's often criticized both for going too far, and for not going far enough. It's mostly defined by two documents:

    Dì-yī Pī Yìtǐzì Zhěnglǐ Biǎo 第一批异体字整理表[—異體—-] n. First Batch of Tabulated Variant Forms of Chinese Characters (PRC standard published 1955)

    Jiǎnhuàzì Zǒngbiǎo 简化字总表[簡–總-] n. Complete List of Simplified Characters (PRC standard published 1964)

    This site shows examples of 疆 in which 畺 has not very many strokes:

    http://shufa.guoxuedashi.com/7586/

    It's not clear how to count strokes in cursive script. You can't always tell whether the brush left the paper, or continued on a path where there was already ink.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

    The Manchu dynasty did not call the area Xinjiang, because hanyu pinyin did not yet exist. More to the point the good old postal-map name Sinkiang (still used in Western atlases as of my own boyhood in the 1970's) is not merely a different romanization of the same underlying Sinitic name but seems to reflect a variant pronunciation from the current MSM pronunciation transliterated as Xinjiang.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

    @J.W. Brewer

    If we followed your strictures, we would not be able to use Hanyu Pinyin to write about anything in Chinese history before the 1950s when it was devised and promulgated.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 6:44 pm

    Leaving aside the many reasons why Western sinologists should be embarrassed about having changing their own spelling conventions such that every scholarly work published in the field in English prior to the 1980's is now unnecessarily hard for new students to read, my point is a separate one in this particular instance. It's perhaps a good example of the difficulties with any and all attempts at phonetic script. You can't transcribe 新疆 into a phonetic script unless you know how it is pronounced, and if it is not pronounced uniformly in the original language due to dialect variation you need to make an arbitrary choice. While Xin- and Sin- may have just been different romanizations of the same sounds, -jiang and -kiang aren't, with the former reflecting Beijing dialect and the latter perhaps reflecting Nanking dialect (at least that of a century or two ago). Of course, this is not a unique problem posed by the non-alphabetic Chinese writing system, because the same issue arises with romanization from other alphabetic systems, e.g. whether to transliterate Greek betas as B's (the longstanding convention in English) or as V's (which more faithfully approximates modern Greek pronunciation).

  11. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 7:43 pm

    @J.W. Brewer

    You're right about the switch from Nanking / Nanjing topolect to Peking / Beijing topolect, but that's a political issue, and can't be blamed on any particular romanization. Moreover, the change from -kiang to -jiang is both a historical and a regional shift, one for which there is a precise name, palatalization of the velars, as briefly explained here:

    "General Tso's chikin" (6/11/13)

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4682

    =====

    Naturally, in the countless other Sinitic topolects, jī 雞 / 鷄 / 鸡 ["chicken"] has many other pronunciations. Here I will mention only Cantonese gai1 (sounds like "guy"), which will be familiar to those who frequent Chinatown restaurants. One might well ask how Mandarin jī and Cantonese gai1 are related and can both be legitimate pronunciations for 雞 / 鷄 / 鸡. Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that the evolution of jī from an earlier stage is part of the palatalization of the velars that started in the northeast over three centuries ago and is gradually moving southward, having reached about to the Yangtze River.

    Whoever wrote 几 for 雞 / 鷄 / 鸡 on that sign at the Nippon Grill and Seafood Buffet was bearing witness to the primacy of sound over shape in writing systems. Sometimes Chinese characters are just too hard for people to write "correctly", in which case they simply write whatever they think sounds closest to what they want to say. Of course, the same thing happens in English and other languages too, which is why we have so many misspellings of "difficult" words.
    =====

    The questions you are raising, though, are both legitimate and important.

  12. Michael Watts said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 9:33 pm

    Leaving aside the many reasons why Western sinologists should be embarrassed about having changing their own spelling conventions such that every scholarly work published in the field in English prior to the 1980's is now unnecessarily hard for new students to read

    Why should they be embarrassed about this? If China provides a standard for transcribing the characters, why wouldn't we use it?

  13. Victor Mair said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 7:54 am

    Some random thoughts about 畺 as consisting of only a single stroke:

    1. That's like an yībǐ shòu zì 一筆壽字 ("one stroke 'longevity' character"), which I would normally think of as having 14 strokes.

    2. If 畺 and 壽 may be said to have only one stroke, then practically any character could be written with one stroke (cf. #7 and #8 below).

    3. In this sense of producing a character without lifting your pen or finger off the surface on which you are writing, it might be better to think of it as "a single line" rather than "a single stroke".

    4. When you produce 畺 and 壽 without taking your pen, brush, or finger off the surface upon which you are writing, that is not the same process as writing characters according to the canonical strokes.

    5. "A basic stroke is a single calligraphic mark moving in one direction across a writing surface." There are nine basic strokes and up to thirty or so distinct stroke types if you add in compounds of basic strokes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stroke_(CJKV_character)#Basic_strokes

    =====

    Easy shape-based Chinese dictionary lookup / entry systems do not exist because there are too many (potentially an infinite number, since the system is open-ended) characters composed of a severely restricted inventory of basic strokes (somewhere between 6 and 8, but usually no more than 10 — it all depends on how you count them — some people even claim that there are as many as 30 different strokes, but most of those beyond 10 are merely variants of the main few types); people argue endlessly over this aspect of the Chinese writing system too. The character yǒng 永 ("forever; everlasting; eternal; always; perpetual [!]) is supposed to embody all eight different types of strokes. How that is possible when 永 has only 5 strokes is a mystery of mysteries!

    =====

    Quoted from "Stroke order inputting" (10/30/11).

    6. From a specialist on the Chinese writing system:

    =====

    If you define "stroke" as "one continuous motion without lifting the pen", then perhaps yes [畺 may be said to have "one stroke"]. But that's not what we mean by "stroke." I suppose cursive alphabet writing can sort of be written without lifting the pen, except for dotting the i's and j's, but it wouldn't be standard. And, BTW, for most 草书 ["cursive script"], such connected characters verge on illegible.

    =====

    7. There is a term in Chinese calligraphy, yī bǐ shū 一笔书, which implies that writing is done without ever lifting the from the writing surface, but if you look at some examples of this type of cursive calligraphy, you can see that even here the supposed "single stroke" is broken / separated in places.

    http://baike.baidu.com/view/309184.htm

    8. There's even a calligraphy school in Jilin called Jílín yī bǐ zì 吉林一笔字 that teaches people just how to do this (supposedly legibly), so it's definitely a thing.

    9. The idea that a character like cuàn 爨 ("oven; cooking stove; cook" — graphically "rise" + two "trees" + "big" + "fire"), nàng 齉 ("stoppage of the nose that causes one to speak with a nasal twang" — graphically "nose" + "bag" [that's a funny hybrid]), tà 龘 ("appearance of a dragon walking" — three dragon characters joined as one), or even the 畺 component discussed above can be written legibly with a single stroke amounts to a figment of the imagination. It is extremely difficult to write them legibly with the number of strokes that they actually do have, respectively 29, 36, 48, and 14. And these are by no means the hardest, most stroke dense characters in existence. See, for example "The Hardest Chinese Characters".

    When you trace characters like 爨, 齉, or 龘, and 畺 with a single line, you're still writing all the strokes of which they are originally composed. The only difference is that you're running (xíng 行) them all together, like cursive for Latin letters. If you didn't trace all of those strokes of which the character was originally composed, how would your Pleco recognize it?

    BOTTOM LINE:

    Some characters are complicated, very hard to remember, and very difficult to write within the same small square; some characters are simple, easy to remember, and a snap to write within the same small square. It is reductionist to imply that all characters are equally easy to write (as though they were all composed of one stroke, just because you can scribble them without lifting your writing instrument from the surface). The very fact that informally many people use unofficial simplified characters attests to their avoidance of those that are difficult to remember, take too much time to write, or are just too hard to fit in those small boxes.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 8:52 am

    From John Rohsenow:

    You may wish to look at my:

    "The Second Chinese Character Simplification Scheme" in
    Interntl Jrl of the Sociology of Language vol 59, May 1986,
    pp. 73-85.

  15. languagehat said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 9:22 am

    If China provides a standard for transcribing the characters, why wouldn't we use it?

    But on the other hand, why would we? There are arguments to be made on both sides of this particular issue, but no government can, or should be able to, force anyone outside their borders to say or do anything any particular way; the remaining argument is moral suasion, and frankly the moral position of the Chinese government (or, in my view, of any government) is not a strong one. I think particularly of the push to get Westerners to call Burma "Myanmar" (which, among other things, is virtually unpronounceable for the untrained English speaker), simply because the repellent Burmese government of the day had so decreed, and even though Aung San Suu Kyi, virtually canonized in the West at the time, preferred "Burma." Automatic deference to any and all mandates of any and all governments is not something I like to see in my fellow humans.

  16. Chris Kern said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 10:02 am

    I agree; there's a decent argument that romanizations intended for foreign consumption should be targeted more at helping foreigners pronounce the words than anything else. This is why we learned about the "Fukushima dai ichi" nuclear plant and not the "Hukusima dai iti" plant.

  17. Rodger C said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 11:50 am

    I suppose cursive alphabet writing can sort of be written without lifting the pen, except for dotting the i's and j's, but it wouldn't be standard.

    In fact I, along with millions of other Americans of my generation, was taught to write cursive in that laborious way. I've read since then (perhaps here) that this practice dated from the training of scriveners. I suspect it's one of the reasons cursive writing fell into desuetude.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

    It's not my impression that hanyu pinyin was as a historical matter devised primarily for foreign consumption (unlike the postal map system for romanizing toponyms, which to a significant extent was). That's part of the problem specific to the adoption of hanyu pinyin to render toponyms (and also personal names etc) in English texts. Word-initial x- that does not match up with the pronunciation associated with (typically rare) word-initial x- in any of the world's major traditionally latin-scripted languages is a good example. "Xin" is imho objectively a more puzzling rendering of ㄒㄧㄣ for foreign consumption than pretty much any alternative romanization out there (outside of perhaps the psychedelic world of Gwoyeu Romatzyh). If you're a monolingual Mandarin speaker being taught a phonetic script in school and "X" is just some arbitrary glyph you have no prior exposure to, then it's less of a problem. And if you're a Western scholar who is personally fluent in Mandarin you will at some point internalize the conventions so it no longer matters for you personally. It just matters for your not-fluent-in-Mandarin non-specialist Western readers, if you hope to have any.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 1:00 pm

    (Let me supplement the former comment by acknowledging that word-initial "x" representing ʃ is common in modern Portuguese orthography. A hypothetical romanization system adopted in China 400+ years ago could plausibly have given Portuguese orthographic conventions more weight than English/French/German/etc conventions, but by the time hanyu pinyin was being adopted you would not think that Lusophones would be the primary foreigners you would want to cater to, if catering to foreigners was among your desiderata.)

  20. Victor Mair said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 1:33 pm

    From liuyao:

    新疆 in cursive


  21. Michael Watts said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 4:14 pm

    there's a decent argument that romanizations intended for foreign consumption should be targeted more at helping foreigners pronounce the words than anything else. This is why we learned about the "Fukushima dai ichi" nuclear plant and not the "Hukusima dai iti" plant.

    This is completely inapplicable to the complaint that "scholarly work published in the field in English prior to the 1980's is now unnecessarily hard for new students to read".

    Unrelatedly, my experience of anime dialog and hearing actual Japanese people speak in person is that "hu" is just as accurate a transcription as "fu" would be; I don't see much virtue in choosing one over the other on the basis of sound.

    If China provides a standard for transcribing the characters, why wouldn't we use it?

    But on the other hand, why would we? […] the moral position of the Chinese government (or, in my view, of any government) is not a strong one. […] Automatic deference to any and all mandates of any and all governments is not something I like to see in my fellow humans.

    Because we always preserve the spelling of foreign words in latin characters where that spelling exists. We don't spell Vladimir Putin's surname as "Poochin", despite that this would yield more accurate American pronunciation, despite that we view the moral position of the Russian government as very low, and despite that the actual orthography of the name is Пу́тин. We currently represent French words and names using their native spelling regardless of the fact that it is almost impossible for uneducated Americans to pronounce correctly. And if France chose to implement spelling reform, I have no doubt that instructional materials, journalistic coverage, and scholarly work would all switch over to New French Spelling. (Barring perhaps instruction in, and coverage of, Canada.) It would be an inconvenience that older scholarly work used a radically different spelling system, but these things happen from time to time.

  22. languagehat said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 5:00 pm

    Because we always preserve the spelling of foreign words in latin characters where that spelling exists.

    You're not responding to my point, and you're introducing irrelevancies. Of course we don't spell Putin "Poochin" — that's not an existing spelling, it's a straw man. We spelled Peking Peking because that was the way we'd spelled it for a very long time (it was an existing spelling); we suddenly started spelling it Beijing because the Chinese government said "Jump" and we obediently jumped. Same with Burma/Myanmar — we chucked a perfectly good existing spelling to satisfy the demand of a government that was repressing its own people. And come on, French?? At least try to be relevant to the issue.

  23. Michael Watts said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

    And come on, French?? At least try to be relevant to the issue.

    What issue are you talking about? The issue of continuity in scholarly references is doomed — there is no argument for continuity. The issue of whether the particular city should be referred to as Peking or Beijing is not doomed, but it's also not the issue I responded to.

    I'm going to assume you're not claiming that we should preserve Wade-Giles transcription for all use of Chinese, including language instruction. There really are arguments for keeping names as they are. But, while maintaining references to Cheng Ho rather than Zheng He will avoid confusing people who are reading a wide range of Chinese history and have no knowledge of Chinese, it's going to be very confusing to everyone who knows how to transcribe 郑和. And maintaining references to Li K'o-ch'iang (or K'e-chiang?) rather than Li Keqiang for the sake of scholastic continuity makes no sense; it's always been Li Keqiang.

    But if you're prepared to concede on Li K'o-ch'iang, you've conceded that scholastic continuity isn't going to happen at all.

  24. languagehat said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

    We seem to be talking past each other; you're focused on continuity in scholarly references, while I'm focused on the general issue of how to represent non-Latin scripts in English and to what extent, if at all, we should change established versions because of the whims of national governments. Since we're not interested in the same things, we can probably just concede the value of each other's perspectives and let it go at that.

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 7:39 pm

    Well, I was the one who introduced the scholarly-continuity point. It is a fair point that given that there was, in actual fact, a break in continuity, and we are now several decades past it, there is now no simple solution to cleaning up the existing mess. My personal belief that the scholarly community (plus other constituencies in the West such as journalists and the publishers of maps/atlases) was foolish or worse in acquiescing to and implementing the break does not yield a particular program for reform now. Other than perhaps idiosyncratic individual refusal to conform to the new dispensation, as we see fit, in personal writings that are not subject to copy-editing by the minions of the regime.

    Obviously individual immigrants to the U.S. of Chinese origin are free to adopt whatever romanized spelling they want of their own names, and we are able to manage perfectly well when they don't all voluntarily take the same approach. Any future history of Chinese-Americans is going to have e.g. some Hsaios and some Xiaos, with no more need for uniformity there is for a history of German-Americans to impose uniform spelling on the various Millers, Mullers, and Muellers in the index.

  26. P.-T. Fan said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 11:06 pm

    Some thoughts as a native Mandarin speaker:
    1. Chinese have an innate aversion to long transliterated words that don't actually mean anything in Chinese, hence the desire to shorten them. This is perhaps because Chinese is written without space in between distinct terms (a problem that Japanese tries to grapple with as well), making long incomprehensible words an awkward fit for people used to the linguistic structure imposed by the language itself.

    2. One shouldn't overlook that fact that by transliterating Abdursul into 阿不都热苏勒 (A-bu-du-re-su-le), one is in effect doubling the number of vowels in the name (from 3 to 6), making it more difficult to memorise and pronounce. It's not just that Mandarin speakers are used to pronounce names with less than three syllables.

  27. JK said,

    July 11, 2016 @ 8:52 am

    Here's one article describing the "standardization" measures: http://wap.urumqi.gov.cn/zwyw/276531.htm
    人名中的间隔号与小数点混用或省略;谐音字、同音字混用;人名顺 序颠倒或缺失;音译人名时加字减字或使用多音字
    They include misplacement of the dot separating names, use of similar sounding Chinese characters, getting the wrong name order, and adding or removing Chinese characters when transliterating names
    They don't mention whether the list of banned names will be carried out region-wide.

    One thing about Uyghur names is that one convention is apparently to use the father's surname for the child's given name, so the concept of a surname is different than in Chinese.

    I'm curious as to who is in charge of the place names for Xinjiang over at Google Maps, I have seen the name for Hami switch between Hami and Kumul. Most other place names use the Uyghur spelling, but there are still some that use pinyin like Shufu and Shule.

  28. David Marjanović said,

    July 11, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

    In fact I, along with millions of other Americans of my generation, was taught to write cursive in that laborious way. I've read since then (perhaps here) that this practice dated from the training of scriveners. I suspect it's one of the reasons cursive writing fell into desuetude.

    Laborious? I hate having to lift my hand when I write.

    I'm not American, though; I was taught cursive as actual handwriting, not as calligraphy. I was never taught to draw printed letters by hand at all.

    the actual orthography of the name is Пу́тин

    Accents are only used in lexicographical works, like Wikipedia headwords. Everywhere else you're on your own when it comes to guessing which syllables to stress.

  29. Rodger C said,

    July 11, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

    @David Marjanović: "Laborious" may not be the right word, but it was sometimes a trial of my patience to write long words while being told "Don't lift your pen! Don't lift your pen!" The apparently overwhelming importance of this escaped me.

    I was taught printed letters first, and then an early-twentieth-century cursive, taught this way, came as an unpleasant surprise, almost like having to switch alphabets. When I was twenty I discovered italic chancery hand and adopted it immediately, largely because I could see for the first time its clear derivation from printed letters (and, in the other direction, its degeneration into the script I'd been taught).

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