Xinjiang Uygur

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China Daily News headline:

"Xinjiang Uygur sees big influx of visitors", by Cheng Si (8/7/19)

N.B.:  "Domestic travelers accounted for 98 percent of those visiting the region, while the top three sources of overseas visitors were Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia."

Never mind that it's hard to imagine why tourists would be rushing to the world's largest concentration camp.  The wording of the title left me reeling:  what is this "Xinjiang Uygur" that is seeing a "big influx of visitors"?  As the subject of a passive sentence about an increase of tourists, that locution strikes me as ungrammatical and unidiomatic.  (If they changed the last word and wrote "Xinjiang Uygur sees big influx of borrowings", then I could understand the first two words as referring to the standard Uyghur language of the region.)

I'm not the only person who feels that  way.

From Kyle Olbert:

It does indeed seem ungrammatical, but I think this is a purposeful truncation of “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region” (XUAR).

Salih Hudayar says that this odd headline may be a hint that the Chinese are considering revoking the symbolic and meaningless “Autonomous Region” status of the “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.” The non-standard capitalization in the article itself may reflect this ("Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region", not "Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region").

From my perspective, the motivation may also be similar to that behind Chinese propaganda spouting “China’s Taiwan.”  [VHM:  see "China's"]  The goal seems to be to extend and normalize a linguistic claim over the Uyghur people, in order to undermine the Shərqiy Türkistan "شەرقىي تۈركىستان"or “East Turkestan”) national identity.

This may also be a normative move towards truncating the name further… removing not only the “Autonomous Region” portion of the XUAR’s official name, but also, eventually, the “Uygur” portion as well. Given the steady and intentional alteration of the region’s demography, including birth control policies and a massive influx of Han colonialists, this seems to me to be a certain outcome, eventually.

It’s more important than ever to start calling it “East Turkistan” or “Uyghurstan” (though the latter I find to be exclusionary towards Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, & Tatars, and to lack the historical trappings of the two previous East Turkistan Republics).

Note on the Romanized form of the name ئۇيغۇر

Uyghur — closest reflection of the Perso-Arabic script form (33,100,000 ghits)

Uygur — official in the PRC (9,690,000 ghits)

Uigur (1.530,000 ghits)

Uighur (11,900,000 ghits)



See here for dozens of Wikipedia articles having to do with Uyghur language, people, culture, and history.  There's even a Uyghur Wikipedia that was launched in June of 2012; here's the article on Uyghur language from it.

"Uyghur, Cantonese, and other valuable languages of China " (2/20/16)

"A confusion of languages and names " (7/8/16)

"Gibberish Uyghur " (9/28/09)

"Uyghur basketball player " (6/24/18)

"Uyghur as a "dialect" — NOT " (6/28/13)

"Uyghur as ornament " (9/19/13)

"Uyghur language outlawed in schools of the Uyghur Autonomous Region " (8/1/17)

"American English pronunciation of Uyghur proper nouns " (7/15/09)

"Education in Xinjiang " (1/13/15)

"Pulled noodles: Uyghur läghmän and Mandarin lāmiàn "  (8/8/14)

"'No' in Chinese " (3/19/19)


  1. Bob Ladd said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 1:56 am

    Since this is Language Log, home to Geoff Pullum's many diatribes about people complaining about "passive" sentences, it doesn't seem out of place to point out that the headline in question is, um, not a "passive sentence".

  2. maidhc said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 5:21 am

    When I was younger I seem to recall the term "Chinese Turkestan". Is this a usage that should be revived, or abandoned?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 7:28 am

    @Bob Ladd

    I guess you're right about it not being a passive sentence, but I was not complaining about it being a passive sentence.

  4. Rodger C said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 8:37 am

    While we're at it, is it now acceptable usage to refer to Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia as being "overseas" from East Turkistan?

  5. Ben Lowsen said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 8:52 am

    For what it's worth as an example, the National Geographic map of China from 2008 called "Journey of Rock and Water" has the autonomous regions (besides Tibet) labeled in that way, i.e. "Xinjiang Uygur." To me, it looks truncated and illiterate – more suitable to name a restaurant than a region. The Chinese name, 新疆维吾尔自治区 (Xinjiang Weiwu'er Zizhiqu, or Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), clearly ties autonomy to the ethnic minority. I can see no reason to detach the first two words other than ignorance of their meaning. If anything, one should simply use the word "Xinjiang." The NG map does have "Autonomous region" in parentheses in much smaller letters below "Xinjiang Uygur," "Guangxi Zhuang," etc. The un-capitalized "region" further reinforces the author's ignorance of what the area is called in Chinese. In most ways, it is the high quality of map I expect from NG, but in this particular it shows ignorance. This may very well have come from Chinese state information, although it may be more a factor of incompetent translation than a program to minimize ethnic minorities.

  6. mollymooly said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 9:20 am

    As regards grammaticality/idiomaticity of truncations, cf. languagelog on "Playing for the Dominican", "skiing in Czech", "working in Saudi"; although those were all single-word adjectives and hence constituents, which "Xinjiang Uygur" is not.

    As regards being a "move towards truncating the name further", it is already the case that "Xinjiang" tout court is (far?) more common in general English sources than any of "Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region", "XUAR", or "Xinjiang Uygur"; is this one-word form never encountered in official PRC English?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 11:01 am

    From an anonymous commenter:

    Bob Ladd is absolutely right. Calling Xinjiang Uygur sees big influx of visitors a "passive sentence" is a howler. It's a simple active transitive. The same syntax as One of our customers saw the thief:

    One of our customers saw the thief. [ACTIVE]
    The thief was seen by one of our customers. [PASSIVE]

    Geoff Pullum's article "Fear and loathing of the English passive" is entirely devoted to defining the notion "passive clause" and exhibiting dozens of cases of people who, in published works, have shown that they can't tell passives from actives. Strunk and White couldn't, for example. And unfortunately you are likewise blind to the distinction. Pullum has tried to find a common property to all the different active transitive and intransitive clauses that people have misidentifed as passive, but he doesn't think there is any such common property: people just say a sentence is passive when they don't like it, or get a funny feeling about it, or think it's wordy and could have been better expressed. You could replace "passive" in what they say by "stylistically bad in my opinion, in some way that I'm afraid I am not able to delineate".

    As it happens, your headline is an active that doesn't have a passive alternant. The special sense of see we find when a time period is said to "see" some occurrence (1974 saw the resignation of the US president) happens not to occur in the passive; but that's not relevant here. There are any number of active clauses of the same kind:

    Suddenly John had an idea. [GRAMMATICAL ACTIVE]
    *Suddenly an idea was had by John. [UNGRAMMATICAL PASSIVE]

    The fish weighed nearly a hundred pounds. [GRAMMATICAL ACTIVE]
    *Nearly a hundred pounds were weighed by the fish. [UNGRAMMATICAL PASSIVE]

    That hat really suits you. [GRAMMATICAL ACTIVE]
    *You are really suited by that hat. [UNGRAMMATICAL PASSIVE]

    That short period saw more protests than ever before. [GRAMMATICAL ACTIVE]
    *More protests than ever before were seen by that short period. [UNGRAMMATICAL PASSIVE]

  8. Jerry Packard said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 11:57 am

    The headline may be analyzed as passive if 'sees' is interpreted as 'experiences.' : Big influx of visitors is experienced by Xinjiang. > Xinjiang experienced a big influx of visitors.

  9. Ellen K. said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 12:15 pm

    "big influx of visitors" doesn't strike me as wrong.

    What does strike me is the "overseas visitors" from foreign countries that are on the same continent. Which seems to me very much an error. (Also pointed out above by Rodger C.)

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 2:23 pm

    I find neither *Suddenly an idea was had by John" nor "*More protests than ever before were seen by that short period" to be ungrammatical sensu stricto; both are certainly stylistically debatable, but are they actually ungrammatical ?

  11. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 9:37 pm

    From dako-xiaweiyi:

    The song at the URL was produced in Indonesia. It's in English:

    The singers refer to "Uygur" as a place. E.g., the chorus is, "We will not go down in Uygur tonight."

    They could have sung "Turkestan" or "Xinjiang," both would have fit into the phrasing, but they sang "Uygur."

    It seems that in some English dialects, "Uygur" is a place.

  12. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 2:53 am

    I'm tempted to read it as some particular Uygur individual from Xinjiang is witnessing the influx.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 6:50 am

    From dako-xiaweiyi:

    The song originally is an anti-Israel song written by Los Angeles singer Michael Heart. Instead of "Uygur," Mr. Heart sang of "Gaza." It was posted on Youtube in 2009.

    Earlier this year, an Indonesian group, "R1 Band," recorded the version I posted with "Uygur" substituted for "Gaza." It went viral on Facebook in Southeast Asia. Mr. Heart contacted Facebook and demanded they take it down because it infringed on his intellectual property. They did. However this lower quality version survives on Youtube:

    Subsequently, others demanded that Youtube take down Mr. Heart's video because it has offensive content. Youtube did. However a version survives on Shia TV here:

    The imagery is pretty grim.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 10:47 pm

    From a colleague:

    The Gaza song is still on Youtube in many places:

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