Exonym / Endonym

Just a quick bit of lexicon this morning:

Exonym [Greek – ἔξω, éxō, “out” + ὄνομα, ónoma, “name”]

An exonym is a name referring to an ethnic group (ethnonym), language (glossonym), place (toponym), or person that is used by people outside said group.  The United Nations defines exonym as the name used in a specific language for a geographical feature situated outside the area where that language is spoken, and differing in its form from the name used in an official or well-established language of that area where the geographical feature is located.

Endonym [Greek – ἔνδον, éndon, “within” + ὄνομα, ónoma, “name”]

An endonym is a name referring to an ethnic group (ethnonym), language (glossonym), place (toponym), or person that is used by people inside of said group.  The United Nations defines endonym as the name of a geographical feature in an official or well-established language occurring in that area where the feature is located.

Here are some examples of exonyms with their endonymic counterparts in English and their native languages:

China/Zhōngguó (中国), Dutch/Nederlands [ˈneːdərlɑnts], Greece/Hellas (Ελλάς), Germany/Deutschland, Gypsy/Romani, Moscow/Moskva (Москва), Japan/Nihon/Nippon (日本).

This phenomenon is not, unique to English:

Korea is referred to differently, depending on which Korea is doing the talking.  North Korea refers to “Korea” as Chosŏn (조선), but South Korea refers to it as Hanguk (한국) or Namhan (남한, 南韓 – “South Han”).  The official Korean name for the Republic of Korea is “Dae Han Minguk” (대한민국 – “The Republic of Korea”).  (There are other variations, but you get the picture.)

America is called beikoku (米国) in Japanese and the English language is called eigo (英語).  In China, America is called měiguó (美国) and the English language is yīngyǔ (英语).

Many exonyms were born as a result of the namer not understanding the namee’s language.  In Russian and other languages, for example, the word for “Germans” is Немцы (Nemtsy), which is derived from the word немой which means “mute.”  The accepted folk etymology is that the German language appeared so unintelligible to the Slavs that they dubbed them “mutes.”

In addition to Russian, this word is also used in the Arabic, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Slovenian, Serbian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish, and Ukranian languages.  (Interestingly, a theory regarding the word “Slavic” suggests that it comes from slovo, meaning “word.”  This, again, differentiates between those with words and those without.)

Sioux is likely a shortened form of Nadouessioux, a proto-Algonquian word meaning “foreign-speaking.”  Berber comes from a Greek representation of gibberish (“bar-bar-bar”).  The list goes on and on.

Do you know any exonym/endonym combinations?  Please leave a comment and share them with us.



Grad School: The Musical

It’s been a while since I updated everyone (?) on how grad school is going.  So here it is:  It’s going.

I’m finishing up my final day and final paper(s) today.  I have a presentation and research proposal due today in my Second Language Acquisition course, and a literature review in another (due Friday).  After those are submitted, I’m done with my coursework.  Next semester will be spent working on my thesis and taking Chinese 101.


Taiwan News published a story today on the “Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language” (TOCFL), a comprehensive test “designed especially for non-native speakers of Chinese.”  I’m guessing that TOCFL is an equivalent to the “Test of English as a Foreign Language” (TOEFL).  TOCFL itself isn’t new (it’s been around since 2003).  What is news-worthy is that it will be offered in a computerized format for the first time this year.

For more information on language fluency testing in general, please see “How Fluent am I?“.

[Read the complete story at Taiwan News]


Dubbing is the Devil

Dubbing is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

  1. to add (sound effects or new dialogue) to a film or to a radio or television production
  2. to provide (a motion-picture film) with a new sound track and especially dialogue in a different language

When bringing a foreign-language TV show or movie into the United States, the tendency here is to dub it into English.  When bringing a foreign-language TV show or movie into Japan, the tendency is to leave the original language in place, but superimpose subtitles.

I generally find the latter to be far superior for two reasons:

  1. Dubbed voices rarely match the visual and are often comically distracting (see any Kung Fu movie).
  2. The original language is lost.

The latter is my big peeve.  I actually want to be exposed to other cultures and languages.  Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I find it pleasing to listen to other languages, even if I don’t understand them.

In the case of a feature-length movie, I will admit that perhaps resorting to dubbing results in a less-taxing experience for the average non-linguist-geek viewer.  But in the case of shows like G4TV’s “Ninja Warrior,” I find the dubbing to be absolutely horrible and very distracting.  Not only are the translations not always correct (or even close), the announcer makes a hobby out completely mispronouncing people’s names, despite the immediately-preceding original audio giving a perfect example of proper pronunciation.  It grates like a spork on a chalkboard to me.

As I write this, I’m watching a program on NHK (basically a Japanese version of the channel PBS in the U.S.) featuring someone taking a “walk” through a French town, “meeting” the locals, and “talking” about whatever happens to be going on.  The narrator (who is never seen) asks questions in Japanese, the answers coming in French with Japanese subtitles (in most cases).  I find this not only more aurally pleasant, but also a great opportunity to work on both my French and Japanese.

Another phenomenon I often see in Asian TV broadcasts is the use of subtitles (in the native language) to support what is being said on screen.  In the case of Japan and Korea, it seems that it is often done in comedy/variety shows to emphasize what is “supposed” to be funny.  In Chinese programs, however, it seems to be done to overcome the vast differences in dialects, providing the viewer with a standardized written base so that they can understand what is going on, even if they don’t understand the dialect being spoken.  I do not speak Chinese, so this is purely speculative and based solely on observation and conversations with Chinese friends.

Are Americans really so adverse to the sound of foreign languages?  Why?  How could we benefit linguistically and socially from subtitled foreign languages vs. dubbing?  How could using more subtitles and less dubbing help linguistically draw Americans into the rest of the world?

Character Amnesia

It seems that technology may be creating as many problems as it solves.  In this case, the problem created is being called “character amnesia.”  That is, Chinese and Japanese youth, online for much of their lives, are forgetting how to write many of the characters used in their languages.

Despite the recent news, this is definitely not a new phenomenon.  As far back as the 1980’s, I was already hearing of Japanese forgetting how to write kanji due to the increasing ubiquity of ワプロ or word processors.  While the ワプロ of the 80’s may have gone out of style, the use of keyboards as character input devices, be they on laptops or smart phones, seems to have contributed to a loss of ability in writing characters by hand.  I, myself, certainly lost much of my ability to hand-write Japanese as I got more into typing the language on keyboards.

According to an article on breitbart.com, there is even a Chinese phrase to describe the phenomenon: 提笔忘字 [tibiwangzi], or “take pen, forget character.”

In another article on cnet.com, Chris Matyszczyk opines, “This amnesia might seem like a problem only for character-based languages, but I wonder whether they’re the only victims. Surely you, too, have seen, say, the English language increasingly tortured by the uncertain hands of those who spend far too long touching keys rather than pens, books, or other humans.”

This has certainly been a concern of mine for a while now.  While I can still read and type Japanese with no problem, remembering how to write kanji by hand is a real problem.  What are your thoughts?

The Last Airbender

Certain fans of the original cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” may be disappointed when they see the movie adaptation.  Since you’re reading a language-related site, you probably already know where this is going.

If you’ve watched the cartoon, you know that Chinese characters were used throughout to give the show both a sense of identity and connection to our own world in the form of Asian languages and cultures.  As you can see, even the title is rendered in Chinese as  降世神通, which means “Avatar” (lit: “divine medium who has descended upon the mortal world”).

For some reason, though, the makers of the movie version have opted to take out all of the Chinese (save for a brief reference to “qi” and “yin and yang”) and have instead decided to use nonsensical Asianesque characters.

Why this decision was made is unfathomable.  In doing so, they basically destroyed all of the linguistic and cultural links that were established in the cartoon series.  This is not something they can just undo in the sequel that is sure to come.

Dr. S. L. Lee, calligrapher for the cartoon series, is certainly not pleased.