Oriental(ism).

Victor Mair has a post at the Log taking off from a query by Cortney Chaffin, who says she was bothered by a colleague’s use of phrases like “oriental landscape painting” to describe an exhibit:

Anyways, my colleague just so happens to be Korean and after I explained to him why I feel we should not use the term in university publications, he responded that the term “oriental” is culturally acceptable in Korea and he linked to a website of an art school in Korea that refers to its institution as an “oriental art” school. My husband [himself Korean] showed me that in Korean “oriental” is translated from the characters dong yang 東洋 [VHM: lit., "eastern ocean"]. Do you have any insight on the origin of dong yang 東洋? In a Chinese dictionary (Pleco), I see the term can mean “Japan” or “East Asian countries” and this made me very curious why this character combination was borrowed to mean “oriental” in Korean. Is it a loanword from Japanese?

This provokes a most interesting discussion of Korean dong-yang-ui 동양의, Japanese Tōyō 東洋, Mandarin Dōngfāng 东方 and Dōngyáng 東洋, and English Oriental and Orientalism, as well as the extent to which the English words have been skunked following the publication of Edward Said’s influential Orientalism (1978). Some sample comments: Dongyoun Hwang, “Many scholars in Korea do not use the term Orient or oriental in English but still use the term ‘Dongyang’ or ‘Dongyang ui’ in Korean”; Sean Manning, “I try to avoid ‘orient’ vocabulary not because of Edward Said but because it can mean either Southwest Asia or East Asia”; Dave, “I’ve never considered ‘oriental’ to be a ‘racial slur’ exactly, but my sense is that a significant portion of the people who use it also tend to harbor ideas that taint the word by association — people who call Asians ‘Orientals’ rarely have nice things to say about them”; Jerry Friedman, “Maybe [Said's work being the proximate cause of the deprecation of Oriental] can be ruled out on timeline grounds. The earliest deprecation of ‘Oriental’ I can find is from 1957. [...] In a Google ngrams comparison, nothing dramatic happens in 1978″; rgove, “It’s important to note that the Mandarin 东方, meaning as it does nothing more or less than ‘Eastern’, is very frequently used to refer to the east of China“; and there is much discussion of whether and to what extent Oriental is tainted outside the US. Bathrobe made an interesting point about Vietnamese:

Professor Mair discusses the Japanese and Korean usage of 東洋 along with the Chinese aversion to the term. Of some interest to me is the fact that Đông Dương in Vietnamese has a completely different meaning from what it does in East Asia: it traditionally refers to Indochina, the three Đông Dương countries (ba nước Đông Dương) being Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I am very curious to know how this usage might have come about.

Also, while China generally doesn’t use 東洋 or 西洋, both Chinese and Japanese (not sure about Korean) at one time used 南洋 to refer to insular South East Asia. Does the vocabulary of 南洋, 東洋 and 西洋 hark back to older Chinese concepts of geography?

On the Said issue, I liked Brian Spooner’s succinct “Said had a point but he went overboard.”

Comments

  1. Unrelatedly, I had a patient the other day, documented in the triage notes as Russian, identified himself orally as Russian, but his surname was a Slavicisation of Said. His English was poor, so thinking maybe my Persian would help communicate, I asked if he was Tajik, “no, Russian”. Turned out to be Chechen; is it common that they are so affirmative about identifying as Russian when they’re outside Russia?

  2. If one data point counts, one Russian that sat by my side in the train between downtown Beijing and the airport turned out to be an Avar.

  3. Turned out to be Chechen; is it common that they are so affirmative about identifying as Russian when they’re outside Russia?

    If I were Chechen, I would certainly think it sensible to avoid identifying myself as such in a West currently terrified of “Islamic terrorists” and convinced that Chechens are bomb-throwers.

  4. The other possibility is that Chechens and Avars in the West, knowing all too well that the average Westerner has never heard of Chechens or Avars, find it easier to call themselves “Russians” as this is both their country of origin and a place most Westerners have heard of.

    I speak from experience, in a sense: I once met a Chuvash lady at a Canadian University I was working at, and when she realized that I knew where Chuvashia was located in Russia and that I was aware of the existence of the Chuvash language she was utterly convinced that I was either 1-a specialist in Russian studies, 2- an intelligence agent, 3-someone who had travelled through Russa and visited Chuvashia, or 4-connected to Chuvashia through a close friendship or marriage. She quite flatly refused to believe me when I told her that the correct answer was “None of the above”.

    And considering the fact that not a single one of my former colleagues in the humanities at the University in question could have placed Chuvashia on the right continent, I can’t exactly blame the lady for not believing me. To this day I suspect she assumes I was an intelligence agent unwilling to blow his cover: based on her experience that was probably far likelier than the possibility that an academic such as myself could actually exhibit active intellectual curioisity.

  5. “China generally doesn’t use 東洋 ”

    I thought that term referred to Japan, as in the boycott of Japanese goods in the 30s. I thought it was the term used in posters of the period. No wonder they wouldn’t use it to refer to themselves, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t use it at all.

    And I also thought that it could refer to any of the nations coming in by sea. it was a long time ago and maybe I am misremembering.

  6. Etienne, I bet those four roles are correlated with much better than chance.

  7. either 1-a specialist in Russian studies, 2- an intelligence agent

    It only takes one encounter with someone who is at the same knowledgeable about Russia and hateful (or at least extremely paternalistic) about it, to become over-sensitized to the existence of “unfriendly friends”. I remember one such encounter where my marginally-sincere compliments about the annoying guy’s depth of knowledge of the things Russian and “how did you learn so much” made him blurt out that he was a Monterey graduate. A case of the first hunch being true ;). Few Russian expats have any love lost for the current or past govt. and state of affairs in the old country, but the visceral dislike of any secret services anywhere must be even stronger.

    As to Tajik vs. Russian Chechen abroad, there is an obvious difference. The expats from the xUSSR are rarely categorized by ethnicity abroad (even though in the old Soviet ID’s, ethnicity was so important that it was listed right after name and DOB and before address). Abroad, the categorization is much more commonly by the past residence country, citizenship, or native language. Chechen immigrants typically had Russian citizenship and residency, and Russian L1/L2 (L1 common in the populous diaspora and among the urban dwellers, less so in the highlands). Tajiks would typically come from Afghanistan, occasionally from Tajikistan proper or Uzbekistan rather than from Russia. In the post-independence Tajikistan, Russian wasn’t taught in schools, and poor Russian skills of today’s Tajik migrant workers do set them apart from migrants from other corners of the xUSSR. There is a perennial tug of war about Slavicized names in Tajikistan – on the one hand the aspiring politicians and govt. appointees are shedding the suffixes, on the other hand prospective migrants often add them back.

  8. J. W. Brewer says:

    Just so I don’t waste all the fruits of my research in the LL thread, let me tell you that searching for recent uses of the allegedly-tainted word in COCA can turn up some really spectacular samples of actual English prose that actually seem to have been written by real people and published in real places. E.g., “He lay opened now to the warm air and her cool hands, like a large, amorous fish symbolically slit up its ventral seam by the fingers of an Oriental mermaid.” That’s not merely bad prose, that’s worthy-of-the-Bulwer-Lytton-Contest bad. (From a magazine story about, and probably a direct quote from, this book with a complicated backstory: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/25/AR2005082501466.html.)

  9. ethnicity was so important that it was listed right after name and DOB and before address

    Well, unlike the address but like the first two, it’s immutable, correct?

  10. unlike the address but like the first two, it’s immutable, correct?

    Nothing is really immutable but I would argue that sex and height are harder to change. Yet on my US Id they are listed in the very end (and my ethinicity is skipped altogether); in contrast, Russian Id’s didn’t even bother with the height or weight.

    Don’t you think that the ethnic origin really did matter a whole lot in an old multi-ethnic empire – and not a whole lot in a melting-pot immigrant nation.

  11. Dmitry,
    “but the visceral dislike of any secret services anywhere must be even stronger. ”

    Monterey is purely military. CIA etc don’t train there at all.

  12. the average Westerner has never heard of Chechens or Avars

    This was true until last year. Following that, a lot of people became aware of Chechens, and not in a good way.

  13. When I mentioned on Facebook that my son is currently in Georgia (not the US state — the place in or near the Caucasus) someone quoted a line from the 1950′s movie Anything Can Happen. “I am not Russian, I am Georgian. Is different.”

  14. The first I ever heard of the word “Oriental” being frowned upon was somewhere between 1976 and 1980 (therefore before Said’s book, I think). IIRC my source (my sister’s college roommate) said that one was supposed to say “Asian” instead, because “Oriental” suggested that one didn’t know one part of Asia from another. But, but, …

    Oh, well. The treadmill at work.

  15. Monterey is purely military. CIA etc don’t train there at all.

    Even Putin confuses them (on purpose?). He said that Internet was developed by CIA.

    Difference between ethnicity and country of origin was somewhat tricky for Americans at least 20 years ago. I’ve known a guy of Jewish extraction who emigrated to the US from the Soviet Union circa 1990. He was from Moldova. But his attempts to explain that he is neither Russian nor Moldovan, but a Jew, were usually met with skepticism and comments that than he must have come from Israel.

  16. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think to the typical U.S. mind the notion that someone who e.g. (let’s leave Moldova out of it because of its obscurity) was born in Russia, is an L1 Russophone whose parents were L1 Russophones, lived there his whole life before coming to the U.S., etc. isn’t really a “Russian” on account of being Jewish sounds like crass anti-Semitic bigotry. The whole American melting-pot schema versus the Romanov-to-Soviet “prisonhouse of nations” schema make mutual comprehension difficult.

    I again got a haircut today at the barbershop near my office where all the workers talk to each other in rapid/fluent Russian but one is very visibly East Asian in appearance. I’m assuming his old Soviet identity papers (although he doesn’t look that old and may have still been a kid in ’91) probably said, idk, maybe Buryat or maybe Korean (I think Stalin was pretty rough on the ethnic Koreans within his domain but managed to not kill all of them). Probably Americans are better at sorting out ethnicity from national-origin when the visuals are too hard to ignore. There used to be a subgenre of cheap restaurants in Manhattan (mostly now gone as their owners have hit retirement age and not been replaced) that were run by ethnic-Chinese refugees from Castroite Cuba, with menus that were half Cuban dishes and half Chinese dishes, and people could probably comprehend that the owners were in a meaningful sense both Chinese and Cuban.

  17. maybe Buryat or maybe Korean

    Or even Dungan (i.e. ethnic Chinese).

    cheap restaurants [...] run by ethnic-Chinese refugees from Castroite Cuba

    Such restaurants are still around, though no longer cheap. I took occasional Hatterite Nick Nicholas to one the last time I saw him. He comes from Melbourne, one of the world capitals of fusion restaurants, and was bemused but pleased to eat in an organic fusion restaurant.

    Of course, organic fusion is no new thing, as John Forster and Tom Chapin told us in 1988:

    Before the days of Jello
    Lived a prehistoric fellow,
    Who loved a maid and courted her
    Beneath the banyan tree.
    And they had lots of children.
    And their children all had children.
    And they kept on having children until one of them had me!

    Chorus:

    We’re a family and we’re a tree.
    Our roots go deep down in history
    From my great-great-granddaddy reaching up to me,
    We’re a green and growing family tree.

    My grandpa came from Russia;
    My grandma came from Prussia;
    They met in Nova Scotia,
    Had my dad in Tennessee.
    Then they moved to Yokohama
    Where Daddy met my Mama.
    Her dad’s from Alabama and her mom’s part Cherokee.

    Chorus

    Well one fine day I may go
    To Tierra Del Fuego.
    Perhaps I’ll meet my wife there
    And we’ll move to Timbuktu.
    And our kid will be bilingual,
    And though she may stay single,
    She could, of course, commingle with the King of Kathmandu.

    Chorus

    The folks in Madagascar
    Aren’t the same as in Alaskar;
    They got different foods, different moods
    And different colored skin.
    You may have a different name,
    But underneath we’re much the same;
    You’re probably my cousin and the whole world is our kin.

    Chorus

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    John C.: I’m not sure I would count that particular restaurant as fitting into the old genre proper – it’s more a self-conscious post-modern hipster recreation of the same.

  19. In ambiance, yes, definitely. But the food is real, and really Cuban-Chinese.

  20. Tell Nick to get back to blogging!

  21. let’s leave Moldova out of it because of its obscurity

    True, sometimes, in the US, recognizing one’s ethnicity ahead of language-and-former-nationality risk being perceived as bigotry. But with some persistence, an oppressed minority group can win such kind of recognition. For examples Basques aren’t assumed to be Spaniards in this country.

    There is another angle to it, too. The minorities grappling with the history of xenophobia at home are far less likely to be proud of their home nations’ trappings of majority ethnicity as expats. Specifically among the US Russians, there are great many ethnic Armenians from Azerbaijan who must be extremely unlikely to ever insist on being identified as Azeris. An even bigger sub-layer of the US Russians are Jewish ex-Ukrainian residents, who are also largely relatively unlikely to identify with the Ukrainian cause. No obscurity of the home country required here, just a relative lack of desire to identify with its titular ethnicity.

  22. There is another angle to it, too . . . US Russians are Jewish ex-Ukrainian residents.

    I recall meeting a young woman in Israel from the FSU who hated being classified by native Israelis as Russian. She was Jewish and had grown up in Lithuania, where she was considered neither Russian nor Lithuanian.

  23. It’s not just the history of the FSU that complicates these questions. Thirty years ago I worked with a guy who had been born in Tanzania, but didn’t consider himself Tanzanian, because his family had been kicked out as a despised ethnic minority when he was young, couldn’t call himself Pakistani because his ancestors had left South Asia before Pakistan was created, and couldn’t call himself Indian because (a) he was at least nominally a Muslim, and (b) many ignorant Americans would think he was Cherokee or Navaho or something. If anyone asked where he was from, I think he said “it’s complicated, how long have you got?”.

  24. She was Jewish and had grown up in Lithuania, where she was considered neither Russian nor Lithuanian.

    This may be an exaggeration, or a snapshot of pre-independence societal attitudes. My distant cousin from Vilnius, a Jewish, L1 Russian / L2 Lithuanian speaker, claims that she was considered a Russian post-independence, and not-so-subtly pushed to enroll into Hebrew study program and to teach the kids Hebrew in order to be accepted by the Lithuanians as being Jewish. She says she was denied job promotion for her stubbornness in continuing to enroll the kids in Russian-language rather than Hebrew schools. At the time she was worked up over resurgent signs of the past xenophobia, such as the erstwhile slur “zhid” returning into official use – as superficial as this linguistic tidbit may seem to us, it was this juxtaposition of “learn Hebrew, and then we’ll call you a zhid” which made her feel being pushed right into the crosshairs of the past enmity. “If I can’t keep my past identity, and if learning Hebrew is the only way forward, then to Israel I must go”.

  25. J. W. Brewer says:

    Michael H.: see I would have advised your colleague to use the short form “my national/ethnic background is almost but not exactly like Freddie Mercury’s” and see if that sufficed. (The late Mr. Mercury was born in pre-independence Zanzibar to a family of Parsee extraction.)

  26. Nick typically blogs when (or after) he travels, and the economy has put paid to that.

  27. neither Russian nor Lithuanian

    “I don’t understand: do you worship God, or the Devil?” —Question asked of the first agnostic

    it’s complicated

    A friend of mine is a native (but not Native) Californian. When asked where his family comes from, he replies “Kansas City”, which is the whole truth-as-far-as-he-knows-it.

    Quora question “Is it racist for someone to ask ‘where are you from originally?’”

  28. Stefan Holm says:

    What’s wrong with being called a Russian even if you are not? Through the history of Hollywood Swedes have frequently been engaged to play the role of Russians: Greta Garbo (actually Johansson) in Ninotchka and Anna Karenina, Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia, Stellan Skarsgård in Hunt for the Red October and many others.

    Such things make many Swedes very proud of having the same pale skin, blue eyes and rat coloured hair as they have in (western) Russia :-)

  29. What’s wrong with being called a Russian even if you are not?

    Didn’t we discuss it here wrt Redskins, and probably other undesired ethnonyms? If someone doesn’t like being called a certain ethnicity name, then one might ask how it came about historically and etymologically and culturally, what could have been various connotations etc. – but one can’t really ask the “What’s wrong” question. If a person hates a label, then you try to tiptoe around it. If many people agree that they hate the word, then eventually the word goes out of non-pejorative use (occasional temporary reversals such as Lithuanian “zidu” nonwithstanding). No matter how nice things used to be associated with it, alas.

  30. In one of Harry Turtledove’s stories, the khan of the Bulgars is asked if he would object to being called “khan of the Avars”, and he replies something like “Not if it were true”.

    I have taken considerable pains in my life not to be thought Jewish, but certainly not because I am antisemitic; rather to avoid people making assumptions (favorable or unfavorable) that I don’t deserve.

  31. J. W. Brewer says:

    That’s not a good parallel, as long as actual *Russians* don’t mind being called Russians. Of course, in the old days of the refuseniks etc. one could refer to the group as “Soviet Jews” and it didn’t generally matter what their SSR of residence happened to be, but it’s maybe a bit harder to use “ex-Soviet” in a present day description without perhaps raising unhelpful insinuations of nostalgia for the old order.

    Again, because of the way in U.S. discourse we tend to privilege the religious-community side of Jewishness over its ethnic-group side, for someone to say indignantly “I’m not Russian, I’m Jewish” just sounds a lot weirder than someone saying “I’m not Russian, I’m Georgian” or even something more obscure (and not currently associated with a nation-state) like “I’m not Russian, I’m Buryat/Avar/Tuvan.”

  32. David Marjanović says:

    In one of Harry Turtledove’s stories, the khan of the Bulgars is asked if he would object to being called “khan of the Avars”, and he replies something like “Not if it were true”.

    Heh. :-)

    On not being Russian: Russian has that helpful distinction between русский “ethnic Russian” and россиянин “citizen of Russia”. This has been picked up by other languages in the Federation.

  33. “I remember one such encounter where my marginally-sincere compliments about the annoying guy’s depth of knowledge of the things Russian and “how did you learn so much” made him blurt out that he was a Monterey graduate.”

    Probably me.

  34. Stefan Holm says:

    Why are you Americans so obsessed with the Jewish or (e.g. in archeology) with ancient Egypt? I understand that you are a fundamentally religious nation but there are other folks on this planet and other just as interesting ancient cultures. Even on Swedish TV there are thirteen in a dozen of (US or British made) programs about probable historical backgrounds to the stories in the Bible or about the never ending excavations in Egypt.

    Why not focus on e.g. the Sumerians, who I believe are much more significant to modern western civilization than the Israelites or Egyptians (or even the Greeks) – instead of bombing what’s reminding of them?

    We are indeed animals (Homo) with affections and can’t help feeling good or bad towards “the others”, who aren’t like us. But we are also something more precious, (Sapiens – “the thinking”) which can make us overcome those frailties. Therefore I prefer this from the Galatians (3:28):

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    I understand that you are a fundamentally religious nation but

    No “but”.

  36. I am sorry, but saying that Jewish or Greek history is not all that important and then citing Galatians as support is a bit contradictory, isn’t it?

  37. “Why are you Americans so obsessed with the Jewish or (e.g. in archeology) with ancient Egypt? ”

    Several reasons. One is the Puritan self-identification with Ancient Israel as the Elect. this had all kinds of implications, manifest Destiny being one of them, the reluctance to assimilate to American culture and language, specifically Wampanoag, being another.

    Another reason is that ancient Egypt just has a lot better press. The art probably seems more attractive and interesting. And another reason may be the Afrocentric fascination with Egypt in the US.

    Why go all the way to Sumeria? Bronze Age Europe is plenty interesting in its own right, and you would think it would have plenty of appeal in the US for reasons of ancestry, but then again, there isn’t that much interest even in Europe. It certainly does not bulk as big in the popular imagination there either.

  38. J. W. Brewer says:

    Alas, most Americans know nothing of things Swedish except perhaps when they’re getting them muddled with things Swiss. It was otherwise when I was a lad, but then in the early ’80′s the near-simultaneous retirement of Bjorn Borg, breakup of Abba, and end of the Muppet Show (with the Swedish Chef) dealt a devastating triple blow to Swedishness-awareness, from which it has never recovered. We most of the time can’t even remember that the stupidest Nobel Prize choices aren’t really your fault because they are farmed out to the Norwegians.

  39. Bronze Age Europe is plenty interesting in its own right, and you would think it would have plenty of appeal in the US for reasons of ancestry, but then again, there isn’t that much interest even in Europe.

    For starters, bronze age Europe left virtually no written records. Pots, baskets and swords don’t tell nearly as full a story.

  40. There’s still Ikea. And Rosta’s anti-Ikea rant.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    For starters, bronze age Europe left virtually no written records. Pots, baskets and swords don’t tell nearly as full a story.

    The occasional golden hat or sky disk is fascinating, but it is so partly because of the almost complete lack of context. I know one historical novel that features a golden hat, and that’s it.

  42. J.W. Brewer says:

    In ancient times…
    Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
    Lived a strange race of people… the Druids

    No one knows who they were or what they were doing
    But their legacy remains
    Hewn into the living rock… Of Stonehenge

    Cf.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMofDWzfA6A

  43. The Druids may have used Stonehenge, but they certainly didn’t build it.

  44. Stefan Holm says:

    O Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood. It wasn’t my intention to diminish the influence from neither Israel nor Egypt on modern culture. Medieval Jewish mysticism combined with western scientific approach since the renaissance has proved to be very fruitful. Without this combination the ideas of e.g. Baruch Spinoza, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein or Sigmund Freud wouldn’t have emerged that easy.

    I just thought the focus in history and archeology to be somewhat extreme, when it comes to this southeastern shores of the Mediterranean. I mentioned the Sumerians in comparison since they not only gave us the base for modern writing. They also gave us arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and our way to measure time and angles. They were the first (as far as one can tell) to use irrigation, ploughs, saws, nails, glue, leather, swords etc. not to forget beer and wheeled vehicles.

    It is true that many of those innovations were made independently in e.g. China, the Indus valley, Latin America etc. But the way it came to us mainly started in Mesopotamia.

    J.W. Most Americans know nothing of things Swedish.

    Why should you? Roughly one out of thousand humans is a Swede while some 190 are Chinese. You ought to know 190 times as much of things Chinese than of things Swedish.

  45. You know human beings don’t work that way, right? What you want is a computer that can be programmed to give everything exactly as much weight as you think it should have.

  46. Stefan Holm says:

    No, following that logic I would restrict my comments here to be one in every seven billion. But I must admit that of all human languages I consider mathematics the most ethereal. Sadly I’ll probably be laid down in my grave without ever having found out what in the universe is hidden behind beautiful, incredible and unbelievable equations like eiπ+1=0. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler%27s_identity

  47. Stefan Holm says:

    Oops, the sup – /sup html command obviously didn’t work. The ‘iπ’ should be in superscript.

  48. Yeah, for some reason certain HTML commands, like sup, don’t work in comments. It’s annoying.

  49. The HTML elements accepted in WordPress comments are defined in the file “kses.php” after the line beginning $allowedtags =. To allow additional elements, simply add lines of the form

    ‘sub’ => array(),
    ‘super’ => array(),

    It does not matter where they appear as long as they are before the line ); that ends the definition of $allowedtags.

    Monkey-patching this file is not actually recommended (it will be wiped out the next time WordPress is upgraded) but it’s the simplest approach and not that hard to redo.

  50. On not being Russian: Russian has that helpful distinction between русский “ethnic Russian” and россиянин “citizen of Russia”

    China has been less successful on this front. The old meaning of “Chinese” (basically something like “Han Chinese”) and the new meaning (citizen of the PRC) are still hopelessly tangled up, especially since there are so many “ethnic Chinese” (that’s the old meaning there) living outside the PRC (not only so-called “Overseas Chinese” but also places where the “Chinese” — old meaning again — form the majority, like Taiwan and Singapore). People still tend to talk of Tibetans and Uighurs as something different from “Chinese”, although I’m sure that self-identification by these people when they go overseas is a more complicated matter.

    I know ethnic Mongols in China (蒙古族) who identify strongly as 蒙古人 (“Mongolian”), but I’m not sure how they would identify when they were abroad. A Mongolian friend (from Mongolia) did, however, tell me in highly indignant terms how she met a Chinese Mongol in Australia who self-identified as “Mongolian”, even though this person spoke only Chinese and knew no Mongolian. (Mongolians in Mongolia tend to deny “Mongolness” to Chinese Mongols, so the inability to speak the language was just the icing on the cake.) Incidentally, the fact that there is no difference between “Mongol” and “Mongolian” in either Chinese or Mongolian doesn’t help.

    While the English word “China” is still caught between the old meaning (“Han Chinese”) and the new meaning (“Chinese citizen”), in the Mongolian language the Chinese have managed to introduce a new usage: “Hyatad” (“China/Chinese”) is used for the Han Chinese, and China the country is given the new name of “Dund Uls” (“central country”). So it’s possible to be a citizen of “Dund Uls” (China) while not necessarily being a “Hyatad hun” (Han Chinese).

    Unfortunately, Mongolia does not recognise the word “Dund Uls”, and “Hyatad” is used both for China the country and for ethnic Chinese — and often also for Chinese Mongols, who, as I mentioned, are not always recognised as “Mongols”.

    Incidentally, the calque “Dund Uls” (Central Country) is a pretty strong argument against those who claim that 中国 (Zhōngguó, “central country”) is just a neutral name for China and carries no pretensions about Chinese centrality.

  51. I don’t understand why. The etymology of Handschuh ‘glove’ is transparent, but that doesn’t mean germanophones actually think that gloves are shoes they wear on their hands. Nor do anglophones think understanding is a case of standing under something.

  52. I think there are always at least two levels in looking at this kind of thing. There is the transparent meaning of the constituents, and there is the meaning of the combination. Both are relevant, with considerable potential for differences in awareness and salience. I certainly don’t agree with those who harp interminably on 中国 as ironclad proof of Sinocentrism. But my point here is that those who claim that the etymology of “central country” is completely irrelevant since people are not conscious of the constituents are being just a little too glib. The 中 in 中国, 中华 etc. is still there and still has relevance to the meaning.

  53. I understand that you are a fundamentally religious nation

    Stefan, you are making the common mistake, that even most Americans make, of generalizing about the 300 million and growing political entity in North America as if it truly comprised one nation. The US in reality is probably more diverse than the EU. In Minnesota or Wisconsin, you will discover that a large percentage of the population knows quite a lot about Sweden. Probably not true in Florida or New Mexico. Neither New England nor the New York City metro area qualify as “fundamentally religious nations”, certainly much less so than Croatia or Poland. Colin Woodard’s book “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” is pretty interesting on this topic.

  54. Stefan Holm says:

    I agree, Vanya, the American people is just as diverse as the European. What I meant was, that the churches in the US are far more influental on the federal political and cultural level than they are in the EU. I think noone would be elected president if he declared “I don’t believe in God”. That is of no or little bearing on the EU level or in most European countries – including Poland, I would guess.

    Funny thing, since the very foundation of the USA to a great extent was about the separation of state from church in opposition to the European monolithic system. The situation today seems to be the other way around.

  55. It’s a tricky question, Stefan. I would say that religious institutions exert more poltical power in Europe than they do in the US. The Catholic Church still manages to play a role in Poland, Austria, Italy, Germany, Ireland, etc, that seems well out of proportion to the number of devout believers. Other than the Mormon Church, religious institutions in the US are actually pretty weak, and tend to be manipulated by politicians rather than vice-versa. Outwardly professing religous faith is very important in American political life, true, but which faith doesn’t seem to be that important as long as it is vaguely Judeo-Christian. While every US President makes a profession of faith, it is hard to point to many examples of truly devout men who have sat in the White House. By contrast, Germany’s current President is a former Lutheran Pastor, and the Bundeskanzlerin is the daughter of a Pastor. The American “Christian Right” has a lot of influence in American political life, but they do not constitute a Church. It is more useful politically to think of them as an ethnic group. Indeed, the overlap between the “Christian Right” and the old Confederacy is pretty striking, another way I find Woodard’s book helpful in understanding American culture.

    Shorthand – For the most part, America has strong separation of Church and State, but a weak separation of “Christian identity” and State. Europe tends in the opposite direction.

  56. An excellent analysis, Vanya, and I will try to remember to point people to it when the subject arises. (I have the Woodard book and am looking forward to reading it.)

  57. Vanya: “The Catholic Church still manages to play a role in Poland, Austria, Italy, Germany, Ireland, etc, that seems well out of proportion to the number of devout believers.”

    When the number of devout Catholic believers in the Republic of Ireland was around 95% or so (up to maybe 25-30 years ago?), it’s true that the Catholic church had a strong, and very unhealthy, social and political influence. Now that the number of devout believers (whatever about believers in general) has declined, the influence of the church has undergone what I think is a disproportionately large decline in influence – due in large part to a welter of scandals, of course. It’s true that there are legacy issues (church patronage of schools, abortion laws…), but that’s what they are to a large extent: legacy issues that are undergoing change.

    On the other hand, atheism is no bar to public office: until a few days ago, the people holding the posts of Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and Minister for Education were both atheists. This excited very little comment. (The fact that they’re no longer in office has no connection with their atheism.) Religion plays hardly any role in political discourse in Ireland; no-one expects ritual pronouncements of piety like ‘God bless America’, for example.

    That’s where I would agree with Stefan: it comes across to outside observers that in the US, Christian belief is the baseline ideology for public figures, especially the president. I realise that Ireland is a poster-child for excess of religion, and there are good historic grounds for that, but it feels very much like a secular state to me these days, while the ostentatious church-going, ritual repentance etc. of American politicians seems quaint at best.

  58. Wikipedia has a lot of statistics. Unbelievers are a not-very-visible minority (about 25% now, up from 20% in earlier years). But church-hopping among Christians, and even beyond Christianity, is extremely common, as shown by the slogan “Attend the church of your choice”. If you google this, you find a lot of particular churches who oppose it, of course.

  59. Stefan Holm says:

    (Hat: I posted this and everything looked fine but it didn’t seem to turn up. If it does please erase this).

    America has strong separation of Church and State, but a weak separation of “Christian identity” and State. Europe tends in the opposite direction.

    100% so! Is that maybe a valid answer to my initial wondering about the, seemingly, particular interest in Egypt/Israel from American historians and archeologists (or the media)? Does it also explain why creationists seem to have a say in the US and why the most obscene word in American English appears to be “beep”.

    But not for a second I imagine us to be less puritan. In Sweden it’s just at the other extreme. When school ends before Christmas or summer you by no means could have the speech-day in a church and you can’t sing most of our traditional songs, sung by generations. Even Franz Gruber’s world wide “hit” Stille Nacht will be met by massive reports in the media about a non-neutral religious act being imposed on innocent children.

  60. Outside the South, U.S. schools are pretty strongly de-religionized too, thanks to the weary but unceasing vigilance of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of whose jobs is to keep overt signs of religion out of publicly-funded places. (Disclaimer: I am a card-carrying ACLU member.)

  61. David Marjanović says:

    By contrast, Germany’s current President is a former Lutheran Pastor,

    Huh, I didn’t know that. German presidents are generally poorly known to the public, in proportion to the extremely small amount of power they hold (“Notary of State”).

    and the Bundeskanzlerin is the daughter of a Pastor.

    This, in contrast, is common knowledge – but it’s hard to see where it might influence her politics. It does seem that she treats austerity as a moral issue; but the Protestant Work Ethic has been a part of generic Western culture for long enough that it isn’t hard to find among Catholics.

    The American “Christian Right” has a lot of influence in American political life, but they do not constitute a Church. It is more useful politically to think of them as an ethnic group. Indeed, the overlap between the “Christian Right” and the old Confederacy is pretty striking, another way I find Woodard’s book helpful in understanding American culture.

    I agree, judging from what I’ve read about the book. It happens pretty often that a particular denomination becomes part of national/tribal identity and is thus perpetuated for a few more decades than one might expect from the general trend to godlessness. Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, Croatia and Bavaria* are famous Catholic examples, Serbia and likely Russia are Orthodox ones… the Czechs tried to have their own long ago, had that plan squashed, and seem to have lost interest in religion to the point that they’re now the most or second most godless people on Earth, up there with the East Germans.

    * Both the Franks and the ethnic Bavarians are unhappy that Franconia belongs to Bavaria. Guess what? The Franks are Protestants.

    Shorthand – For the most part, America has strong separation of Church and State, but a weak separation of “Christian identity” and State. Europe tends in the opposite direction.

    That’s a good way to put it!

    church-hopping among Christians, and even beyond Christianity, is extremely common

    Oh yes. In Europe other than maybe England, you can still almost take for granted that everyone was born into the regionally most common religion and that they don’t want to talk about it outside – at most – the family.

  62. J. W. Brewer says:

    The varied geography of religious outlook and its overlap with political outlook in the U.S. is complicated. People who primarily associate the quote Religious Right unquote with the Deep South have, I suspect, never spent much time in the rural Midwest (although to be fair, as a historical matter the political dynamics were very different back in the days when Southern conservative Protestants overwhelmingly voted Democrat and non-Southern conservative Protestants overwhelmingly voted Republican, and since the former group is the one that changed its partisan affiliation that perhaps makes it more noticeable). Come to think of it, the most recent Supreme Court case involving “signs of religion . . . [in] publicly-funded places” came out of the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., and the ACLU-supported side lost.

  63. J. W. Brewer says:

    Probably the most famous child of a Protestant pastor from the northeastern quadrant of Germany is Friedrich Nietzsche, so that may be an unreliable indicator of the child’s destiny. Of course, Nietzsche grew up when being a pastor meant you were presumptively an ally of the secular regime of the day and Kanzlerin Merkel grew up when even the most apolitical pastor was in some sense by definition not fully on board with the secular regime’s agenda. (There was not enough attention paid in the American media early this month to the death of the Rev’d Christian Fuehrer, whose work as a pastor in Leipzig proved very important to the unexpectedly bloodless change of regime in 1989-90.)

  64. Stefan Holm says:

    most godless people on Earth, up there with the East Germans.

    So, the legacy of die Deutsche Demokratische Republik is still there. Ein Gespenst (vielleicht noch) geht um in Europa. :-)

  65. David Marjanović says:

    It’s not just the legacy. People (including some of my colleagues) have continued to leave the church after the Wende.

  66. have continued to leave the church after the Wende

    Perhaps because belonging to the church no longer represents opposition to the regime?

  67. People who primarily associate the quote Religious Right unquote with the Deep South have, I suspect, never spent much time in the rural Midwest

    True, or even upstate New York or rural New Hampshire. What I find kind of bizarre though is the occasional adoption of the Confederate flag as a “resistance symbol”, I assume, by rural New Hampshirites of the far religous right, or sometimes libertarian, persuasion. Even ethnic identity can be a lifestyle choice in the US in a way unthinkable in the rest of the world.

  68. Stefan Holm says:

    belonging to the church … represents opposition to the regime

    Seems plausible. The decline of religion in Europe has affected the protestant churches in particular, while in e.g. Italy, Spain and Poland the majority still at least formally profess to the catholic church. I think this can reflect one of the major differences between the two:

    Every pope (except perhaps the present) has codemned things like abortion, contraceptives, sex outside marriage etc. But nobody needs to worry because of the confession. Whatever you’ve done you can always visit your priest and tell him you have sinned. He will listen but also assure you that the mercy of the Lord is infinite and that you can go in peace. That’s it – business as usual!

    Martin Luther got rid of this. Remission of sins, he claimed, is the prerogative of God alone on the morning of Ressurection. So lifelong you will carry your sins with you. That less attractive message has lead both to a generally more liberal morality and legislation in protestant Europe (act by act has been deleted from the list of sins) and to difficulties for the churches to keep their confessors. In Sweden it’s also an unwritten law that the priests (like the royals) shall not interfere with politics.

    The majority of European catholics on the other hand are not really that ‘religious’. Belonging to their ever forgiving church has more to do with social, cultural, historical and national identity.

  69. J. W. Brewer says:

    Dr. Luther’s teachings on confession, absolution, and the power of the keys possessed by the Church via her ordained clergy are set forth quite clearly in the Small Catechism and the Augsburg Confession, as well as his treatise (containing his private opinions not formally adopted by the Lutheran churches institutionally) usually called in English translation something like “On Councils and the Church.” From a traditional theological standpoint, when a Church of Sweden pastor says “Den allsmaktige, evige Gud forlate oss alia vara synder efter sin stora, outgrundhga barmhartighet for Fralsarens, Jesu Kristi, skull samt give oss nad att battra vart leverne och fa med honom ett evigt liv. Amen.” (or whatever more recent form of words may be in current use) he (or perhaps she) ought to be accomplishing almost exactly the same thing from a metaphysical/ontological perspective as a pre-Reformation pastor saying “ego te absolvo” etc., even though the syntax is different. What popular lay understanding of the situation may be among the overwhelming majority of Swedes who do not frequent church or even the tiny minority who do is, I suppose, a separate question.

    There are some cultural stereotypes which imply that Southern Europeans are better at hypocrisy (the tribute vice pays to virtue, as the man said) than Scandinavians (with their low rates of governmental corruption coupled with their high rates of alcoholism and suicide), but to the extent there’s any actual truth in that I don’t think Luther, who taught that man could be “simul iustus et peccator,” should get the credit or blame for that. You might be able to work up a thesis involving the sort 18th-century pietism that stricter (or perhaps overintellectualizing) Lutherans were suspicious of, I suppose.

  70. David Marjanović says:

    Perhaps because belonging to the church no longer represents opposition to the regime?

    Could be.

  71. As a lapsed Lutheran who experiences a rush of nostalgia at reading phrases like “Small Catechism” and “Augsburg Confession,” I agree with J. W. Brewer on the theological point, not that my opinion is worth a store-bought indulgence.

  72. Stefan Holm says:

    You’re absolutely right, J. W. that the “lutheran” pietism in Scandinavia has very little to do with the reformator himself, who allegedly like Johann Strauss II consented to Wein, Weib und Gesang. Instead it has since the days of Gustav Vasa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_I_of_Sweden just been an ideological argument to get the commoners to work, work and again, work instead of celebrating catholic saints during a prior to Gustav Vasa countless number of holidays dedicated to them.

    Gustav subordinated the church to the state, expropriated all its riches and made it mandatory for all citizens to attend the Sunday morning service, during which he introduced the “Public Notices” (Sw. Kungörelser) as a part of the agenda. In these he let the priests tell the congregation to work, avoid pleasures, pay their taxes and hate the Danes (after 1658 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Roskilde replaced with the Russians). That turned out to be a propaganda machinery in efficiency not outranked until modern TV entered the scene (TV subsequently concluded the influence of the clergy in Sweden).

  73. J. W. Brewer says:

    Some left-wing British opinionator recently condemning the Church of Sweden for being blandly progressive and “nice” to the point of irrelevance: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/may/30/sweden-human-darkness-confronted-arts-church

    I guess blaming Bergman movies rather than tv for the decline of ecclesial influence just shows how snobbish the Guardian crowd is.

  74. J. W. Brewer says:

    I of course am just old enough to have been in the last cohort of U.S. college kids vaguely aware that Bergman movies were a thing that we supposedly ought to have some sort of regard for. I remember watching some rural Swedish pastor being all existentially bummed out in black and white about the silence of God blah blah blah (per wikipedia, the movie was probably Nattvardsgästerna / Winter Light) with some friends. We all thought it was hysterically funny, but we may have been more intoxicated at the time than Bergman’s intended audience was expected to be.

  75. Even ethnic identity can be a lifestyle choice in the US in a way unthinkable in the rest of the world.

    Oh, I don’t know about “unthinkable”. There’s often an element of choice in ethnogenesis, especially in modern times, and there’s definitely a choice when people have ties to more than one ethnicity. When King Henry III of England declared (in response to St. Louis’s declaration in France) that no man might hold lands both in England and in France, the nobles of both kings found themselves in the position of deciding whether they were English or French. Not uncommonly, as in the case of Simon de Montfort and his brother Amaury, one took the English lands and the other the French lands.

  76. GeorgeW says:

    “While every US President makes a profession of faith, it is hard to point to many examples of truly devout men who have sat in the White House.”

    Maybe the last was Jimmy Carter who, to this day, teaches Sunday School most Sundays.

    I guess that George W. Bush would be considered “truly devout” although many other “truly devout” persons would have good reason to quarrel with the manifestations of his faith.

  77. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    To confuse things more, in Uruguay (La República Oriental del Uruguay) oriental means Uruguayan. Once in a museum in Montevideo I was surprised that my Uruguayan colleague wrote Oriental in the column of the visitors’ book headed Nacionalidad. When I asked him he said that that was the normal term used in Uruguay but they don’t use it elsewhere as it tends not to be understood.

  78. David Marjanović says:

    La República Oriental del Uruguay

    what

  79. Per Wikipedia: “La República Oriental del Uruguay originally meant the republic east of the Uruguay [River],” I’ve learned something today; I always thought it meant “east of Argentina.”

  80. Alon Lischinsky says:

    The use of oriental (note the case; unlike English, Spanish does not use uppercase for nationalities or ethnicities) for uruguayo is not hard to figure out if you remember that the country was part of the same Viceroyalty that would, for the most part, become Argentina. When a separate administrative unit was formed, calling it the “East Bank” was a natural choice, and the name has stuck (although few outside Uruguay and the neighbouring Argentinian provinces are aware of it; I’m familiar with the usage because my grandparents used to live just across the river from Salto).

    @David Marjanović:

    the Protestant Work Ethic has been a part of generic Western culture for long enough that it isn’t hard to find among Catholics

    It has been conclusively shown that the Weberian thesis of a “Protestant work ethic” is bollocks, being based on strong presuppositions, little data and bad math.

  81. I don’t know about how it’s treated in Europe, but in America, any mention of the “Protestant work ethic” usually seems to be in the context of a joke. For a typical example, when I was a teenager, a relative told me that I had a strong Protestant work ethic, “despite not having a drop of Protestant blood.”

  82. When it comes to the Protestant work ethic, Weber famously (to some of us) admitted that Appalachians (or “Mountain Whites”) were a puzzling exception.

  83. not having a drop of Protestant blood

    I think the concept is understood as a joke primarily among those who have no more than few drops of aforementioned blood. I heard it recited quite sincerely (and usually suppressed my urge to chuckle) – it’s something between a creation myth and a PC-fied version of what used to be a belief in racial and cultural superiority.

    few outside Uruguay and the neighbouring Argentinian provinces are aware of it

    I for one thought about the Uruguayan orientales that there were only thirty-three of them :)

  84. J. W. Brewer says:

    A non-trivial percentage of the U.S. Hispanic immigrant population (at least in the NYC area) has become involved in various sorts of evangelical/pentecostal Protestantism in preference to their ancestral Catholicism. So we’re running a bit of a natural experiment as to whether that subgroup and their children will experience greater economic success or other positive outcomes over the next couple decades compared to the control group. Stay tuned to this channel. (Of course, there are lots of confounding variables, not least the question of who within the source population self-selects for getting involved with Protestantism in the first place.)

  85. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @MOCKBA: that’s kind of like believing that there were only 47 ronin, innit?

    My own favourite reference to Lavalleja’s braves comes from Borges, but understandably tends to lose flavour in translation:

    He told me that in 1886 he had invented a numbering system original with himself, and that within a very few days he had passed the twenty-four-thousand mark. He had not written it down, since anything he thought, even once, remained ineradicably with him. His original motivation, I think, was his irritation that the thirty-three Uruguayan patriots should require two figures and three words rather than a single figure, a single word. He then applied this mad principle to the other numers. Instead of seven thousand thirteen, he would say, for instance, Máximo Pérez; instead of seven thousand fourteen, the railroad; other numbers were Luis Melián Lafinur, Olimar, sulfur, clubs, the whale, gas, a stewpot, Napoleon, Agustín de Vedia. Instead of five hundred, he said nine. Every word had a particular figure attached to it, a sort of marker; the later ones were extremely complicated… I tried to explain to Funes that his rhapsody of unconnected words was exactly the opposite of a number system. I told him that when one said 365 one said three hundreds, six tens, and five ones, a breakdown impossible with the “numbers” Nigger Timoteo or a ponchoful of meat. Funes either could not or would not understand me. (“Funes, his memory”, trans. Andrew Hurley)

  86. kind of like believing that there were only 47 ronin

    :) but a mistake made even easier by the other flowery names of Latin American insurgencies and political movements, which made me conclude without investigation that the Treinta y Tres Orientales must have been named after some secret society or insurgency … rather than simply because of their provincial identity!

    There are other notable Orientales outside Uruguay too, such as a sports team from the Eastern shore of Puerto Rico.

    I tried to explain to Funes that his rhapsody of unconnected words was exactly the opposite of a number system.

    It is a fairly common belief here in the US that the Chinese are better skilled at math for linguistic reasons – simply because their words for numbers are so much shorter than ours. A nice language myth!

  87. Russia is full of first language Russian speakers who are hesitant to consider themselves ethnic Russians. This is a consequence of Soviet nationality policy which demanded everyone to have a fixed nationality written on their passport.

    But this is changing quite fast. Many Russian minorities are switching to ethnic Russian identity, especially Slavic and Finno-Ugrian minorities who are racially indistinguishable from Russians.

    The process of ethnic assimilation is very hard to stop and to resist it you need either a very strong ethnic identity or significant racial or religious differences which would cause Russian majority to reject one’s claims to Russianness.

    I am also very interested in upcoming census in Crimea. I wonder how many of several hundred thousand ethnic Ukrainians of Crimea will switch to ethnic Russian identity.

  88. That’s a process that has happened throughout history and prehistory, of course, which is one reason all claims to national/racial purity are so laughable.

  89. Sandhi has essentially given Hindi unique words for all numbers from 1 to 100; the underlying “twenty-five” pattern is barely visible under the sound changes, but it’s not enough for it to be predictable.

  90. David Marjanović says:

    It has been conclusively shown that the Weberian thesis of a “Protestant work ethic” is bollocks, being based on strong presuppositions, little data and bad math.

    I’ll try to read that at some point, thanks. :-) I’ve heard this accusation about basically all of Weber’s work, but I’ve never read anything by Weber in the first place; I wasn’t talking about his original concept, especially the idea that the “Protestant work ethic” explains the (however defined) success of the West and/or capitalism, and assuming Calvinist origins the term “Protestant” is a misnomer anyway.

  91. fisheyed says:

    couldn’t call himself Indian because (a) he was at least nominally a Muslim,

    What? There are ~180 million Muslim citizens in India (which is only slightly less than in Pakistan).

    (Sorry to comment on an old thread)

  92. Yeah, it always surprises me how many people are unaware of the huge Muslim population in India. (Correspondingly few people realize that the country with the world’s largest Muslim population is Indonesia.)

    (Sorry to comment on an old thread)

    No, no — I love it when old threads come to life!

  93. Along similar lines, a lot of people are surprised to learn that most Arab-Americans are Christian.

  94. ^If that’s true, I’ll bet most Americans don’t realize that Lebanese are Arabs.

  95. I’ll bet most Americans don’t realize that Lebanese are any different from Syrians or Egyptians (except in coming from Lebanon, of course).

  96. Of course, any Syrian nationalist will tell you that Lebanese are really Syrians, unjustly separated from the mother country by the evils of colonialism. (If there are any Syrian nationalists left these days.)

  97. SFReader says:

    -I am also very interested in upcoming census in Crimea. I wonder how many of several hundred thousand ethnic Ukrainians of Crimea will switch to ethnic Russian identity.

    Results are in.

    Soviet census of 1989 – 626 thousand Ukrainians,
    Ukrainian census of 2001 – 577 thousand Ukrainians
    Russia’s Crimea census of 2014 – 345 thousand Ukrainians.

    Looks like about 200 thousand Crimean Ukrainians switched to Russian ethnic identity

  98. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve been told that unspecified Arabs (likely from the Maghreb, but possibly Syria) say the Lebanese aren’t really Arabs – “those are the Phoenicians!” Of course this refers in part to the tradition of going around the world for trade.

  99. That’s actually something the Lebanese (in particular the Maronites) say about themselves.

  100. J. W. Brewer says:

    Because of the asymmetry in the Middle East that religious affiliation generally tends to be inherited but it has over the centuries been easy to convert to Islam (thus putting your descendants in that group) but difficult and sometimes dangerous to convert away from it, it is generally thought plausible that most currently Arabic-speaking Christians are descendants of the pre-Islamic population of the Levant (or Egypt, or Mesopotamia etc) who were generally not ethnically Arab but who with a handful of exceptions slowly lost their prior L1′s over the course of centuries. They have in recent centuries taken different approaches toward the question of how they self-identify as “Arab” as a matter of ethnicity rather than language. The Maronites in Lebanon (more so than the other sorts of Arabic-speaking Christians there or in Syria), the Assyrians/Chaldeans in Iraq, and at least to some extent the Copts in Egypt all have (in the old country, at least – things may vary quite a bit in diaspora in the West) subfactions who rather self-consciously reject self-identication as Arab, thinking of it perhaps the way an Anglophone Irish nationalist would resist the notion of self-identification as an Englishman. There is apparently now a smallish faction within the Arabic-speaking Christian population of Israel that is trying to discourage ethnic self-identification as Arab as a way of opting out of the Jew-v.-Arab dynamic in local politics. I think their proposed revived ethnic self-identifier is “Aramean.”

  101. SFReader says:

    The Ghassanids (Arabic: الغساسنة‎‏; al-Ghasāsinah, also Banū Ghassān “Sons of Ghassān”) were a group of Arabs descended from the Azd tribes, that emigrated in the early 3rd century from the Southern Arabian Peninsula to the Levant region,[1][2] where some merged with Greek-speaking Christians’ communities,[3] converting to Christianity in the first few Centuries AD while others were already Christians before emigrating north to escape religious prosecution.[2][4] The Ghassanids generally did not accept Islam and few became Muslim following the Islamic Conquest; most Ghassanids remained Christian and joined Melkite and Syriac communities within present day Syria and Lebanon.[2]

  102. SFReader says:

    It would quite awkward for them to deny their Arab ethnicity…

  103. J. W. Brewer says:

    The phrase “were generally not ethnically Arab” was intended to mean something different than the phrase “were without exception not ethnically Arab” would have.

  104. There is apparently now a smallish faction within the Arabic-speaking Christian population of Israel that is trying to discourage ethnic self-identification as Arab as a way of opting out of the Jew-v.-Arab dynamic in local politics. I think their proposed revived ethnic self-identifier is “Aramean.”

    A while back I read about a Maronite village in Israel which is trying to revive Aramaic as an everyday spoken language among its people: http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/Israel/A-Maronite-revival-in-Israel

  105. The Maltese are another group of Arab-speaking people for whom the claim has been made (both by Maltese and by foreigners) that their language is not Arabic, but Phoenician (or, more precisely, Punic). Linguistically, that claim has no base, but I assume, like with the Lebanese, it was an attempt to a Christian nation from an Arab identity that was identified with Islam. (And yes, I know that there are more Muslim than Christian Lebanese, but, as Hat mentioned, the claim that Lebanese is a descendant of Phoenician is mostly made by Christian / Maronite Lebanese).
    If there are any Syrian nationalists left these days
    Well, at least there still is the Syrian Social Nationalist Party , which advocates a Greater Syria including all of the fertile crescent. It’s active in both Syria and Lebanon and, judging by the linked Wikipedia article seems to be in Bashar Assad’s camp now, after having been suppressed by the Baath regime for decades. In Lebanon, they were one of the Pro-Syrian parties aligned in the March 8th alliance.

  106. (and that was meant to read “an attempt to distance a Christian nation from”)

  107. gwenllian says:

    Neither New England nor the New York City metro area qualify as “fundamentally religious nations”, certainly much less so than Croatia or Poland.

    I agree about New England or New York City. But while it’s true that Croatia is still in many ways a fundamentally religious nation, as a Croatian, many things about religion and its influence in the US are strange to me, starting from the fact that it would apparently be controversial for a president to be an atheist.

    Because of the asymmetry in the Middle East that religious affiliation generally tends to be inherited but it has over the centuries been easy to convert to Islam (thus putting your descendants in that group) but difficult and sometimes dangerous to convert away from it, it is generally thought plausible that most currently Arabic-speaking Christians are descendants of the pre-Islamic population of the Levant (or Egypt, or Mesopotamia etc) who were generally not ethnically Arab but who with a handful of exceptions slowly lost their prior L1′s over the course of centuries.

    While Muslims in many areas of today’s Arab world do appear to have more Arab ancestry than their neighbours of other religions, genetic research appears to confirm that most Arabic speakers are not of entirely Arab descent, and many don’t appear to have much Arab ancestry at all, regardless of their religion. Egypt is an example of a country where some of the Muslim population have attempted to emphasize their non-Arab ancestry in an attempt to strengthen the Egyptian identity. Personally, I can’t think of a worse metric of whether a group is Arab or not than genetic testing.

  108. SFReader says:

    Malta was largely repopulated by settlers from Sicily and southern Italy after Norman conquest in 12th century.

    Arabic-speaking Christian settlers from Sicily at that…

    So basically, Maltese are Arabic speaking Italians.

  109. “Egypt is an example of a country where some of the Muslim population have attempted to emphasize their non-Arab ancestry in an attempt to strengthen the Egyptian identity.”

    Egyptians typically do not refer to themselves as ‘Arab.’ When they use the term ‘Arab,’ they are referring to people from the Gulf region. I don’t think it is a conscious attempt to disassociate (at least with Muslim Egyptians) but just the way they self identify.

  110. gwenllian says:

    There seems to be quite a bit of disagreement in Egypt regarding identity. The more religious-minded an Egyptian is, the more likely to favor something of a pan-Arabic identity. Those more secular seem to prefer emphasizing a separate Egyptian identity. The older brand of pan-Arabism seems to be dead.

    The Egyptian identity issue seems to be similar in a way to the tug of war between the secular nationalists and the pious in Turkey.

  111. gwenllian says:

    It also seems I use the word seem entirely too much. Basically, that’s just how things in Egypt appear to me as an outsider who doesn’t speak Arabic.

  112. “There seems to be quite a bit of disagreement in Egypt regarding identity. The more religious-minded an Egyptian is, the more likely to favor something of a pan-Arabic identity.”

    Could be. I have only observed comments in which Egyptians use the term ‘Arab’ to not include themselves. But, I have not done any systematic study of who does this and who may not. And, my observational sample is limited and biased toward Christian (I am married to an Egyptian Christian) although I have known a number of Egyptian Muslims and encounter them in taxis, shops and the like.

  113. Well, at least there still is the Syrian Social Nationalist Party

    Yes, those are the fellows I was thinking of, the former Parti populaire syrien. I didn’t realize they had reconciled with Assad; that’s quite a development, considering they’ve been bitterly opposed to the Baathists for pretty much my entire life.

  114. controversial for a president to be an atheist

    To proclaim atheism, or even lack of religion. We’ve had several openly Unitarian presidents, and many Christians deny that Unitarianism is Christianity. But that’s as far as it goes. We’ve had one Catholic president, which was very controversial at the time but not since, and otherwise a bunch of varieties of Protestants and some explicitly non-denominational Christians.

    On the other hand, Lincoln and Hayes were probably non-religious, but they were very quiet about it. See the article linked above.

  115. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m certainly not contending that ethnic self-identity is per se transmitted genetically. But e.g. it is claimed in the most recent study that the self-identified “Anglo-Saxon” population of England has genetic ancestry reflecting only a minority of ancestry (maybe 20-30%?) from the incoming Angles, Saxons etc with the bulk reflecting the pre-existing “British” population (which could be called “Celtic” although that involves some question-begging of its own), whereas by contrast the percentage of such ancestry among the Welsh, Cornish etc is much much lower. So the “ethnic-Arab” population of much of the Middle East descends from centuries of intermarriage between a comparatively small population of incoming Arab conquerors and the larger pre-existing population that was over time assimilated both to the Arabic language and to Arabic culture/self-identification. My points are just: a) conversion to Islam was one significant vector for such assimilation (not least by facilitating intermarriage); and b) because of taboos against exogamy-without-conversion, the Christian population is more likely to be in the position of the Welsh/Cornish, which doesn’t mean they *can’t* assimilate to an Arab ethnic identity as well as using Arabic as an L1, only that the reasons why some of them might resist such self-identification should be unsurprising — language replacement generally facilitates but does not inevitably compel assimilation to the ethnic identity associated with the new L1, with Irishness perhaps being a good case study where it didn’t.

  116. JWB: There is apparently now a smallish faction within the Arabic-speaking Christian population of Israel that is trying to discourage ethnic self-identification as Arab as a way of opting out of the Jew-v.-Arab dynamic in local politics. I think their proposed revived ethnic self-identifier is “Aramean.”

    Pancho: A while back I read about a Maronite village in Israel which is trying to revive Aramaic as an everyday spoken language among its people

    The Israeli government recently added “Aramean” as a new category in the population register. The numbers are (yet) small, but something big’s afoot. For about a year via Google News I’ve been tracking Shadi Khalloul (sometimes written Halloul), the fellow mentioned in the Jerusalem Post article; ditto Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in northern Israel. They and their “Aramean” followers are attempting to distance themselves from the Arab community in Israel and in so doing are arousing its ire. Nadaf and his son have been beaten up at least once.

    More telling: Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, resident in Beirut, decided to accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Israel last year. That visit, to a country still technically at war with its neighbor after 67 years, could only be seen as a provocation by Arab rejectionists of any peace accord with Israel.

    I suspect this new-old Aramean identity is part of a major reassessment by Christians in the face of the travails currently besetting the region.

  117. CBN News, February 22, 2015: Hidden Heritage: Aramean Christians Fighting for Israel

    (The link in the previous post is to Israeli daily Haaretz.)

  118. JWB, I’m not sure I follow you. You’re saying the Welsh and Cornish have a smaller percentage of “British” origin than the English. Surely that can’t be right.

  119. J.W. Brewer says:

    My phrasing was at best unclear: for “such ancestry” read “that ancestry genetically linked to the Anglo-Saxon invaders.”

  120. J. W. Brewer says:

    I wonder if “Aramean” might be a plausible common ethnic self-identifier for most of the different folks that the advocates of “Greater Syria” want to unite? Wiki asserts that at one point Pan-Syrianism attracted disproportionate support from the Orthodox Christians in Lebanon because it offered an ethnic identity that was nicely intermediate between Pan-Arabism (too general and Muslim-dominated) and We-Are-the-Phoeniciansism (too particularistic and Maronite-dominated). But having some of the rhetoric of Pan-Syrianism being used for tactically pro-Israel purposes will probably leave everyone even more confused than they were before.

  121. J. W. Brewer says:

    Indeed, note that most recent English translations of Deuteronomy 26:5 have “Aramean” (generally thought in context to refer to the patriarch Jacob) where the King James Version used “Syrian” . . .

  122. When they use the term ‘Arab,’ they are referring to people from the Gulf region.
    Egyptians aside, I wish English speakers would use the perfectly good word Arabian to refer to people from the Arabian peninsula, not just to land and horses.

  123. The noun Arabian in that sense is known, but rare since the mid-19C. OED3 lists only these quotations since 1830:

    1893 F. W. L. Adams New Egypt 41 Everything that is characteristic of the Egyptian is uncharacteristic of the Arabian.

    1927 C. H. La Wall Four Thousand Years Pharmacy iii. 93 The Arabians perpetuated the polypharmacal combinations which had come down from the Egyptians.

    1977 R. B. Tisserand Art of Aromatherapy ii. 22 If this is true it means that distillation was known in Egypt at least 2,000 years before the Arabians were supposed to have invented it.

    2006 Winnipeg Free Press 26 Mar. f8/1 Over the centuries, papermaking evolved from rice to old rags, until the Arabians created a finer paper from wood and bamboo.

  124. Official recognition of Aramean nationality in Israel was accomplished by regulation rather than legislation. This means the minister of the interior decided to make the change after consulting with his bureaucrats and other interested parties. I didn’t dig for the precise wording of the regulation, but the news reports note that among other criteria, a candidate for recognition as an Aramean must מכיר makir the Aramaic language.

    Makir is without direct parallel in English. It sort of means know, but not quite; it’s more in the direction of being acquainted with, and reminds me of the distinction in German between kennen and wissen. The choice of verb is deliberate, as their may be quite some number of ‘Arameans’ in Israel who are acquainted with Aramaic, but few indeed who know the language. The verb in that case would be יודע yode’a.

    BTW, in Hebrew, you don’t say that you ‘know’ someone. That kind of usage is what led to “he knew her in the biblical way,” because biblical usage of יודע yode’a with respect to another person invariably means carnal knowledge. (The root ידע yad’a is also the source of מנדעי Mandean — a Gnostic group, as someone pointed out on a recent thread.)

  125. SFReader says:

    I know some Israelis who study Aramaic, because they believe that the language is an important part of their Jewish identity.

    I don’t know the numbers, but I suspect there could be more Jews in Israel who are acquainted with Aramaic than members of “Aramaean” nationality.

  126. SFReader:I don’t know the numbers, but I suspect there could be more Jews in Israel who are acquainted with Aramaic than members of “Aramaean” nationality.

    I suppose it depends on how one defines “acquainted” and how one compares the numbers. I know that parts of the Talmud are written in Aramaic and so it’s study is important to some Jews for religious reasons as well as the reasons of Jewish identity that you mention, but Aramaic remains a liturgical language for Maronites and Syrian Orthodox in Israel (and possibly other Christian groups) which means a great number of people in those communities are exposed to Aramaic on at least a weekly basis even if some of those individuals aren’t particularly pious.

    A good analogy would be with Latin Catholics up until the 60s. A man who wasn’t particularly religious beyond going to mass on Sundays would still have been potentially exposed to quite a bit of Latin. My peers and I, having been born well after Vatican II, do not have this experience and I’ve only made a few failed attempts at studying Latin but I’m enough of a nerd about my religion that I can recognize a Pater Noster or a Salve Regina when it is prayed or chanted. I suppose this is the type of acquaintance that the Aramaic revivalists are hoping will give a good foundation for Aramaic’s revival (as it might have done for Hebrew, for that matter).

  127. J. W. Brewer says:

    Fr. Gabriel, referenced above, is I’m pretty sure a priest of a church (the Jerusalem Patriarchate, which is Chalcedonian) whose traditional/normative liturgical language is Greek and present liturgical language is generally Arabic (except for one priest who famously serves in Hebrew for a congregation comprised mostly of immigrants to Israel from the former USSR). So I wouldn’t think he’d be too keen on a linguistically-driven notion of Arameanicity in terms of present competence or even exposure. To be fair, here’s a blog post saying that the conventional wisdom that between say A.D. 400 and A.D. 1000 the Chalcedonian/non-Chalcedonian split tracked Greek v. Syriac as preferred language is not entirely true and the linguistic situation on the ground was messy with lots of counterexamples to that generalization. http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/2011/10/orthodox-liturgy-in-syriac-sinai.html So if that post is correct, the ancestors of Fr. Gabriel’s flock might have heard Aramaic in church of a Sunday as recently as three or four centuries ago. Hardly a blink of an eye when it comes to the timescale of Levantine history usable for polemical purposes.

  128. @JWB: To add my personal experience, during my stay in Lebanon I attended a few church services (weddings and funerals in the families of friends and colleagues), mostly Maronite and Greek Catholic / Greek Orthodox, and my impression was that 99% of the services were held in Arabic; concerning the non-Arabic parts, I remember that there was a Kyrie Eleison sung in Greek at a Greek Orthodox service.

  129. I suspect that JWB is correct in assuming that Fr. Gabriel’s liturgical language is not Aramean.

    About a decade ago a friend and I attended a Christmas Eve service at a large Latin Rite church in Jerusalem. The service was entirely in Arabic. On Christmas Day we attended the service at a chapel in the building of the Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate. Most of the prayers were in Arabic, but every so often I’d understand a phrase or a sentence, and realized that I was hearing Aramaic. Recognizing us as Anglos, a helpful parishioner gave us a rather beat-up set of pages in English to help us follow the prayers. Except the pages were for Easter prayers . . .

    After the service, some of which were led by a woman, the congregation gathered in a reception room across the hall from the chapel. Small glasses of wine and candies were distributed to all. I couldn’t help but wonder if the wine had special symbolism in a region where for most of its population consumption of alcohol is religiously proscribed.

  130. “Aramaic remains a liturgical language for Maronites and Syrian Orthodox in Israel (and possibly other Christian groups)”

    Some years ago, I visited an old church in a Christian village in Syria (Ma’loula) in which Aramaic is still spoken. The priest would say the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic for visitors (and sell tapes). This was presented as the words that Jesus would have used. I didn’t want to spoil their fun (or business) by pointing out that this was a translation from Greek, translated years later from oral tradition from Aramaic at least second hand, and there were almost certainly a number of differences from the original version.

  131. The website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a useful summary of the Christian denominations active in the country.

  132. gwenllian says:

    I know some Israelis who study Aramaic, because they believe that the language is an important part of their Jewish identity.

    Didn’t some Middle Eastern Jews speak Aramaic as their everyday language until relatively recently?

    To add my personal experience, during my stay in Lebanon I attended a few church services (weddings and funerals in the families of friends and colleagues), mostly Maronite and Greek Catholic / Greek Orthodox, and my impression was that 99% of the services were held in Arabic

    I think, as George mentions, that you’d have had much more luck finding Aramaic in Syria.

    which doesn’t mean they *can’t* assimilate to an Arab ethnic identity as well as using Arabic as an L1, only that the reasons why some of them might resist such self-identification should be unsurprising — language replacement generally facilitates but does not inevitably compel assimilation to the ethnic identity associated with the new L1, with Irishness perhaps being a good case study where it didn’t.

    I’d say political differences arising from religious ones are a much more important motivation here then a lingering pre-conquest ethnic identity. In the case of the Maronites, while they may not be of Arab (Arabian?) descent, there was certainly no lingering Phoenician identity all these centuries. The Maronite elites decided to focus on a Phoenician identity, even though there’s no way of knowing how much ancestry from which pre-Arab group Maronites have. And, since they don’t even know, how could it possibly matter in any real sense when it comes to identity? What there was, was a Maronite identity, which is perfectly valid, even in the unlikely event that all Maronites’ ancestors were found to be Gulf Arabs.

  133. gwenllian says:

    Of course, it’s not just non-Muslim Arabic speakers who cling to unnecessary myths about who they descend from. The prestige accorded to Arabic descent in many Muslim cultures can often cause insecurity about people’s own ethnicity, and there are many not very convincing stories about Arabic descent all over the Muslim world.

  134. gwenllian says:

    To proclaim atheism, or even lack of religion. We’ve had several openly Unitarian presidents, and many Christians deny that Unitarianism is Christianity. But that’s as far as it goes. We’ve had one Catholic president, which was very controversial at the time but not since, and otherwise a bunch of varieties of Protestants and some explicitly non-denominational Christians.

    I know it’s more of a symbolic thing, but it’s such a silly taboo for a place like the USA to have. The most powerful and successful country in the world, and yet there are still silly and surprising expectations and taboos around religious stuff. And a lot of the political candidates are frankly bizarre, especially for a country of the affluent west. Truly a land of contrasts.

    Thanks for the link, reading more about Unitarianism at the moment. I knew nothing about it, had no idea it wasn’t another mainline Protestant denomination.

  135. Unitarians (then known as Socinians) had a very rough time in Europe, being equally persecuted by Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. Maybe Anabaptists had it worse, I’m not sure. America wound up a refuge for both the original sects and their modern re-creations.

  136. Didn’t some Middle Eastern Jews speak Aramaic as their everyday language until relatively recently?
    You might be thinking of the Nash Didan (‘our people’), from Urmia in Iran near Azerbaijan. The community emigrated to Israel en masse in the 1930s and 1940s. The language, Lishan Didan (‘our language’) is in use by older generations, and is used in theatre and music, but is not transmitted very much to younger generations, much like Ladino or Yiddish.

  137. You might be thinking of the Nash Didan (‘our people’), from Urmia in Iran near Azerbaijan.

    The Jews of nearby Kurdistan also spoke this language. Ariel Sabar, son of Aramaicist Yona Sabar, wrote My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Family’s Past, a delightful read.

    Several good links on the subject at two not-so-long ago Hattery entries. Search for Sabar.

  138. gwenllian says:

    Yes, thanks! I see now it was here I learned about them in the first place.

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