UIGHUR NAMES PRONOUNCED.

Victor Mair has provided an invaluable post over at the Log, giving audio clips of “how the most important Xinjiang names are actually pronounced in Uyghur and in Mandarin.” I never would have guessed that Taklamakan (or, as he prefers, Täklimakan) sounded like that, or that there was a strong initial stress on Tarim.
Mair quotes NY Times correspondent Ed Wong as saying that the Times had “received an email from a reader saying the NYT should change its ‘pronouncer’ on Uighurs. Right now, in our articles, the editors insert (WEE-gurs) as the pronouncer. One reader said this is not the correct pronunciation, and sounds strange to the Turkic speaker’s ear.” As I wrote in a comment there:

I will issue my standard disclaimer that English spellings and pronunciations are for the use and convenience of English speakers, and it is foolish and presumptuous to expect them to sound correct to speakers of other languages. I seriously doubt that a Uyghur speaker’s rendition of, say, “New York” would pass muster to an English speaker, and that’s as it should be. Different languages are different.

Comments

  1. i wonder why the newspaper has to insert the pronouncer even
    as if for the schoolchildren to chew them all information ready for consumption

  2. If the quoted reader really means simply that it sounds different in English from in Uyghur, then I agree with you; but “WEE-gurs” really does seem particularly different from the pronunciation in Mair’s post, where the initial <U> seems to denote a vowel. Something like “OO-ee-gurs” would be closer. (Still not perfect, since the <y> seems to denote a semivowel, but I don’t think /uj/ is a possible rime in English.) I’ll grant that there’s no reason English names have to be anything like native ones (French–français, Hebrew–ivrít, etc.), but the Times doesn’t usually give pronunciations, so their giving this one makes it seem (to me at least) that they’re going for an approximation of the native name, rather than simply informing their readership of the usual English pronunciation. (But maybe I’m reading too much into it.)
    I was more struck, personally, by the phrase “the Turkic speaker’s ear”. Isn’t Turkic a fairly large and diverse language family? As an English speaker, I can’t imagine objecting to a mispronunciation of a German name, and placing myself as an expert on the grounds of my “Germanic speaker’s ear”. Am I missing something here?

  3. Perhaps one could object to a pronunciation on general Turkic grounds because it was missing vowel harmony.

  4. I thoroughly agreed with your comment at Language Log, Mr Hat. Trying to imitate the native pronunciation of foreign names seems to be a modern fetish (our grandparents would have found it absurd) and is anyway doomed to failure — who can be expected to master the native ways of saying all the cities in the world, especially as we don’t know which previously obscure place will be in the news next?
    What about cities with two (or more) native names and pronunciations? Are we supposed to talk about Bruxelles when talking about its Francophone inhabitants and about Brussel when talking about its Dutch-speaking inhabitants? What if the story concerns both: do we say “Bruxelles-Brussel”? Come to that, as lots of English speakers live there we should perhaps call it “Bruxelles-Brussel-Brussels”.
    Ran: I was more struck, personally, by the phrase “the Turkic speaker’s ear”. I was struck by that as well (before reading your comment). German is reasonably easy to pronounce (easier than French, say), however, and Dutch would make a better example — even Germans can’t pronounce Scheveningen properly.

  5. Bornoz (Turkish for 'bathrobe') says:

    To me it sounded like ‘Wayghur’, i.e., with /wei/ rather than /wi/. What struck me more was the fact that the ‘g’ is a fricative, and the last vowel is very clearly /u/. So in fact the sound is not so far off. English speakers shouldn’t have to pronounce a fricative guttural sound (if guttural is the right word), nor should an unstressed syllable be pronounced with a full vowel. The only change I would make is to substitute ‘way’ for ‘we’ in the first syllable.

  6. our pronounciation is perhaps the closest to the native Uighur – ooygoor
    and i can understand why Uighurs feel touchy about mispronouncing their self-identifying word, all their struggle is about preserving their identity, self-determination
    if not solidarity with them at least not mocking is maybe like too much to expect from the sophisticated readers of the NYT
    Athel Cornish-Bowden, i congratulate you, you fall so easily into the tone of your beloved NYT when it writes about the world affairs and obscure places, the same arrogance and bezapellyatsionnost’

  7. Isn’t Turkic a fairly large and diverse language family
    Not that diverse compared to many European language families. A native Turkish speaker can certainly understand basic phrases in Uyghur. The languages have greater mutually intelligibility than English and Dutch or English and German. But then you also have the issue of pan-Turkish nationalism. Many Turks believe they should be able to understand Uyghur (or Uzbek or Kazakh) because all Turks are one people or something (sort of the same way many Chinese will try to gloss over the profound differences between Cantonese and Mandarin) and probably act like they understand more than they really do. To my ear, attuned to Kazakh and Kyrgyz, I thought the Uyghur sounded very soft, almost as if the speaker had a slight Mandarin accent.

  8. “WEE-gurs” really does seem particularly different from the pronunciation in Mair’s post, where the initial seems to denote a vowel. Something like “OO-ee-gurs” would be closer.
    So? As you say, there’s no reason English names have to be anything like native ones, and this one is probably midway on the scale of difference.
    the Times doesn’t usually give pronunciations, so their giving this one makes it seem (to me at least) that they’re going for an approximation of the native name, rather than simply informing their readership of the usual English pronunciation.
    No, I’m pretty sure they’re simply informing their readership of the usual English pronunciation, which is unknown to all but specialists.
    read: Do try not to be so touchy.

  9. dearieme says:

    I propose that Brits pronounce it “eagre” and Yanks “eager”.

  10. i don’t read the NYT on the world affairs without any pressing need to avoid unnecessary irritation, its tone is really like that, colonial even
    it’s like if the most liberal newspaper is like this i don’t want to read others
    this kind of ‘concern’ about their readership is what sets that tone imo
    and always at the expense of the weaker side, i’m sure if there was a Chinese word to spell all kinds of the finest expertise of kanjis and whatnot would be like called for and cited and savored

  11. i congratulate you, you fall so easily into the tone of your beloved NYT when it writes about the world affairs and obscure places
    Maybe I shouldn’t feel flattered, but I do. I very rarely see the New York Times, and even more rarely do I read it. When I do, it’s a newspaper that I like, but I wouldn’t call it “beloved”. Yet I find myself in the shoes of Monsieur Jourdain: I’ve been emulating it all these years without realizing it.
    If there is a newspaper that I would rank above all others it’s probably El Pais, but even it is not “beloved”.

  12. read, maybe you would prefer The Guardian, from London, if you’re looking for a more liberal English-language newspaper.

  13. Thank you, Language Hat, for introducing me to the word “pronouncer”! I never knew those parenthetical notations in the Times had a name.

  14. > No, I’m pretty sure they’re simply informing their readership of the usual English pronunciation, which is unknown to all but specialists.
    O.K., I’ll trust you on that. In that case, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

  15. John Emerson says:

    I have a copy of a Parshall’s “The First Step in Uygur” [sic], a book and three tapes, which was published in Xinjiang but was apparently taken off the market when the Uighurs started resisting the Chinese a number of years ago. It’s so rare that Bookfinder and Amazon has never listed it, though a few university libraries hold it.

  16. linguist.in.hiding says:

    Nothing of substance to say. Just the “Different languages are different” thing as the last thing of you to quote. Quite extraordinaire, don’t you think 🙂 Yes yes, the spelling wars and so on, but from the purely descriptive point, the different languages do indeed share something in common, no?…???…

  17. komfo,amonan says:

    What a baffling array of views over at the Log & here on this issue! Let me add what I think only one commenter touched on: Due to English’s particularly messy spelling, Romanizations are going to be particularly bedeviling to monoglot English-speakers.

  18. Sounds like something you should put online, John (do you mind if I call you “John”? “mr Emerson” seems so formal). Copyright be damned.

  19. komfo,
    I daresay monoglot speakers of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Vietnamese, French, Samoan, and a host of other languages have at least as devilish a time rendering foreign names in their own unsuitable orthographic practices as poor monoglot English speakers do.

  20. linguist.in.hiding, why are you in hiding?

  21. Actually I think I asked that once before and you explained that you were in debt or something. Sorry, bad memory.

  22. j. del col says:

    I agree with Mair. Imagine a monolingual Uighur struggling with ‘Yoknapatawpha,’or “Chincoteague.’

  23. j. del col says:

    Ooops! I should, of course, have said that I agree with The Hat, not Mair. Sorry.

  24. komfo,amonan says:

    @Joel: I think I made my point badly. The thing is, the ambiguity of Eng. spelling is such that an English speaker must choose from the often several pronunciations of each letter or letter-pair in the Romanization. “Uyghur” is kind of a perfect storm: consider how many pronunciations an English-speaker can imagine for ‘u’, ‘uy’, ‘g’, ‘gh’.
    We’ve had this back and forth about how English-speakers are meant to pronounce the English(ed) word “Uyghur”. Is there as much debate about how to pronounce 위구르, ウイグル, Ouïghour? I can’t imagine there is.
    I was also implying that English speakers’ relative lack of familiarity with foreign languages was another hindrance in our interpretation of Romanizations. But that’s a bit more controversial, so leave that be.

  25. John Emerson says:

    Literate monolingual Americans do get a lot of interference from romanizations of non-English names. In primary school my son had a Lao friend whose last name was Som/boumkhan, pr. “SOO-ba-conn”. At the beginning of each year the teachers stumbled over the name and the kids chorused the pronunciation for them.
    “SOO-ba-conn” was, of course, the oral compromise worked out between the kid and his new, illiterate, six-year-old Anglophone friends, and wasn’t an accurate reproduction of the Lao.
    In a second case, a guy persistently mispronounced his wife’s Chinese name Jia, one syllable, as Ji-a, two syllables with the accent on the first.

  26. Charles Perry says:

    I’ve never understood this “wee” pronunciation. When the GUI computer interface was introduced, techies unhesitatingly pronounced it gooey, rather than gwee. Why is ooey-goor so hard to master.
    “Way-goor” sounds like a Han pronunciation to me.

  27. Robert Berger says:

    Some years ago,I met a Turk living in America who told me about the time he visited Uzbekistan.
    Uzbek and Uigur are very close, and he told me that when he arrived in Uzbekistan, he was startled to hear how familiar the Uzbek language sounded to him, and that he was able to converse fairly well with the local people.
    Also, you should check out the website uygur.org, which has TV and radio broadcasts in Uygur, news and music,and podcasts. Very interesting. Plus plenty of information about East Turkestan in English.

  28. Jongseong Park says:

    English, I agree, has a particularly difficult time with the pronunciation of foreign names. In Korean it’s somewhat different.
    The standard Korean rendering of Uyghur is 위구르. I haven’t seen any other spelling used in Korean. In Korean, once the spelling is decided, the pronunciation is essentially decided as well, so everyone knows how to pronounce 위구르. Incidentally, the spelling 위구르 presupposes that the original pronunciation is something like [wigur].
    The main difficulty is settling on the right spelling in the first place. English has it so easy since so many other languages already use the Roman alphabet, and even those that don’t are likely to provide Romanizations of proper names. Koreans have to figure out for ourselves how to render foreign names in the Korean alphabet, and this is source of much confusion. Standard rules exist but are often not followed, and only a handful of languages are covered. Uyghur, obviously, isn’t one of those languages. Few Koreans will be familiar enough with Uyghur to know how Uyghur names are to be pronounced. I’ve recently written a blog post (in Korean) about how to render Uyghur names in Korean: http://iceager.egloos.com/1566707

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