This CBC News story made me quite happy:

This is a tale of two cities — or, rather, of two cities’ names. And it reveals how we sometimes have a dickens of a time spelling foreign nouns in English.
The story begins many months ago, when the CBC was preparing to broadcast the Summer Olympics from Athens. Like a relay runner sprinting toward the baton pass, we glanced ahead to the next Games in 2006.
Our announcers and writers would inevitably refer to the host city in Italy. And it quickly became clear that a decision was needed for a smooth handover.
Some people were calling the 2006 Winter Games the Torino Olympics. Others opted for the Turin Olympics.
Neither was actually wrong, unless you happen to publish or broadcast in Italian. But which was right for us?

Torino, of course, is the name that Italians use for this ancient city in the country’s northwest. Most of the English-speaking world, however, knows the community as Turin. The host city itself puts Torino on all official documents, including those issued in English, and some media outlets have adopted this term as well. A researcher with CBC Sports, Suzanne Blake, conducted a survey during the summer and found that NBC had chosen Torino while the BBC and Canadian Press had picked Turin. Our staff was divided.
When CBC.ca was asked for its views, I suggested the corporation use Turin, largely because it’s the name most Canadians recognize — just as Venezia is called Venice. I also pointed out that we refer to the 1960 Olympics as the Rome, not the Roma, Games, even though the latter is the hometown choice.
In fact, if you look carefully at Canada’s sole medal that year – a silver in men’s rowing – you’ll see ROMA MCMLX on the front.
But that inscription doesn’t make the English label “Rome Olympics” wrong. Put another way, we must consider more than logos, posters and other printed material to determine the language we use for our audience.
A colleague who runs CBC Sports Online, Andrew Lundy, also voted for Turin — slyly noting that if the International Olympic Committee endorses Turin as the acceptable French version, this was a chance for linguistic unity in Canada.
In the end, the head of CBC News, Tony Burman, and the head of CBC Sports, Nancy Lee, made a final ruling for all the English service’s journalists working in radio, television and on the web. We found ourselves on the road to Turin because that’s the most familiar name. Arrivederci confusion. Hello consistency.

The rest of the story concerns an equally sensible decision to prefer Kiev over Kyiv: “We still write Peter the Great not ‘Pyotr,’ for example, and Rachmaninoff instead of ‘Rakhmaninov.'” As regular readers of this blog know, I’m all for traditional English spellings.
Thanks for the link go to Jonathan Crowe.


  1. I think Kiev vs. Kyiv isn’t a good choice.
    Rachmaninov and Rakhmaninov are two spelling versions of same Russian name. Kiev, on the other hand, is Russian name for the capitol of Ukraine, and Ukrainian name is Kyiv (with two-dots over i, in Ukrainian)
    Considering turbulent Ukrainian history and strong nationalistic impulse in the country to change (or “restore”, as some put it) historic Ukrainian geographical names, I can easily see Ukrainians unpleasantly surprised, to say the least, with international media outlet choosing a Russian name for Ukrainian city.

  2. The Russian name for the capital of Ukraine is normally written in the Roman alphabet?

  3. I find it odd that neither discussion of toponyms has attracted a geographer…
    Long story short, it’s a good sight easier to keep track of things when there’s a one-to-one relationship between toponyms and their seats – and easier to play Follow The Leader in that regard.
    Not that I’m about to start calling them "Venezian blinds," though. Consistency, hobgoblins, etc.

  4. I’m doing wholesale Spelling Reforms in Eastern and Central Yoorp at the moment: I’ve got Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Ukrainia, Hungaria and Polandland. Much neater!
    And from now on I shall don my finest orange balaclava and take to felt-penning in “Kyiv” on oppressive supermarket frozen meals of “chicken so-called ‘kiev'”.

  5. Aidan, neither of these two names is normally written in Roman alphabet in Russian and Ukrainian. It’s spelling in English transcription that reflects pronounciation of the name in two languages. Ukrainian is not Russian, and it’s a national identity that’s questioned with the CBS’ choice of toponyms.
    I stressed Ukrainian i with two dots because it sound different from English i.
    If the method is to stick with traditional English spelling and continue to call the city Kiev, it would trigger unnecessary political tension with Ukrainians. Analogy – all other toponyms reflecting international political changes, from names of Chinese cities to whole countries in Africa and Asia.

  6. Tatyana, would it be acceptable to spell it Kiev but pronounce it Київ? In English spelling this type of pronunciation would be a bit unusual but not entirely without precedent, and this seems to be how my Ukrainian nationalist acquaintances deal with the issue.

  7. The case of Kiev, a city whose English name has been borrowed from an intermediate language, is by no means unique in Europe. As Kiev has been borrowed from Russian and not from Ukrainian, so is Copenhagen German, not Danish. Prague is French, like Turin and Rome, whereas Vienna is Italian, or possibly Latin.

  8. I was in Western Ukraine a few years ago teaching English (45 students in one auditorium with perfect behavior, compared to the wild American students I usually deal with, but I digress). My Ukrainian colleague lived on a street named for a Ukrainian nationalist; I think his last name was Bandera (flag in Spanish, so I remembered). I was later told that he was responsible for anti-semitic acts during WWII. As well as the Nazis never having Polish guards at the concentration camps, preferring Ukrainians. And my grandmother never saying Ukrainian without tagging on antisemites to it. Don’t get me started on Ukrainian nationalism. It’s not merely anti-Soviet and anti-Russian.

  9. Apart from Ukrainian nationalism and all other -isms there is such thing as national identity. To call Ukrainian capitol by it’s Russian name is to ignore current geopolitical reality.
    Imperfect analogy – if you specifically call Gdansk by it’s German name of Danzig in communication with Poles, I’d think they would be rightly offended.
    Boo, I don’t see how the right pronunciation is expressed in wrong spelling? After all, when English speaker sees “e” he’s not going to pronounce it “i”. Why not do the right thing and use the word reflecting actual Ukrainian pronounciation?
    Stefano, I don’t recall any relatively recent quarrels between Czechs and French, whereas Russian/Ukrainian relations have troubled history (I’m trying to put it mildly), as the world can see on example of current elections in Ukraine. For Ukrainians the name of their capitol is a loaded issue, connected with the status of Ukraine as independent country, especially now when they have fractions pushing for EU integration.

  10. Michael Farris says

    I agree with Tatyana that a more Ukrainian rather than more Russian name ofr the capital might be a good idea in English, but since there’s no official romanization for Ukrainian, I’m not sure if I like Kyiv (looks horribly confusing), what about Kiyiv? Based on the Ukrainian pronunciation and clearly indicates two syllables (which Kyiv doesn’t).

  11. Stefano, thanks for some fascinating information.
    Copenhagen, Vienna, Prague, Rome. Who knew?

  12. Are Russians offended that we use the German name “Moskau”/”Moscow” for their capital?
    No doubt “Kyiv” will eventually be adopted, just as “the” has been dropped before “Ukraine”, “Beijing” has been adopted in place of “Peking” (despite a lack of name change), and “Côte d’Ivoire” has replaced “Ivory Coast” (but are French-speaking Ivorians calling my country “the United States”?). At some point it’s easier not to argue and just to give in to those who want to instruct you in speaking your own language.

  13. A couple of responses here:
    “And from now on I shall don my finest orange balaclava and take to felt-penning in ‘Kyiv’ on oppressive supermarket frozen meals of “chicken so-called ‘kiev’.”
    In name of dishes it is generally considered permissible to use the old name. For example, though the name of the capital of China is now properly Beijing, the dish is still “Peking Duck”.
    “Vienna is Italian, or possibly Latin.”
    It’s Italian. The Latin name of the city is “Vindobona”.
    “At some point it’s easier not to argue and just to give in to those who want to instruct you in speaking your own language.”
    Maybe you should give in not because of fatigue, but because it is the compassionate and considerate thing to do? After all, no one should desire the “purity” of their native tongue to such a degree that it makes them a jerk.

  14. Right, I had forgotten that. Vienna’s Latin name is definitely Vindobona.

  15. I have this argument with my Honduran sister-in-law ever so often. Why can’t we insensitive Gringos ever pronounce Spanish toponymns correctly? Then I ask her what she calls the capial of New York state: Nueva York. The U.S.? Los Estados Unidos. And so on.

  16. Dave, it’s not the same argument.
    Rather like you insensitive Gringo call Spanish cities in Portugese.

  17. This reminds me of that time I was discussing Joyce with my bi*ch of an ex-girlfriend (but that’s another story) and mentioned something about his stay in Trieste, which I pronounced “TREE-est”, like any good patriotic American would. “You mean ‘tree-EST-eh'”, she snickered. I explained that if we wanted to pronounce all place names the same way that the natives did, we’d be awfully busy learning to twist our tongues to form new sounds. As might be expected, the relationship didn’t last very long. Aaaaaaaaaaanyways, I’ve always been fascinated by this issue and I’m happy to see it discussed here on one of my favorite blogs.
    I’ll throw another wrench into the works and bring up the issue of national languages gaining dominance over regional languages/dialects, most obviously in China. There’s a world of difference between the Mandarin and Cantonese pronounciations of place names, as I’m sure there is between Mandarin and the many other languages of China. If it isn’t already happening, I’d have to believe that the PRC is going to push the Mandarin pronounciations over the regional ones in the international arena. Not to even get into the whole tone issue…

  18. Oh, and I forgot one: Macedonia; _just_ Macedonia; just to annoy Greece.
    Greg: As (self-appointed) propaganda minister of The Free State of Trieste and Trst (the latter being of course its Slovenian name) I hereby bestow upon you the Freedom of Pronunciation of the City. Which in no way implies a binding commitment on my part not to snicker, of course.

  19. I tend to agree with greg. Place names are heavily tied up not just with ethnic sentiment but with aggressive nationalism and its politics.
    Peking for Beijing looks like Western imperialism, so it was right to throw it off — right? Well, Peking happens to be based on a very old Chinese pronunciation of the name. (There are still regional dialects that pronounce ‘j’ as ‘k’). I liked the old name; it had a touch of je ne sais quoi. Now it’s stodgy old Beijing. My only consolation is that Beijing University is still officially Peking University in English (and Qinghua is Tsinghua, too).
    When we come to regional names, Mandarin is the aggressor. Why does the local name Amoy have to be replaced by Xiamen? Why is Kashi (Chinese) now an acceptable alternative for Kashgar (Uighur, I believe)?
    I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Boao Forum for Asia. It’s held in a town that is known locally in Hainan as Bac-ngao. In Japanese, the same characters are read Hakugo (long o). But the name that is used internationally is Bo’ao — Mandarin. This is an actual change in linguistic behaviour. For hundreds of years, the pronunciation Bo’ao was probably never heard in the streets of the village from decade to decade. Now it has become the norm. Is this not a kind of linguistic imperialism?
    A slightly different story is the name for the Yangtse River. Why are some people trying to replace it with Changjiang — check out Wikipedia if you like, that’s the line they’re taking. I fail to understand the desire of PC do-gooders to enforce such conformity.
    One other example. Formosa (the island) was named that by the Portuguese well before the place was ever a part of China. But in order to prove the island’s Chinese-ness, the Mainland Chinese aggressively exclude the name Formosa from normal discourse, to the extent that it is now disappearing. And where does Taiwan come from? It’s thought that it was the name of a topographical feature located next to the bay where the original Dutch settlement in Formosa was located!

  20. Exactly! And I’ll go ahead and bring up tones: when we pronounce Beijing with the wrong tones, we’re probably actually saying “friendly sausage” or something equally silly. And pair us is puh ree. And English diphthongs all our vowels, thus screwing us up even when we try to pronounce the name correctly. O confusing world!

  21. I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, it reminds me of “We are no longer the knights who say ‘ni’….We are now the Knights Who Say ‘Ecky- ecky- ecky- ecky- pikang- zoop- boing- goodem- zoo- owli- zhiv'”. I see no reason why I should humour Chinese or Burmese dictatorships by playing along with their linguistic policies.
    On the other hand, Bratislava is no longer Pressburg or Pozsony in English, and Ljubljana isn’t Laibach. So Kiev may indeed become Kyiv (what was its name when it was the capital of Rus’?). Calling Ukraine “Little Russia” would cause the maximum offence.

  22. JC: Malorossiya should not be translated as “Little Russia” in any case.
    I spell “Kyiv” for the same reason I say v Ukraine in Russian (instead of na Ukraine) although it is unnatural — not no offend our Ukrainian friends. When we all grow up, I hope we switch to regular usage again.

  23. And what of bilingual cities? Is it Montreal (EN: MonTREEall) or Montréal (FR: mohn-ray-AL)? Bruxelles (FR: Brüks-SELL, FR-BE: Brüss-elle !!) or Brussel (NL: Bruce-ul)? In fact, isn’t Kiev bilingual ?!

  24. “Then I ask her what she calls the capial of New York state: Nueva York.”
    She calls ‘Albany’ ‘Nueva York’? That’s very strange.

  25. I completely agree with bathrobe, who is now the Official Languagehat Leisure Garment. As for the sensitivities of the Ukrainians, while I respect them in other ways, insisting that foreigners use a particular form of a geographic name is unacceptable. It’s less politically repellent than in the case of Burma/”Myanmar,” but that’s more than made up for by the unusability of the proposed form. It happens that aside from the fact that everyone’s accustomed to it, the Russian version, Kiev, is easily pronounced in English: KEE-eff. The Ukrainian version, Kyiv, is almost impossible to say for an English speaker: K(Y)-iw, where (Y) represents a back unrounded vowel that takes a long time to learn in beginning language classes. So you’re not only forcing everyone to get used to a new name for a city they have a perfectly good name for, you’re making them learn one they can’t even say. Sorry, the Ukrainians should invest their national pride elsewhere.
    Look, the newly independent Mongols have a perfect right to adopt Genghis/Chinggis Khan as a national hero, as they are doing, but they have no right to insist that others think of him that way. Not the same, obviously, but a similar principle. You write geographical names however you like and allow me to do the same, and we’ll get along fine.

  26. Bâle, Firenze, Genf, s’Gravenhage, Köln, Londres, Moskva, Mumbai, München, Yangon. Know which cities I’m talking about? On the one hand, it’s appropriate to label a city by what its inhabitants call it; on the other, not using the name familiar to your audience can be problematic.

  27. While I agree with the use of usual names for foreign cities, I hasten to mention that one should not take it to the other extreme either.
    A perfect case of such extremism is driving along Belgian autoroutes, where depending on which side of the linguistic divide you’re in city names change. There’s one stretch of road that straddles the regional border: one sign will point to (NL-BE) “Bergen”, “Kortrijk” or “Ryssel (F)”, when the next will direct you to (FR-BE) “Mons”, “Courtrai” (not too bad so far…) or “Lille (F)” (!).

  28. Why do I get the feeling we’re going to have to start using geographic coordinates in order to identify the city we’re speaking of?
    -Songdog, 40.8N,74.2W

  29. It happens that aside from the fact that everyone’s accustomed to it, the Russian version, Kiev, is easily pronounced in English: KEE-eff. The Ukrainian version, Kyiv, is almost impossible to say for an English speaker: K(Y)-iw, where (Y) represents a back unrounded vowel that takes a long time to learn in beginning language classes.
    This might explain what a BBC World Service announcer was trying to do over the weekend when he consistently pronounced it as “keev.” One syllable. (Not that BBC is any kind of pronunciation model: they did a book reading over the summer written by someone born in St. Louis, Missouri, which happens to be my hometown. From start to finish they pronounced it as “Saint Loo” which is strictly a jocular pronunciation, never a serious one, and not even historically correct, as it’s not even good French or Spanish.)

  30. Apparently if I don’t stop doing anything that anyone at all finds offensive, I’m a “jerk”. Well, some people find “picnic” and “rule of law” offensive because they have wacky ideas about etymology. I’m not going to stop using those words. I’m also not going to abandon “Latino” or “Hispanic” or “black” or “Jew”, because some people find them offensive. What would I use in their place?
    On the subject of toponyms, some of the more obscure English versions have quietly slipped away, and I don’t miss them. Livorno and Tbilisi are discussed rarely enough that people don’t miss Leghorn and Tiflis.

  31. I agree and disagree with everybody here, depending on which language they’re speaking to which audience. I think it’s time to refer everyone to the long and lively discussion thread at Peaches in Cluj.

  32. To imitate the Ukrainian pronunciation of Kyiv without transcending the boundaries of English phonetics, I would suggest that the -yi- be pronounced as a diphthong, namely the one in “near” or “dear” as South England speakers say it.

  33. KCinDC: I think (hope) Christopher Culver wasn’t calling you a jerk, but that was certainly a belligerent and unnecessary way of expressing himself. For what it’s worth, I agree with you entirely, including the stuff about “wacky ideas about etymology.”
    Alexei: Sure, one could pronounce it that way, but it would still sound foreign to Ukrainians, so why not use the foreign pronunciation we’ve got and are used to? We are, after all, foreigners. (And need I point out that Ukrainians don’t use English-sounding forms for English/American place names?)

  34. bathrobe:
    Peking for Beijing looks like Western imperialism, so it was right to throw it off — right? Well, Peking happens to be based on a very old Chinese pronunciation of the name.
    Isn’t Peking just the Cantonese pronounciation of those two characters? (Pak-Geng, in current Hong Kong Cantonese, but close enough.)
    My only consolation is that Beijing University is still officially Peking University in English (and Qinghua is Tsinghua, too).
    More importantly, whether you pronounce it QingDao or TsingTao, you’ll still get a nice cold beer!

  35. LH, I don’t think there is an established pronunciation for Kyiv yet: Ukraine has only been independent for 13 years. As for Kiev vs. Kyiv, an author who writes on Ukraine in English and calls its capital Kiev risks getting accused of pro-Russian or anti-Ukrainian leanings, especially if she is not an apologist for Ukrainian nationalism. Alas, it’s a larger-than-linguistics issue.

  36. an author who writes on Ukraine in English and calls its capital Kiev risks getting accused of pro-Russian or anti-Ukrainian leanings
    I am well aware of this, just as I am aware that writing anything at all about Macedonia risks getting me accused of all sorts of sins. I don’t believe in giving in to that sort of bullshit; if we can’t discuss language (or anything else non-political) without kowtowing to everyone’s political sensibilities, there’s no point trying to discuss anything at all. I think there are good reasons for keeping Kiev and other customary spellings, reasons having nothing to do with politics; if someone insists on making it political, that’s their problem. Fortunately, I haven’t had too much trouble with crazed nationalists here on LH.
    *knocks wood*

  37. In English it’s “Kiev.” Sorry. I had many arguments about this with Ukrainians when I lived there. I sympathize with the anti-Russian sentiment but the Ukrainians have to face facts – the spelling “Kyiv” just makes no sense whatsoever in English and looks ugly to boot. If Ukrainians want some respect in the West and want people like Jon Stewart to stop making fun of them as provincial Slavic hicks than they have to stop wasting time trying to change MY language. If Ukrainians really want us to use a new name for Kiev than invent a new transliteration system the way the Chinese did. And in response to Tatyana’s post above – yes, Prague is a French spelling, but it is the German pronunciation, not Czech, and the name directly reflects the long years of Hapsburg domination. Yet Czechs are mostly grown-ups with enough self-confidence that they don’t feel the need to go around making everyone write “Praha.”

  38. Hear hear!

  39. Michael Farris says

    I don’t think anyone cares what Kiev is called in Swedish or Indonesian. That’s because a national/ethnic language can call places whatever it wants and, 99 % of the time, no one else cares.
    But a lot of effort has been put into making English an international language of wider communication. And one (unintended?) result of that is that local feeling absolutely has to be taken into account in issues like this.
    In other words, you can’t have it both ways with English being a language of particular peoples in particular places with particular habits and traditions _and_ be a lingua franca among people who don’t speak the language natively.
    Personally, I’m against the use of English as an international lingua franca (and in favor of accentuating American differences into an independent language). But that’s a minority opinion.
    I revive my proposed spelling of Kiyiv as being far from perfect, but not as butt-ugly as Kyiv and giving some indication of Ukrainian pronunciation.
    (Kyjiv might be better, but it gives English speakers even less of an idea how to pronounce it than does Kyiv).

  40. In other words, you can’t have it both ways with English being a language of particular peoples in particular places with particular habits and traditions _and_ be a lingua franca among people who don’t speak the language natively.
    This (like most dichotomies) doesn’t make sense to me. Why can’t English be a language of particular peoples in particular places with particular habits and traditions _and_ be a lingua franca among people who don’t speak the language natively? In fact, it is both right now. What’s the problem?
    If Ukrainians, in the course of using English, choose to refer to their capital as Kyiv, let them. And if I choose to call it Kiev, I will. What’s the problem?

  41. Michael Farris says

    “In fact, it is both right now. What’s the problem?”
    I mean it’s not going to function well in both roles simultaneously. English as an international language means that native speakers lose some control over some areas (toponyms being a very good example).

  42. “native speakers lose some control over some areas”
    Is language something that can be controlled? Just because English is an international language doesn’t mean Ukrainians can force all speakers of English to use a particular term for the Ukrainian capital. Just because Americans (or whoever else) refer to the city as Kiev doesn’t mean Ukrainians can be forced to use the same term. Usage can be influenced but not controlled.

  43. Exactly. I don’t see how the “control” thing comes in. Cujus regio, ejus toponymia.

  44. Should I want to annoy people, either as a politico or a pedant, Hat’s (Y), the Ukrainian И, is approximately the Russian Ы, but maybe a little further back toward the Turkish I. So ɨ to ɯ. Is that the idea? Googling around a little, the explanations I found are broadish or phonemoid: if I knew the answer, I’d recognize it; but I don’t.

  45. Michael Farris says

    “Exactly. I don’t see how the “control” thing comes in.”
    It means who gets to decide what’s correct and incorrect usage (as much as linguists deride the concepts they’re alive and thriving in the ESL industry and schools and workplaces around the world).
    It’s possible for Ukrainians (who mostly don’t have any choice about whether to learn English, remember, a five or six year commitment to get any useful results) to perceive some of the attitudes here as “me native speaker, you wrong”. Having the power to decide what’s the proper name of their capital in a language that’s forced on them (to some degree) is about the only power Ukrainian speakers will ever have over English. My inclination is to let them exercise it (though my personal preference would be a lot less international reliance on English and use of traditional English names like Tiflis, Bombay etc.)

  46. Russian is a lingua franca in former Soviet republics and within the Russian Federation itself. Russian is highly standardized, its regional dialects nearly extinct. It was not the case 100 years ago (Порато баско зимой в Сиговце — guess what dialect is this?) Yet I doubt it was the use of Russian as lingua franca that caused this decline.
    Back to the Kyiv/Kiev debate: sometimes one letter makes a huge political difference. Consider Tallinn vs. Tallin in Russian.

  47. Tallinn, Tallin? Surely you mean Reval.
    I’m amazed this thread has got as far as it has without a punch-up over Stroke City (Londonderry/Derry/Doire).

  48. To achieve instant world peace, the rule should be that you should transliterate Country B’s names into whatever spelling is most likely to produce, in Country A’s speakers, the approximately correct pronounciation. It’s approximate because B’s name may involve phonemes that A’s language doesn’t have, but try it.
    As for “Neuva York” it does make some sense to just translate a word if it appears in a foreign name, no? On that ground, there’s nothing wrong with “St Petersburg”.
    But “Cologne” and “Vienna” and “Munich” are certainly silly, unless of course the Germans/Austrians decide to adopt them since everyone under 40 speaks perfect English anyway …

  49. “St. Petersburg” may be acceptable, but why are the Russians using a German name for it, when they had a perfect opportunity to change it to whatever they wanted?
    Also, you’re assuming that Country B has only one language.

  50. KCinDC and Jarrett, St. Petersburg is a separate case, and it was discussed at length here in the past. In short: the city was founded by Peter The Great as “window to Europe”, given European name in lingua franca of the times – in Dutch/German in honor of his patron saint and made a new capitol of the country. Afterwards there were 3 renaming of the city, one of them in exactly the manner you suggested – russified Petrograd at the time of WWI. Third renaming was return to the original name, as it was given by the founder and I certainly hope it will stay St.Petersburg forever.

  51. Having the power to decide what’s the proper name of their capital… is about the only power Ukrainian speakers will ever have over English
    But they don’t have that “power.” Power is the ability to impose your will, not the ability to complain. Don’t you see that there are nationalists and ideologues all over the world eager to get everyone else to use their preferred terms for everything? Some of them are otherwise fine folks, like the Ukrainians, while others are repellent bastards, like the Burmese junta, but once you accept the principle there’s no way to draw a line, as witness the contemptible haste to appease the junta (which surely has as little clout with America as any national rulers) by using “Myanmar” everywhere. I have actually been chastised for talking about Burma, as though “Myanmar” were the choice of the Burmese people!
    I’m sorry, but I don’t see that “Cologne” and “Vienna” and “Munich” are any sillier than “Germany” and “Austria”; unless you’re prepared to teach all English speakers the local official name for every single place in the world (with classes in pronunciation where necessary), you’d better rethink the principle. I understand a sentimental attachment to the idea of proud peoples emerging from under the bootheel of whatever, but this has nothing to do with that. Each language has its own words for everything, including places, and that’s both inevitable and enjoyable. Politics and language should be kept as far apart as possible.
    And what do you do about place names that are disputed within a single language, like (London)Derry? (Thanks to J.Cassian for the apposite example.) You just can’t please everybody.
    Great discussion, everyone!

  52. This thread has reminded me how annoying I found it to learn that the Scandinavians do not use either a Spanish word or a Scandinavian word for “Mexico City” – they use the English name!

  53. Russians have no problem with St. Petersburg, or Piter. Note that in the former Eastern Prussia — the Russian part of it, which is about one-third of the total, the rest being in Poland — young people say König (Königsberg) instead of Kaliningrad and Tilsit instead of Sovetsk; they brew Königsberg beer and play Chekhov in Tilsit-theatre.

  54. I’m glad to hear that; I always liked the name Königsberg.

  55. I would love to witness a return to Shlisselburg and Oranienbaum (gorgeous delapidated palace there, btw, or was, in 1980)

  56. Don’t know if it’s still true, but in my Cantonese class I learned that the Cantonese pronounce Japanese place names using the Cantonese pronunciation for the same character. So Tokyo (East capital) is Dungging in Cantonese.
    And in California we have this wierd mix of Spanish and English pronunciations for Spanish-origin place and street names, San Jose for example.

  57. Everybody who uses Chinese characters reads them according to their own dialect/language; thus Mandarin speakers call Tokyo Dongjing and Cantonese speakers Dungging, while the Vietnamese (who only recently exchanged characters for romanization) call Japan Nhat Ban — I don’t remember what they call Tokyo. Actually, now that I think about it, I seem to remember that Tonkin (the old French name for the northernmost part of Vietnam) is the same name (characters) as Tokyo but with Vietnamese reading. But (sigh) my reference works are in storage, so I can’t check any of this out.

  58. Michael Farris says

    How do Russian speakers deal with the o-umlaut in Konigsberg? (I like the Polish name Królowiec though there’s no special Polish history connected with the city).
    If I’m not mistaken, the modern Vietnamese reading of the characters for Tokyo would be
    Đông kinh (as opposed to Bắc kinh for Beijing).
    But Tonkin (not sure of tones) might well represent the same morphemes borrowed at a different time or different dialect (both bất and vô are cognate with the Mandarin negative bu)
    “recent” is a subjective term for the switch from writing with Chinese characters to the Roman alphabet, which was actually a long, gradual process and its officialization was more a confirmation of reality than anything else. Given how Vietnamese and Chinese vocabularies are so differently structured, the idea of trying to write Vietnamese in Chinese characters seems dreadful (how did they write elaborate expressions? like vui vẻ or sạch sẽ??)
    I don’t think of Kyiv (or Kiyiv, he wrote stubbornly) as in the same league as Myanmar at all. Especially since Aung Sung Suu Kyi still says “Burma” and that’s quite sufficient for me.
    Getting back to the subject at hand, I don’t know if Ukrainian speakers are all that anxious to change the name in English, but if they are, then I think they should be listened to rather than mocked or dismissed airily.
    final note, although the o-umlaut eludes me without cutting and pasting, recently acquired keyboard software makes Vietnamese fun and easy, I hope it shows up on people’s screens correctly.

  59. Michael Farris says

    A quick search indicates that in modern Vietnamese, Tokyo is …… Tokyo (there’s a long tradition of writing foreign place names in not-Vietnamese and now English names are often used (I’ve seen Cambodia, Phillipines Thailand and some others in Vietnamese texts)

  60. “recent” is a subjective term for the switch from writing with Chinese characters to the Roman alphabet
    Well, sure. But I figure a switch starting in the late nineteenth century is recent compared to the 2,000-year history of involvement with China and its writing system. In my experience, most East Asians think of the last couple of centuries as recent history.
    And Tonkin is just the French rendering of Đông kinh (your Vietnamese shows up fine on my browser).

  61. This thread has reminded me how annoying I found it to learn that the Scandinavians do not use either a Spanish word or a Scandinavian word for “Mexico City” – they use the English name!
    As they do in Yiddish and Hebrew, too. And I bet a whole lot of other languages. (Hey, does anyone call it “Ciudad de Mexico” in Mexico, either? Don’t they all call it “D.F.”?)

  62. Michael, Russians pronounce it Kenigsberg, first e like in “penny”; last one – obvious.
    As to how Ukrainian call their capitol themselves – following LH’ link to fistfulofeuros post and than to their reference to “Mirror weeekly” (Ukrainian info outlet)’ page in English, I found they use Kyiv.
    It’s all very well to advice Ukrainians to “grow up”, but coming from the nations who long since established their independence, makes one to recall a Russian expression of “Fed up don’t understand the hungry”. Little inconvinience of learning to pronounce и (and yes, it sounds exactly like Russian ы) will go long way with Ukrainians.
    Personally, I would consider it a matter of good manners.

  63. Actually, all Russians I have heard mention Königsberg say Кёнигсберг or just Кёниг. Similarly, Goethe is Гёте although it used to be Гете.

  64. We know different Russians.

  65. It’s Кёнигсберг (Kyonigsberg) in my reference works, for what that’s worth, and ё (yo) is the usual Russian equivalent for ö.

  66. Reference works are logical and live language’s usually not. I can hear in my mind steel narrator voice from war-era documentaries pronouncing it with “e”. FWIW.

  67. As I’ve said, Goethe used to be Гете as in this lovely stanza:
    Кому же и быть тайным советником,
    Как не старому Вольфгангу Гете?
    Спрятавшись за орешником,
    На него почтительно указывают дети.
    (Mikhail Kuzmin, 1916)
    My guess is that old-school Russians mapped ö to е, not ё, but it’s all in the past.

  68. Michael,
    The Cary, North Carolina-based Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation has a Nôm Lookup Tool that seems to work (I can only test the Chinese part, and it understands even so-called old readings). You may want to try and look up those expressions. Their -rather partial, to put it mildly- historical presentation is worth reading, too (on quite another level).

  69. Michael Farris says

    The nôm finder doesn’t look for cominbations that include bound morphemes, and so without a previous good knowledge of characters (which I do not possess) it’s not as useful as it might be. And again, one of the failings of nôm was that it didn’t consistently render certain morphemes in a transparent way (that is, it was never very well standardized though quốc ngữ also has some standardization problems).
    I certainly agree that study of nôm for philological research purposes is worthwhile and I’m very glad it’s going on. But those involved seem to try to make the switch to quốc ngữ seem a lot more sinister (and French motivated) than probably was the case.

  70. Alexei said:
    Isn’t Peking just the Cantonese pronounciation of those two characters? (Pak-Geng, in current Hong Kong Cantonese, but close enough.)
    I found this at the Wikipedia article on Beijing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peking):
    “Beijing is sometimes referred to as Peking. The term originated with French missionaries four hundred years ago, and corresponds to an archaic pronunciation which does not take into account a /k/ to /tɕ/ sound change in Mandarin that occurred during the Qing dynasty. (/tɕ/ is represented in pinyin as j, as in Beijing.)”
    Although Wikipedia is often the source of incorrect information, I tend to agree with them on this. The reason is that there are many other places that have ‘k’ instead of ‘j’ in the old spelling, such as Yangtse Kiang, Chekiang, Sinkiang, etc, and these don’t look like they came from Cantonese. For instance, wouldn’t the ‘Jiang’ meaning ‘river’ would be Kong if it was from Cantonese? And wouldn’t Sinkiang (Xinjiang) be ‘Sumgong’. Similarly, Nanjing should be Namking.

  71. Excellent point.

  72. My guess is that old-school Russians mapped ö to ?, not ?, but it’s all in the past.
    Quite right. Khrushchev, for example; that’s a yo, not a ye, as second-last letter. And the habit continues: Gorbachev was very rarely described as Gorbachov.
    One thing that puzzles me: why do Russians transliterate H in western languages to G, not Kh? The result is plays called ‘Gamlet’, boys called ‘Gherman’ and dictators called Adolf Gitler.
    Meanwhile the voiced H of Arabic can be transliterated as either; thus you get some Russophone Muslims called Akhmed and some called Magomed.

  73. ajay: That’s not the point at issue; Alexei and Tatyana are not discussing transliteration into English but the actual pronunciation in Russian of German names with ö, specifically Königsberg. Alexei’s contention is that a century ago Russians might have said Kenigsberg, but everyone he knows says Kyonigsberg. Tatyana is apparently an old-fashioned gal.

  74. Michael Farris says

    [jo] might well be the current pronunciation for the city in question (I think Kaliningrad sounds nicer, actually, but I’m outnumbered in that regard). It does, however, seem strange. I would think that the hard e would be closer to the original pronunciation (if hard e can follow k in Russian, can it?)

  75. I’m afraid Kaliningrad can’t possibly sound nice considering it was re-named after the pro-forma head of the pro-forma Soviet parliament under Stalin. Were it derived directly from kalina (guelder rose?), that’d be a different story (Kalinov most cherez reku Smorodinu and all that). After annexing that part of E. Prussia, Soviet authorities replaced virtually all its toponyms with artificial quasi-Russian names (Sovetsk for Tilsit, how’s that?); only a few were named after Soviet war heroes (Chernyakhovsky, Gusev).
    Regarding Gamlet for Hamlet: in two words, the answer is euphony and tradition. I have tried to explain this before but can’t find that comment.

  76. And then there’s the problem that arises when speakers of a language *try* to adopt a native place-name and just get it wrong.
    For example, in ASL, the sign CHINA-1 (dominant-hand index finger twisting in outer corner of dominnant-side eye) has been almost completely replaced by CHINA-2 (dominant-hand index finger touches dominant-side shoulder, non-dominant-side shoulder, then non-dominant-side hip) on the grounds that CHINA-1 is offensive and, crucially, that CHINA-2 is the Chinese sign for China.
    It seems, however, that CHINA-2 actually means “Beijing” in Chinese Sign Language. I don’t know whether it’s considered pejorative to refer to all inhabitants of China as residents of Beijing, but I know that the sign BEIJING does not normally have a synechdochic function in CSL.
    So is it better to use a term which we *know* is pejorative, but is native to the source language, or to borrow a term from the target language only to mangle it and/or misconstrue its meaning? ::shrug:: I sign CHINA-2 for lack of a preferable alternative. I also say Paris (not Paree with an English “r”), and I’m fairly sure my rendering of Kiev sounds nothing like either a native Russian speaker or a native Ukrainian speaker (equal treatment in ignorance, I guess).
    Still, I think it’s naive to tell speakers of a language in which an ongoing ethnic struggle is encoded to “grow up” – using one term or another amounts to taking sides, even by default (if we were really opposed to Russian policy towards Ukraine, we’d make the effort to overcome linguistic habit), and it’s natural to want people to take your side.
    Oh – and incidentally, it’s Derry. Unless I’m talking to someone who feels otherwise and I don’t feel like taking a beating. ;c)

  77. This has been an interesting discussion.
    When it comes to names I think when you talk to most folks they’d just as soon I’d been named John Smith. 🙂
    The I before E spelling issue is the least of my worries as people butcher the pronunciation of my name. 🙂
    And it’s not even the original, having been changed slightly by paperpushers unable to communicate with dear old Dad when interviewing him for immigration purposes in 1951.
    The Mad Macedonian
    Proud 1st Generation

  78. Wow, I didn’t realize the immigration people were still butchering names as late as 1951. Well, look on the bright side: you must be the only Kundurazieffs in the world!

  79. Being a Belgian myself, I have an example that tops the one mentioned before: when driving on the highway from Brussels to Leuven and beyond, one crosses several times the linguistic border between the 2 main language areas of Belgium, Flanders (Dutch speaking) and Wallonia (French speaking). The highway leads to the most important city of Wallonia called “Liège” in French, which is what you see on signs when on the French-speaking side of the border in question. The next sign showing how far it still is and located in Flanders will tell you about “Luik,” which is the Dutch name. However, if you continue on this highway and continue beyond Liège into Germany and then turn around, you’ll see signs telling you about “Lüttich,” yes, the German name of Liège! Territoriality is primary in all this. Lately though, some common sense is returning, esp. on the highways, in that the name in its original language is now sometimes added in parentheses on signs, esp. if the city in question is in a neighboring country, e.g., Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen).
    By the way, “Brussels” is a case apart. The original town was called “Broekzele” in Flemish Dutch, which was frenchified into “Bruxelles” when it became an important city with a French-speaking bourgeoisie. The “x” gave way in pronunciation to an “s” sound, from which then the modern Dutch name “Brussel” was derived.
    Furthermore, all placenames in Brussels were originally Flemish Dutch but when the city became more French speaking, those names were mostly adopted as they were, in the spelling of the time. Later, when Dutch modernized its spelling, placenames too were updated. Result: archaic Dutch spelling = French version, modern Dutch spelling = Dutch version! Examples: Schaerbeek (F)/Schaarbeek (D), Heysel (F)/Heizel (D), Laeken (F)/Laken (D), Auderghem (F)/Oudergem (D), Saint-Josse-ten-Noode (F)/Sint-Joost-ten-Node (D), etc.
    Leuven is another city where language and politics mix. The Catholic University there dates back to 1425. The language of instruction was Latin, later replaced by French and only in 1936 did it become really bilingual French/Dutch. Note that the city is clearly located inside the Dutch-speaking area of Belgium. In the 1960s, the student revolts sweeping Europe focused in Belgium on the split of this university. In 1968, it was decided that a new, French-speaking university was to be built from scratch south of Brussels in Wallonia. The new town was called “Louvain-la-Neuve” (“New Louvain”; “Louvain” = French for “Leuven”). Both universities, however, want to continue to lay claim to the ancient pedigree and call themselves by the same name, the one in Dutch, the other in French: “Katholieke Universiteit Leuven” and “Université Catholique de Louvain.” But as English commonly favors the French version of Belgian placenames, they both show up translated as the same “Catholic University of Louvain” in translation, even though they are very distinct and in many ways mutually-antagonistic institutions!
    That leads me to one last point: the custom in English to use the French versions of placenames in Flanders (Dutch-speaking Belgium). Never mind that Dutch is a very close relative to English linguistically—before the Norman invasion and the subsequent infusion of French, it is said that people from Flanders and England could understand each other rather well. “Bruges” instead of the native “Brugge,” “Ypres” instead of “Ieper,” “Courtrai” instead of “Kortrijk,” it’s too bad. Luckily, some cities have their own English variant, e.g., Ghent (Gent), Antwerp (Antwerpen), Mechlin (not often used anymore; Mechelen).

  80. bathrobe, I stand, or sit, corrected.

  81. Being a bachelor still, at 44, being the last KUNDURAZIEFF is a distict possibility. 🙂
    There may STILL be some male cousins under the original name, back in Macedonia, though.

  82. Back to Kiev vs. Kyiv
    …Russian/Ukrainian relations have troubled history (I’m trying to put it mildly)… For Ukrainians the name of their capitol is a loaded issue, connected with the status of Ukraine as independent country… (Tatyana)
    Since political expediency is the most important argument for switching to Kyiv, let’s practice a simple test with those proponents who speak Ukrainian and Russian. Because it’s transliterating the city’s name from Russian that people have a problem with, the logical initial step would be to have the Russian language follow the Ukrainian spelling first, and then insist on correcting the English spelling. If you are ready to use in your personal writing and to campaign for switching from Киев to Кыйив, then yes, you have a right to demand Kyiv instead of Kiev.

  83. Heh. Excellent point.

  84. This site (http://www.infoukes.com/faq/kyiv-2/) presents, among other more subjective arguements such as style and “beauty”, that Kiev is actually an old Ukrainian spelling and therefore validates its current use. Any thoughts on this?

  85. Vadim,
    I’m not aware I was demanding anything. I don’t live in Ukraine or Russia, nor am I a citizen of neither country and, frankly, I can care less what you, Ukrainians, call your capital – in any language.
    My suggestion of alternative English spelling was based on reading Ukrainian news sites (I supplied a link to one) and knowing firsthand inflated Ukrainian pride in regards to your national language and identity.
    If you want to test your proposal, ask your Russian neighbors.

  86. Tatyana,
    I apologize for the [groundless, as it turns out] assumption that you would be interested in testing the idea you seemed to support in the specific way I have suggested. It is true that Ukraine-based English-language media uses Kyiv. After all, it is Ukraine’s official policy — the text of the official ruling on the subject can be viewed at http://www.uazone.net/Kiev_Kyiv.html. By the way, the ruling itself is quite funny — it requires to write Kyiv not only in English, but in fact in any language that uses Latin(Roman) alphabet — imagine, say, a text in Polish that would, in place of normal Polish Kijów, use the word containing a letter (“v”) which does not even exist in the Polish alphabet.
    This peculiar document aside, my point is that, paradoxically, those Ukraine-based sources that do use Kyiv in their English-language versions, don’t bother to change the spelling to Кыйив in their “language-of-the-oppressor” versions — it is easy to see on the “Mirror weekly”Дзеркало тижня”“Зеркало недели” site that you linked to.
    My guess is that in bilingual Kiev the Ukrainized Russian spelling of the city’s name is so obviously unnatural that political considerations fade away in this case, while making the “real” foreigners twist their tongues in the name of the Ukrainian national pride is fun.

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