Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Name Game

Names are a nuisance, especially for auxlangers. Consider the following:

Petrus Peter Pietro Pedro Pierre Pyotr

What do they have in common? They all begin with "p" and have an "r" further on. If we increase the level of abstraction, we can add more. But from a practical standpoint, what do you call someone whose name derives from Greek Petros?

Natlangs have trouble with this too, and there is no single answer. Do you translate the name—"Pedro" in Spanish, "Pyotr" in Russian, and so on—or simply reproduce the original? The original is more likely most of the time, but it may create problems: How do you write (or pronounce) "Shakespeare" in Esperanto, for example? Do you write it as in English, with perhaps the pronunciation in parentheses? And which pronunciation? The British themselves don't pronounce the "r," at least not in the Esperanto fashion, yet Ŝekspiro is common enough. In Inlis I'd use Shekspia, I suppose.

Anyway, the modern, somewhat smug answer seems to be, "Just use the original form."

How clever!

How ignorant!

What if the original form is obscure or problematic? Do we use "India" or "Bharat," for example? "Bharat" is well-known in its own area, but among the target demographic so is "India" (or anyway "Indi-"), and without the troubling "bh-" sequence. It's good to honor the local name and pronunciation, but it's only ethically required, I think, if we mean to replace the original: if the goal is to supplant the languages of India, we may as well retain "Bharat" as an epitaph. But if we work to leave the original languages in place, it's not so pressing.

You can also see this in the Bible. Zamenhof retained more Hebraic forms a lot of the time. Thus "Isaiah" (a wonderfully variable name anyway) becomes "Jesaja," and "Judah" becomes "Jehuda." (Yes, I know: this assumes an English standpoint. Guess what language we're using right now.) And then there's the matter of YHWH, however you want to pronounce it.

About all you can do is try to find a rule or guideline you can follow consistently. I'll give an example next time.


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  2. Great stuff and exactly those questions that we ask ourselves while developing Eulingu: or guess in "official" Eulingu we'd say "Petro" but as you pointed out there is so much variety and often etymology gets lost and nobody remembers the original when it comes to names, places, towns, cities and countries we like to stay as close to the original term...but also offer a Eulingu alternative: Italia - gives us the chance to form new words within Eulingu: Esto d'Italia - He is from Italia i/o esto d'Italu...Esto italos - He is Italian...Esto guster kafu italus - He likes Italian coffee...have a great day and I am looking forward to your next post :-)

  3. Would be great if you could join our Facebook group for further discussion...I have also tweeted your post in!/Eulingu

  4. When we more or less share the Latin Alphabete it is common that we try to stay as close to the original as possible. at least this is true when we compare Western languages. in my native language swedish I will write Shakespeare and pronounce something like Sheykspir. Even a still more Swedish pronunciation is possible. But e.g. in Polish you will write Szekspir.

    But we don't always realize that the traditional names we use often are far from the original pronunciation. We write Cairo, not al Kahira, we say Jerusalem, not Yerushalaim, let alone Al Quds. And there we have another complication: Different languages can use different names for a place.

    The part Silesia in Poland is called Schlesien in German and Śląsk in Polish.

    As far as names of persons go, I think one can try and stay as close to the original as possible. As for toponyms, I think it is not a bad idea to use more ÄneutralÄ names, why not Latin to overcome too complicated names.

    Here Esperanto is relatively good. It has Silezio for Sležsko or Śląsk.