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Is Uyghur but is China

An intermezzo about city names in Xinjiang.

View A Thread of Silk on automidori's travel map.

Xinjiang all the way, from now and on

I am not a fan of William Shakespeare, because:

  1. I think Romeo and Juliet is a silly idea of living.
  2. His literature is difficult for me to comprehend. (That explains the above.)
  3. He said, "What's in a name?"
More than I hate spinach, I hate it when people pronounce and, or, spell my name, wrongly. I hate it to the worst when I've written between brackets my name under my message e.g. a text message, and yet in the following reply message, the sender greets me with the wrong spelling again. And then I reply back: "Hello, this is Blablabla. Regarding to the appointment..." (That's just an example.) Of course the receiver knows it's from me, because we were already in the conversation, and he must find it odd that I suddenly introduce myself in the middle of the conversation. I expect that to arise his attention and take a look at the spelling of my name. No. That didn't work. "Yes, Blobloblo, I agree to meet at... " was the reply message. Yes, it's just a simple thing. Because it's such a simple thing, why is it so difficult to take care of?

The Golden Rule says to do to others what I want others do to me. Hence, I do my best to spell, pronounce, a name, according to the name-bearer's wish. I'm not always successful with this, but I do my best.

Now, speaking of Xinjiang, names become an issue. That's if you care what's right. If you think Blablabla and Blobloblo is the same... just skip this post.

When I wrote about Turpan Facts, I shared with you my thrill of discovering how close Turpan and Turkey are despite the geographical distance. I haven't done research in a physical library. But, just by reading Wikipedia about Uyghur People and Turkic People, I'm overwhelmed. Of course I don't read Wikipedia only. I've read other books, references from other sources, travel guides, about Silk Road in general and Xinjiang in particular. And the more I read, the more I get confused, about one thing: names of places.

I understand very well that the majority of modern Xinjiang is Uyghur speaking Uyghur, but Xinjiang is (in) China. Thus, as the land of Uyghur, names of places are naturally in Uyghur language. But, as part of a country called China, official names -- naturally also -- have to be written in Chinese, I suppose. To make matters more complicated, the international world uses Latin Alphabet, which needless to say is way different from either Arabic (the script used in modern Uyghur language) or Chinese characters. Now, to interact with the international world, there has to be a name written with the international world's character: Latin Alphabet. The thing is, Latin Alphabet doesn't accommodate all pronunciations in Uyghur. But neither do the Chinese characters.

Let's take "Uyghur" for example. I had always thought it was "Uyghur". And then I read "Insight Guides: Silk Road". It's written "Uighur". Oh, I had been mistaken, I said to myself. However, according to Wikipedia:

Uyghur is often pronounced /ˈwiːɡər/ by English speakers, though an acceptable English pronunciation closer to the Uyghur people's pronunciation of it would be /uː.iˈɡʊr/. Several alternate romanizations also appear: Uighur, Uygur, and Uigur. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region provincial government recommends that the generic ethnonym [ʊjˈʁʊː], adopted in the early 20th century for this Turkic people, be transcribed as "Uyghur."

So, okay, I'll follow Wikipedia and stick with "Uyghur".

And then I met Peng Li in Korla. "It's easier to find people who speak Arabic than English here." she said.

"Arabic?" I was surprised. "Don't they speak Uyghur here?"

"What??" Peng Li was clearly clueless.



I went back to Wikipedia. Oh, in Chinese it is "维吾尔 Wéiwú'ěr". No wonder Peng Li didn't understand me. But, why Wéiwú'ěr?? So funny and how far it is from "Uyghur". Well, "Jakarta" becomes "Yǎjiādá". That's way different also. However, I have to understand that. Chinese syllables are just inadequate to form "Jakarta". Same thing with "Uyghur".

I can possibly ignore Wéiwú'ěr, but can't avoid 庫爾勒 Kù'ěrlè from the name I used to know: "Korla". I couldn't avoid that at the train station, because nowhere was "Korla" written. I would never get on the train, if I insist that it should be "Korla". This is China. Tickets are printed in Chinese. So are timetables. [Until the moment writing this post, I had always thought "Korla" is Uyghur. No, it's Mongolian. In Uyghur it's "Kroraina".]

I was frantic when I wanted to book a flight from Hotan to Urumqi through the internet. It was then when I found out that "Hotan" is "Hetian" and "Urumqi" is "Wulumuqi" in Chinese. But when I wanted to check the train's timetable through a web in the internet, there was no "Hotan", no "Hetian", but "Khotan". My second bible on traveling, Insight Guides, also uses "Khotan".

Since I started writing about my first Silk Road adventure, I've most of the time used the Uyghur names. My reason: the Uyghur names sound more familiar and adventurous for me. But the Chinese names sound awkward and more difficult to pronounce, though I might have been pronouncing the Uyghur name mistakenly as well.

However, for "Hotan", I've used the Chinese name "Hetian" instead. It has nothing to do with adventure this time. The confusion is just too much. "Hotan" or "Khotan"? And then someone said to me, "Please don't change into Chinese name. It's 'Hoten'." What?? "Hoten" with an "e"? To solve this confusion, I took refuge in the official name: "Hetian".

Honestly, it was his comment that had prompted me writing this particular post. "I'm humbly asking you to respect people," he said further on.

I felt offended. I'm not changing names. I hate that myself. Why would I do that to others? Worse than that, even the slightest thought of disrespecting Uyghur people by calling names isn't in my soul. "Hetian". I was just following the official name of the country where Hetian geographically is.

I began to think, there might be other Uyghurs also feeling disrespected because of the misspelling I might have made in my writings. As I had described above, I hold names highly. I do all my best, but I can't guarantee, it would be always correct. Among Uyghurs themselves the spelling of names in Latin Alphabet varies. Such as "Hotan", "Hoten", "Khotan". That's probably because it's not an easy thing to decide which alphabet is closest to the pronunciation in Uyghur language. If I use "Hotan", someone else in the future might say, "No, it should be 'Khotan'." Thus, without any intention of being disrespectful, I hold on to the Chinese official name: "Hetian". If the other names I've written was mistaken, please understand that I'm just a foreigner. Misspelling, mispronunciation, by a foreigner is a common thing anywhere on earth. However, I try my best, because names are, important, for me too.

For those who are into Xinjiang as part of the Silk Road like me, may what I share be your reference. Don't take names too easy, but don't get stressed out by that. On the other hand, when you book a flight, check a train timetable, or search for a hotel, don't give up when your keyword is not found. Try the other name of the city. When you check a list or index that is by alphabetic order, check the alternative names of the place you want to check. You find out about that in Wikipedia. The most significant case I've experience is that of Hetian. I've always thought it was "Hotan". But when I checked the index of Insight Guides, I search all the H's and couldn't find in which page is about Hotan. That's impossible, I thought. It turned out that Insight Guides uses "Khotan", instead. So it's among the K's instead of the H's, and that's on the next index page. How could I think of keeping on finding until the next index page?

Posted by automidori 02:25 Archived in China Tagged china xinjiang urumqi turpan uyghur korla aksu hotan khotan

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