The Translation and Transliteration of Chinese Geographical Names

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  • The Translation and Transliteration of Chinese Geographical NamesAuthor(s): F. Porter SmithSource: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 21, No. 6 (1876 - 1877),pp. 580-582Published by: Wiley on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of BritishGeographers)Stable URL: .Accessed: 16/06/2014 18:19

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    There is, however, a dark side to this spot so full of riches to the lover of Nature; namely, in the first case the extreme unhealthiness of all the region, except, perhaps, the upper part of the river, and secondly, the Pium flies.. Only those who know these bloodthirsty little insects can sympathise with people who inhabit or pass any length of time in places where they are from sunrise to sunset subjected to such irritating pests. They are plentiful on the entire river, from the Brazilian frontier up to the Cocaya, and are ever busy at their maddening work, to such an extent that, as mentioned of the Oregones, dwellings have to be kept constantly closed and dark, and out of doors in that oppressive temperature the neck and hands have to be kept closely covered, as otherwise the exposed parts are liable, by the irritation of their punctures, to large and painful sores. Such an insignificant little creature positively at times renders life a burden.

    3.?The Translation and Transliteration of Chinese Geographical Names. By F. Porter Smith, m.b. London (seven years a resi? dent in Central China).

    All readers of the public prints must have been struck with the varying orthography, or Roman equivalent, employed by writers on subjects involving the treatment or mention of Chinese places or persons. By " Roman equi? valent" is meant the representation of the sounds of Chinese characters or names, in such letters as form the English and other allied alphabets of Western Europe. At a time when intercourse between China and the West has been formally and extensively established, it is most important that an accepted phonetic standard should be attempted. For this purpose the Geographical Society may be fairly looked upon as the best medium for promoting such desirable agreement amongst all authorities upon the question of fixing the proper names of Chinese places, &c., in European languages. This spelling reform is seen to be very necessary, when the Transactions of Societies, or the leading journals, are consulted upon Chinese matters. Each contributor or translator uses such phonetic equivalent as- seems good in his own eyes, the consequence or assumed importance of the contribution being frequently signalised by some gross departure from accus? tomed renderings.

    In a chance paragraph of the ' Times' newspaper, published in March last,, as a telegram from the East, the Tien Shan, or " Celestial Mountains," are spoken of as the Tian Shan Hills. The Chinese word for "heaven" is. strongly aspirated, and the vowels used should be i and e, in keeping with the standard adopted from the Italian sounds of the vowels by Chinese scholars. As the word shan means " hill, or mountain," the word hills is a useless redundancy. The prefectural city of Lan-chau-fu, in Kansuh, is also called Lan-che-fu, the word fa marking the city as the capital of a prefecture,, being run into the distinctive proper name. The city of Aksu, the Auxasia of Ptolemy, is also called Akasu. Some of these mistakes are, no doubt, sometimes purely clerical; but instances may be selected without number, in which the grossest liberties are taken with the standard renderings of proper names. The vowels i, e, and u, are constantly rendered by ee, a, and oo. Careless linguists assert that the Chinese cannot distinguish between the consonants Z, n, and r; but the liquidity of these literal sounds is not a diffi? culty peculiar to the Chinese. The native scholars are exceedingly awkward in their transferences of European names into their own language, but still

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    their regular use of certain such transferences or transliterations should lead us to accept them as classical, instead of attempt to reform them. A still more serious difficulty is the fact that some of the more modern native authors have invented new renderings of foreign places, apparently in ignorance of their ancient equivalents, to be readily found in earlier dynastic histories. But our concern is not so much with this at present. In addition to the proper rendering of the vowel-sounds, indicated above, by single Eoman letters, there is the matter of the preservation of the marks of accentuation and aspiration, always assuming that the Mandarin dialect is the standard of the language to be translated from. These marks should be carefully preserved in all cases. The common portion of the proper name of the place, &c, should be always kept distinct, or, better still, be actually translated. Thus, shan, mountain; kiang and ho, river; hu, lake; hien,fu, and ctieng, representing the three ascending grades of towns or cities, and other descrip? tive terms, had better be fully translated. One is constantly reading of the Shan tribes on the western confines of China,* as if shan were a peculiar name; whereas these people should be brought down to the name of hill- tribes. The name of the capital, Peking, and that of Nanking, should always be written with a final g. Almost every place, river, &c, in China, has its little-used archaic name, employed in the elegancies of well-read literary officials. These require a place in all Gazetteers, more especially as the various dynasties have made havoc with the names assigned by their predecessors on the Chinese throne. In translating the name of the Chinese sovereign, it would be much better to impart the proper title?Hwang-ti, or Hwang-shang?into the European language. We speak of the Sultan of Turkey, the Shah of Persia, &c, and analogy should lead us to dignify the Arch-emperor of China (as the name more accurately means) with his full title in the vernacular, as the Chief of all Sovereigns of the Universe. Simi- larly it would be better to describe the officials -in something better than the sort of relative rank given them in books, where we read of Chinese generals, majors, ensigns, &c. Very excellent work has been done by Biot, Pauthier, Bretschneider, and others, in enlightening us upon matters of Chinese geo? graphy. On this and the converse, but cognate, subject of the transference of European geographical names into Chinese, much good work has been done by Dr. Wells Williams, lately Chinese Secretary of the American Legation in Peking. With the assistance of other Chinese scholars, press- managers, &c, he has compiled a standard Gazetteer of the world, or some? thing approaching to it, in which all proper names likely to be used in telegraphy, translations of foreign works into Chinese, Anglo-Chinese news? papers, &c, are attempted to be smoothly transliterated into Chinese cha? racters, representing, by their sounds, the foreign names. It would be desirable for the Society to procure, if possible, a copy of this vocabulary for the library, so that uniformity might be gradually brought about.

    Dr. Medhurst, in his 'Geographical Catechism,' Malacca, 1819; Dr. Milne, in his 'Sketch of the World/ Malacca, 1822 ; Dr. Morrison, in his ' Tour of the World,' 1819; Dr. Gutzlaff, in his < Universal Geography;' Mr. Way, in his ' Illustrated Geography,' Ningpo, 1858 ; Mr. Muirhead, in his ' Uni? versal Geography,' Shanghai, 1854, and some few others, have rendered useful service in making the Chinese acquainted with the geography of foreign countries.

    The assistance of some of the accomplished attache*s of the Chinese Ambas? sador at the Court of St. James's might, no doubt, be obtained in the work of this reform. My own labours, as compiled in a somewhat crude form at Hankow, China, in the year 1870, having met with some acceptance, I should be glad to assist in the formation of such a standard vocabulary. Now that the University of Oxford has formally installed the Chinese lan-

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    guage and literature in its Oriental tripos, those who have been humble workers at the task of making the Chinese and E


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