Endo (auto) and exo

Endonyms (also called autonyms) and exonyms are names or places, peoples or languages as used, respectively, by insiders (in their own language) and outsiders. Examples are España and (in English) Spain, Apache and Diné, français and French.

In recent decades it has become customary in some Western languages, especially English, to replace traditional exonyms with supposed endonyms for peoples and places that are, in some sense, remote or exotic. Thus, the peoples that I first learned about as Eskimos, Lapps, Bushmen and Gypsies are now called, respectively, Inuit, Saami, San and Roma or Romani. (I have always had trouble with the last of these, because, in my experience, outside the Balkans few Gypsies refer to themselves as Roma when they are not speaking Romani.) The usual excuse for the substitution is that the traditional names are pejorative, either originally (that has been asserted about Eskimo and Bushman, though San may also be pejorative) or by later association, for example by referring to the derivation of the verb ‘gyp’ from Gypsy. But the similar verbs ‘welsh’ and ‘jew’ have not led to the abandonment of Welsh and Jew as ethnic designations, prolbably because they are too familiar.

I have previously written about how the name of the now-Ukrainian city historically known in English as Lemberg has had to go, in English-language media, through Lwów, L’vov and L’viv, none of them easily pronounceable in English. But nobody, to my knowledge, has proposed renaming Copenhagen as København, Munich as München, Warsaw as Warszawa, or even Bangkok as Krung Thep. The only recent renaming in English of well-known places from exonym to endonym (what I will call endonymization) that I’m aware of has happened in India (Calcutta to Kolkata, Madras to Chennai, Bombay to Mumbai), made possible by the fact that English is an official language there. (In the case of Bombay it is specifically the Marathi endonym that has prevailed over the Hindi one.)

The two major endonymizations that happened in the first half of the twentieth century are Constantinople to Istanbul and Persia to Iran. The latter has been quite useful in allowing a distinction between Persians as an ethnicity and Iranians as citizens of Iran, who may be Azeri, Kurdish, Armenian or of any number of other ethnicities. Supposedly, a reason of the change from Burma to Myanmar was to allow a similar distinction between the Burmese ethnic group (also called Bamar) and the Myanma nationality (which includes Shan, Karen, and others); but this doesn’t seem to have taken hold. The change of Siam to Thailand (from one exonym to another) has had the opposite effect: ‘Thai’ is now applied to all the country’s denizens, including those of non-Thai ethnicity (hence ‘Thai Malay‘).

What is striking is how sometimes the exonyms for neighboring nations differ drastically from the endonyms. Take the island of Great Britain: England’s neighbors, Scotland and Wales, are Alba in Gaelic and Cymru in Welsh, while in these languages England is respectively Sassain and Lloegr. Sweden and Finland are respectively Sverige and Finland in Swedish, Ruotsi and Suomi in Finnish. Bohemia is Čechy in Czech, Böhmen in German; Germany (Deutschland) and Austria (Österreich) are respectively Německo and Rakousko in Czech. Greece (Ελλάδα, Elláda in Greek) is Greqia in Albanian; Albania (Shqipëria in Albanian) is Αλβανία (Alvania) in Greek. Note that in the last case the exonyms are similar to those in other languages, except Turkish, which has Yunanistan for Greece and Arnavutluk for Albania.

2 Responses to “Endo (auto) and exo”

  1. The y-word | Coby Lubliner's Blog Says:

    […] Just another WordPress.com weblog « Endo (auto) and exo […]

  2. milloum Says:

    relevant and interesting post by Victor Mair on Language Log:

    No more Hong Kong, no more Tibet

    I’ve just commented on another more specific post, before reading this one. I can now see a bit better what you’re getting at.

    I’ll set aside the question of why you would want to use the endonym instead of a customary exonym, though. What I’m more interested in is, in the examples you’ve cited, where the decision to change originated? and how did (or why didn’t) the change spread to the lexicon of most speakers?

    “But the similar verbs ‘welsh’ and ‘jew’ have not led to the abandonment of Welsh and Jew as ethnic designations, prolbably because they are too familiar.”

    This seems to be an important point. Here is my (vaguely) educated guess of the typical way an endonym might replace an exonym in English FWIW: a group of intellectuals, sometimes rightly, lament the pejorative, colonialist/imperialist, or ethnically restrictive connotations of a given endonym. They begin to argue in favour of a change. This change is adopted by other intellectuals (academics…), diplomats, lexicographers and the press before it really infiltrates common usage. As the toponyms or ethnonyms we are talking about are indeed rather not “familiar” to most speakers, there is a certain level of insecurity associated to using them, so that speakers will frequently correct themselves and each other based on dictionary/media usage rather than their own intuition.

    NB as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this 😉 in specific cases though, the endonym/exonym pair may be politically loaded which makes the decision fraught.

    e.g., in the post I linked to above, the attempted reversal (which is very unlikely to trickle down) is not motivated by liberal values. This is of course more obviously problematic (and anyway the proposed correction is in fact not an endonym at all, just a different exonym…)

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