“Myanmar” or “Burma”?

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“Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby MillMaths » 2013-01-07, 13:36

I've just been reading about names of Myanmar/Burma on Wikipedia. :para:

The Burmese names of the country are Myanma and Bama. The former is the official name while the latter is the informal/colloquial variant, the difference being one of register – much like between Bokmål and Nynorsk in Norwegian, I would imagine. The English name of the country was changed from "Burma" to "Myanmar" by the ruling military regime in June 1989. Even so, many countries have continued using "Burma"; these include

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • Canada
On the other hand countries which have adopted the name "Myanmar" include

  • ASEAN
  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • Germany
Which name do other countries use? :)

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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby linguoboy » 2013-01-07, 14:10

Have we? I suppose this means official diplomatic use or something. For the longest time, our press was always wearing belt and braces and saying "Myanmar (formerly Burma)". My impression is that this usage is finally on the wane, but what's replacing it is simply "Myanmar". Quick survey via Google News:

Wall Street Journal: Myanmar
Fox News: Myanmar
NBC News: Myanmar ("Myanmar (Burma)" in caption to accompanying photo)
The Nation: Myanmar
Brettleboro Reformer: Myanmar
CNN: Myanmar in headline, "Myanmar -- also known as Burma" in paragraph 4, "Burma" in State Dept quotes [which might ultimately be the reason for the gloss]
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby md0 » 2013-01-07, 14:45

In Greek, Burma (Mbúrma) is the name the leftists prefer to use, but the Google hits are 2:1 in favour of Myanmar (Mianmár). The hellenised name Virmanía (from Burma) is rarely used anymore.

The Greek ministry of foreign affairs uses "Myanmar (formerly Virmanía)".
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby MillMaths » 2013-01-07, 14:59

linguoboy wrote:Quick survey via Google News:

Wall Street Journal: Myanmar
Fox News: Myanmar
NBC News: Myanmar ("Myanmar (Burma)" in caption to accompanying photo)
The Nation: Myanmar
Brettleboro Reformer: Myanmar
CNN: Myanmar in headline, "Myanmar -- also known as Burma" in paragraph 4, "Burma" in State Dept quotes [which might ultimately be the reason for the gloss]

Yes, the Wikipedia article also mentions:
Media usage is also mixed. In spite of the usage [of "Burma"] by the US government, American news outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune and CNN, and US-based international news agencies the Associated Press and Reuters have adopted the name "Myanmar". Others do still use "Burma", including Voice of America, The Washington Post, and Time.



meidei wrote:In Greek, Burma (Mbúrma) is the name the leftists prefer to use, but the Google hits are 2:1 in favour of Myanmar (Mianmár).
I can understand the leftists' preference (I think). :yep:

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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby Allekanger » 2013-01-07, 15:23

I think I've only ever heard Burma in Swedish. It's pronounced [bɵ̀ɹːmâ]-ish, so it might be that the adopted English name was given a Swedish pronunciation, because it doesn't sound like either the English or Burmese way of saying it...

Myanmar is perhaps used as well, but I don't think it's very common.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby ceid donn » 2013-01-07, 15:53

Myanmar is the norm in the US now, even if some people haven't gotten a clue, and is generally expected for both cultural and diplomatic reasons. But it's no surprise that really sucky news outlets like TIME or WaPo, who still think it's their job to pander to this B.S."special relationship" between the US and UK governments and to not offend the UK's fragile ego over their dwindling imperial influence in regions they formerly colonized, would be still using "Burma". Keep in mind that in the US, our mainstream media has been largely, if not egregiously, compliant with doing what the US government expects of it, like not upsetting the Brits, because we need to them to fight Bush's and now Obama's Endless War Everywhere.

I just love this idea that Myanmar, a sovereign country, is still being called Burma by anyone in the media or politics in the 21st bleeping century, regardless of whatever any Western politician may think of their government. But hey, it's just a sovereign country of brown people so it's not like the superior white governments of the British Commonwealth or their US ass-kissers have to respect their right to self-determination.

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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby linguoboy » 2013-01-07, 16:05

ceid donn wrote:I just love this idea that Myanmar, a sovereign country, is still being called Burma by anyone in the media or politics in the 21st bleeping century, regardless of whatever any Western politician may think of their government. But hey, it's just a sovereign country of brown people so it's not like the superior white governments of the British Commonwealth or their US ass-kissers have to respect their right to self-determination.

How can it be justly called their "self-determination" in the absence of a more than nominally democractic government? The change to "Myanmar" was made by an unpopular unelected military regime without any input from the citizenry and the official English names of popular organisations like the All Burma Students' Democratic Front still use the earlier designation. Under those circumstances, the charge of racist imperialism seems to miss the mark.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby ILuvEire » 2013-01-07, 22:06

I agree with you, Linguoboy. I'm usually all for places leaving their colonial names behind (Bombay -> Mumbai for example) but not when it's a corrupt, despotic military junta making the changes then I can't really make that argument.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby linguoboy » 2013-01-07, 22:28

ILuvEire wrote:I agree with you, Linguoboy. I'm usually all for places leaving their colonial names behind (Bombay -> Mumbai for example) but not when it's a corrupt, despotic military junta making the changes then I can't really make that argument.

Well, I'm not entirely happy with the way the 'Mumbai' change came about either. Ideally, changes like this would be done by polling those most directly affected, i.e. residents of the jurisdictions in question. That's what happened in former Soviet and Eastern Bloc cities such as Peterburg[*] and Chemnitz. But in the Mumbai, the legislation authorising the change was pushed through by Shiv Sena, a thuggish ultranationalist organisation that was chauvinistically pro-Marathi in its origins. Even now, I'm not certain a majority of Bombayites prefer the newer name.

[*] Although even this poll left something to be desired, as it didn't make "Petrograd" an option.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby johnklepac » 2013-01-08, 1:16

I've always just called it "Myanmar" because I like the sound of that name more. I assumed that "Myanmar," not "Burma," was the politically correct term in English.

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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby ling » 2013-01-08, 2:54

I don't call it Myanmar. I see it as an illegitimate name because the change was made by an illegitimate government (one that reneged on the 1990 elections). It's a government that has a history of suddenly making arbitrary, nonsensical changes for no apparent reason.

All the Burmese I've talked to outside of the earshot of its tyrannical government call it "Burma".
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby ILuvEire » 2013-01-08, 3:42

linguoboy wrote:
ILuvEire wrote:I agree with you, Linguoboy. I'm usually all for places leaving their colonial names behind (Bombay -> Mumbai for example) but not when it's a corrupt, despotic military junta making the changes then I can't really make that argument.

Well, I'm not entirely happy with the way the 'Mumbai' change came about either. Ideally, changes like this would be done by polling those most directly affected, i.e. residents of the jurisdictions in question. That's what happened in former Soviet and Eastern Bloc cities such as Peterburg[*] and Chemnitz. But in the Mumbai, the legislation authorising the change was pushed through by Shiv Sena, a thuggish ultranationalist organisation that was chauvinistically pro-Marathi in its origins. Even now, I'm not certain a majority of Bombayites prefer the newer name.

[*] Although even this poll left something to be desired, as it didn't make "Petrograd" an option.
Oh dear, this is a little troubling indeed. Overall, I think getting rid of the titles bestowed upon a people under colonialism is a good thing, but not when that's not really what people want. What about countries calling Beijing, "Beijing" (or should I say Beijing yn "Beijing"?) instead of Peking? Do you know what prompted that, Linguoboy? I know some languages don't prefer it, but I don't really know the politics behind that.

ling wrote:I don't call it Myanmar. I see it as an illegitimate name because the change was made by an illegitimate government (one that reneged on the 1990 elections). It's a government that has a history of suddenly making arbitrary, nonsensical changes for no apparent reason.

All the Burmese I've talked to outside of the earshot of its tyrannical government call it "Burma".
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby Lazar Taxon » 2013-01-08, 4:34

ILuvEire wrote:What about countries calling Beijing, "Beijing" (or should I say Beijing yn "Beijing"?) instead of Peking? Do you know what prompted that, Linguoboy? I know some languages don't prefer it, but I don't really know the politics behind that.

"Beijing" started being used in English in the 1980s when the PRC prompted the ISO to make Hanyu Pinyin the new international standard for Chinese. But looking at the titles of their Wikipedia articles, it seems that most languages still prefer Peking or a nativized form like Pékin/Pekín/Pequim. Peking was a pre-Wade-Giles rendering that got grandfathered into Postal System Pinyin (the WG is Pei-ching), so maybe there's a sense that it's a distinct exonym and should be exempted from the general switch to Hanyu Pinyin. In any case, the thing that bugs me is when people pronounce Beijing with a hyperforeign /ʒ/ - which is what I hear from my fellow anglophones about 90% of the time. Where did they get this notion that /ʤ/ can't occur in foreign words?
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby Johanna » 2013-01-08, 4:47

ILuvEire wrote:Oh dear, this is a little troubling indeed. Overall, I think getting rid of the titles bestowed upon a people under colonialism is a good thing, but not when that's not really what people want. What about countries calling Beijing, "Beijing" (or should I say Beijing yn "Beijing"?) instead of Peking? Do you know what prompted that, Linguoboy? I know some languages don't prefer it, but I don't really know the politics behind that.

IIRC it's the same name, just different ways of transcribing it; "Peking" is from some older system and "Beijing" is Pinyin, and since Pinyin is what's used officially I guess that's what the Chinese government prefer the world to use. It just took a while to catch on.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby linguoboy » 2013-01-08, 4:55

johnklepac wrote:I've always just called it "Myanmar" because I like the sound of that name more. I assumed that "Myanmar," not "Burma," was the politically correct term in English.

It's hard to say what the "politically-correct term" is because the political situation there is complex. On the one hand, "Burma" is the name of the old colonial territory and the name preferred by imperialist powers such the USA and the UK. So if you're reflexively on the side of "brown people" against their former (or would-be) masters, it seems like a poor choice.

On the other hand, "Burma" is a close match for the colloquial pronunciation of the native name ([bəmà]) and is preferred by members of the opposition, many of which are populists seeking to overturn an unrepresentative and oppressive government with weak claims to democratic legitimacy. On both these counts, it beats out "Myanmar" (which tends to get butchered in English-speaking media).

ILuvEire wrote:Overall, I think getting rid of the titles bestowed upon a people under colonialism is a good thing, but not when that's not really what people want. What about countries calling Beijing, "Beijing" instead of Peking? Do you know what prompted that, Linguoboy? I know some languages don't prefer it, but I don't really know the politics behind that.

Hanyu Pinyin was officially adopted in 1958 by the 1st National People's Congress of the PRC, an indirectly-elected body of questionable popular legitimacy. However, it seems unlikely to me that the average Chinese citizen of a half a century ago had much of an opinion about how foreigners should write their toponyms. In the West, though, choice of romanisation was quite politically polarised for many years, with Wade-Giles (official in Taiwan) strongly preferred among those who considered the ROC the legitimate government of China.

In 1979, the USA reversed decades of Cold War policy and established diplomatic relations with the PRC. Three years later, the International Organisation for Standards recognised Hanyu Pinyin as the preferred system for romanising Chinese. Other organisations held out longer (until the very last years of the millennium at the Library of Congress), but in 2009 even Taiwan finally surrendered. It's very much a settled question now.

Moreover, Pinyin was adopted not solely for political reasons, but because it is in many ways a better system: more compact, less ambiguous, and extremely economical in its use of diacritics. The spelling "Beijing" allows someone unfamiliar with a language a closer approximation of the native pronunciation than the Wade-Giles form "Pei-ching", let alone the older version "Peking" (reflecting an earlier stage of the language before palatalisation of velars before front vowels). With other names, such as "Xi'an" (W-G Hsi-an) it's more of a toss-up, and with a few (e.g. Quanzhou, W-G Ch'üan-chou), it's definitely worse.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby ling » 2013-01-08, 9:34

Sophie wrote:
meidei wrote:In Greek, Burma (Mbúrma) is the name the leftists prefer to use, but the Google hits are 2:1 in favour of Myanmar (Mianmár).
I can understand the leftists' preference (I think). :yep:

Sorry, I don't get what that means.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby Jurgen Wullenwever » 2013-01-09, 16:51

Why should a local name-change be reflected in the usage of other countries, with completely different languages? We call almost all countries, that we have had historical dealings with, with names that are different from what they call themselves.

By the way, in Swedish I would pronounce the older name as above, and the newer name [my:'anmar] but I suspect that it is not the local way anyway ...
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby Tenebrarum » 2013-01-10, 8:27

Vietnamese press refers to the country as Myanmar (surprise!), but there's an older name coming from Chinese - Miến Điện. I'm a sucker for those Sinitic names of countries so there's no contest there. They've been around for much longer and they integrate better with the language.

My ears hurt when I accidentally come across channels broadcasting from Hanoi and hear they butcher the pronunciation of "Australia" (Ốt-xơ-tơ-rây-li-a? Wtf is that shit?), while we in the South have the elegant word Úc - shortened from Úc Đại Lợi - that is used in news broadcasts as well, probably against Hanoi's directives.
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby md0 » 2013-01-10, 8:40

I have this annoying friend that makes big, BIG fuss when I use the hellenised names of foreign cities and countries (you know, those names that I can conjugate so my sentences don't sound weird and that don't have sounds that native Greek speakers can't even perceive). For example I say /ɣrɛˈnɔvli/ for Grenoble, /pɛ'cinɔ/ for Beijing, /ua'lia/ for Wales etc. And he is enraged by it. And I feel like kicking him in his nuts :twisted: (yet, he himself does use the hellenised names all the time, because obviously London is okay to be hellenised, but not Grenoble)
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Re: “Myanmar” or “Burma”?

Postby Saaropean » 2013-01-12, 20:49

AFAIK it's a political question in the western world, but not very relevant from a linguistic point of view.

Most German media call the country "'Myanmar" [myanˈmaɐ̯/mjanˈmaɐ̯] if they want to appear neutral, "Birma" [ˈbɪɐ̯maː] or "Burma" [ˈbʊɐ̯maː] if they want to criticize the regime.

As for myself, I prefer "Birma" or "Burma" because they are easier to pronounce, and I know it doesn't make much of a difference in Burmese.


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