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.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons