Stop requiring endonyms (Was: RFC 4645bis: making 'pes' and 'prs' extlangs

John Cowan cowan at
Mon Dec 8 16:50:31 CET 2008

Stephane Bortzmeyer scripsit:

> I regard this trend (requiring endonyms) as a quite stupid one.  Will
> the british ask us to always write "London" instead of the exonym we
> use ("Londres")? Will they send troops if we do not comply? If so, we
> will ask the italians to stop calling our capital "Parigi" (the
> endonym is Paris).

Arguably the English name "Paris" is an endonym as well; in Middle English
and Old French, the name was unsurprisingly identical, but sound-changes
in both English and French have altered the pronunciation of the "a",
the "r", the "i" (in English only), and the "s" (in French only), while
leaving the orthography unchanged.

Similarly, I suppose that the many U.S. placenames of French origin
are pronounced as French by francophones, even though French is only
minimally an endogenous language of the U.S. (parts of northern New
England and Louisiana).

In New York's Chinatown, street signs are bilingual in English and
Chinese, but who's to say which is the exonym and which the endonym
in that case?

> Worse, and more on-topic for this list, will the english-speaking
> people require that we call their language "english" while we always
> used "anglais"?

The vast majority of all names are and must be endonyms.  There are
exonyms for Warsawa (Warsaw, Varsovie, Warschau), but none for
Zelazowa Wola, even though it was the birthplace of Chopin (whose name
was itself something of an exonym).

When we deal with names across scripts, however, as in the Chinese
and Indian cases, we are always dealing with exonyms, and then there is
no particular advantage to having multiple exonyms, particularly in
writing.  International postal addresses may be written in Latin script
or the script of the destination (save for the country name, which must
appear in the language of the source), and here having more than one
way to write "Beijing" is nothing but a nuisance.

> To me, "persan" (the french word) is an exonym, like "german"
> ("deutsch") or "mandarin" (don't know how to write the endonym). 

Mandarin has no universal endonym; it is Putonghua 'common language'
in the People's Republic, Baihua 'official language' in Taiwan.

John Cowan  cowan at
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the
continent, a part of the main.  If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a
manor of thy friends or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for
whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  --John Donne

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