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Summary Details

Query:   Near/Middle/Far East in Different Languages
Author:  Caren Brinckmann
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Semantics

Summary:   A week ago I posted the following question:

- ---------------------------------------------------------
I am currently writing a term paper about perspectivity in
language. As an example for the influence of a certain
perspective on a language's vocabulary I chose the German
words ''Nahost'' (Middle East, lit. 'Near East') and ''Fernost''
(Far East).

Since these terms only make sense from a Europe-centered
perspective, I was wondering whether non-European languages
use similar constructions for the same or other areas on
the world map.
- ----------------------------------------------------------

I would like to thank Zev bar-Lev, Fernando Berm?dez, Chiao
Yun-Chuang, Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, Peter T. Daniels, Ruth
Goetz, Kevin Johnson, Bill Rockenbach, Lameen Souag, and
Richard Watson Todd for their helpful responses. Below is a
compilation of their replies with detailed data regarding
English, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Thai, Chinese,
Japanese, and Algonkian.

Interestingly, even the non-European languages Hebrew,
Arabic, Persian, Chinese and Japanese nowadays have a term
that literally translates as ''Middle East''.

- -------
- -------

Peter T. Daniels:
In English, ''Near East'' usually refers to premodern times,
and ''Middle East'' refers to the present. In the US, at any
rate, we now tend to say ''East Asia'' rather than ''Far East'';
but ''Southwest Asia'' is rarely used for ''Middle East.''
(There doesn't seem to be any ''political correctness''
problem with ''ancient Near East,'' so that phrase is still
used routinely.)

Zev bar-Lev:
We Americans also most usually call the Americas the
'Western hemisphere' -- a Europocentric term.

- -------
- -------
Fernando Berm?dez:

Terms for ''Middle East'':
''Medioriente'', ''Medio Oriente'', ''Oriente Medio'' (all lit.
''Middle East''), ''Cercano Oriente'' (lit. ''Near East'') and
''Asia Menor'' (lit. ''Smaller Asia'')

Terms for ''Far East'':
''Lejano Oriente'' (lit. ''Far East'')
If you use ''Oriente'' only, then you mean ''Far East''.

Don't forget that:
''Lejano Oeste'' (''Far West'')

- ------
- ------
Zev bar-Lev:
Hebrew uses the ''externally motivated'' (translated from
western languages) 'middle east' (ha-mizrahh ha-tikhon) or
the internally motivated'' 'our area' (ezorenu).

- ----------------
Arabic + Persian
- ----------------
Lameen Souag:

In Arabic, North Africa and the Middle East+Egypt are
respectively referred to as ''al-maghrib'' and ''al-mashriq'',
the West and East.
mashriq ~ east-land (ma- ''place of'' + sharq ''east'')
maghrib ~ west-land (ma- + gharb ''west'')

The Levant is referred to as ''al-sha'm'', from an old term
for left/North, and the word Yemen likewise comes from a
term meaning right/South.

Ironically, many Middle Eastern languages have now borrowed
the term ''Middle East'' from Europe; thus Arabic calques it
as sharq al-awsat (name of a major paper; sharq = east,
al-awsat= the-middle) and Persian as khaavar-e miane.

- ----
- ----
Richard Watson Todd:
Thai uses West Asia, Middle Asia and East Asia as the terms
which are far more straightforward.

- ----------------
- ----------------

Lameen Souag:
A few China-centred terms that could be seen as examples:
Zhong1guo2 (''China'') = Midland
Chao3xian2 (''Korea'') = morning freshness (Korea being to the
Ri4ben3 (''Japan'') = sun-origin (even further east - this
term was actually coined in Japan from Chinese characters,

Chiao Yun-Chuang:
In Mandarin, we also have similar constructions, the words
''zhong dong'' which means Middle East, and ''yuan dong'' Far

Ruth Goetz:
In Chinese, the term Zhong Dong (literally ''Middle East'') is
used for the Middle East. I think this is especially
interesting because China, Zhongguo, literally means Middle
Country, and that's how they saw themselves historically.
Yet, they refer to the Middle East, which is to their west,
as ''Zhong Dong,'' clearly adopting a European perspective
(or at least nomenclature).

Zev bar-Lev:
However, the Chinese word for China Junggwo -- Middle-King-
dom, is not Sinocentric, historically, but rather based on
an earlier kingdom that was in the center of China, but
later expanded.

- --------
- --------

Bill Rockenbach:
I believe Japanese also refers to Middle/Near East with
those terms:
chuutou: middle+east, or
chuukintou: middle+near+east
I haven't heard anything like ''Far East'', however.

Zev bar-Lev:
As a further example, note that Nihon 'Japan' in Japanese
means 'Sun-Source', i.e. 'Land of the Rising Sun' -- a
Sinocentric term.

Lameen Souag:
The old Japanese term for Europeans was ''nan-ban'', southern
barbarians, because the Portuguese ships always came from
the south.

- ---------
- ---------
Lameen Souag:
A similar case might be ''Wabenaki'', lit. ''sunrise'', variants
of which are used by many Algonkian languages to refer to
their lands on the eastern seaboard of the US, which only
makes sense relative to a presumed original homeland further

Caren Brinckmann
Saarland University, FR 4.7 Institute of Phonetics
P.O.Box 151150, 66041 Saarbruecken, Germany
Phone: +49-681-3024244

LL Issue: 12.2473
Date Posted: 04-Oct-2001
Original Query: Read original query


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