Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Endonyms And Exonyms: When In Roma

Did you spend your summer in Rome or Roma? Paris or Paree? Why are there different names for places? You wouldn't translate your own name... unless you're a pretentious arse, of course!

This is the Piazza Venezia in Roma. Or is it Venice Square in Rome?

In linguistics we have endonyms and exonyms. If you recall high school chemistry you may remember endothermic and exothermic. Endo being inner and exo being outer. If not, you've just learnt something!

So an endonym is an "inner name" (the -onym being "name" or "word"... the second o is omitted for simplicity), it's what the locals call a place. An exonym is the opposite, the "outer name", as it is known to foreigners, outsiders or in different languages. A simple example is England. In England it's called England, obviously, but in France it's called Angleterre. Countries generally have several exonyms.

This is England when it really was Angleterre...
land of the Angles.

If your hometown has an exonym, you should consider yourself lucky. It suggests that the place was important enough for foreign people to talk about it and create their own word for it. French to English examples of exonyms include: Londres (London), Edimbourg (Edinburgh).

We have exonyms in English for Rome (Roma), Seville (Sevilla) and Munich (München) as well as many, many others.

Proximity appears to help create exonyms. French has a lot of exonyms for places in Spain. Barcelone (Barcelona) is in Catalogne (Catalonia, which is Catalunya in Catalan and Cataluña in Spanish). Lisboa is Lisbon in English. Due to pronunciation differences, many French places are spelt differently in Spanish. Whereas Tolosa for Toulouse comes from the original endonym in Occitan.

Endonyms and exonyms are not necessarily restricted to languages. Monolingual examples include Blighty as an endonym for England. It's not commonly used by Americans, Australians, Canadians, South Africans or pretty much anyone else who speaks English.

Our personal favourite, the Toon, is a nickname commonly used by residents of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (also known as Geordies) for both their hometown and football team. Although technically a nickname, it's used so frequently as the proper noun by the locals that it could and should be considered an endonym.

Some exonyms are similar to their corresponding endonyms, due to a simple case of being misheard or butchered. Sometimes they are translations of the meaning of the word, such as United Kingdom being Royaume Uni in French, and sometimes, in the unfortunate case of Germany, they're seemingly unrelated.

We're not going back to calling it perfume!

Germany (Deutschland in German) only really has similarities in Dutch and a few other Germanic languages. Across the Romance languages, however, it's known as Allemagne in French, Alemania in Spanish, Germania in Italian and Alemanha in Portuguese. At least Germans can take solace in the fact that they've probably been called far worse!