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Repression in Burma
December 9, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe


 




Took me a few seconds to realize what event you were referring to, as everywhere I read or saw anything about it always called it Myanmar. Are the two interchangeable?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:49 AM on December 9, 2007


Myanmar is what the depots in power renamed the place. I'd call it Burma.
posted by chunking express at 9:54 AM on December 9, 2007


homunculus, Thanks for the painful to know about update.
posted by nickyskye at 9:58 AM on December 9, 2007


My Burmese-American friends call it Burma too.
posted by grouse at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's Burma. I don't understand why everyone kowtows to the usage imposed by a vicious government they claim to deplore. (Incidentally, Burma and Myanmar are etymologically the same word—Myanma(r) is an older official form, Burma—actually Bama—is the universally used colloquial form.)

Thanks for the links, homunculus.
posted by languagehat at 11:33 AM on December 9, 2007


China doesn't give a toss:
China-Myanmar economic ties make new progress and
Daewoo says China preferred bidder for Myanmar gas and
Chinese loggers stripping Myanmar's ancient forests
not to mention the military aspect what with China developing Burma's India Ocean Ports as well as
Gwadar in Pakistan.
posted by adamvasco at 1:19 PM on December 9, 2007


The idea that the Chinese have a huge hold on Myanmar may be wrong. From the LAT the article Don't Blame China for Myanmar is worth a read. It may be that the Neo-cons, who consider China a huge threat and their useful idiots (i.e. Hitch) are pushing that idea.

The wikipedia entry on the name debate is also worth a read.

Other interesting tidbits - when the US talks sanctions, extant US interests are allowed. This includes one of the biggest oil pipelines that is owned by Chevron. It may be that a lot of the 'China must get out of Burma' talk is more about 'we want the energy interests' than anything else.
posted by sien at 2:49 PM on December 9, 2007


Here are three documentaries that are work a look- Evan Williams' Burma's Secret War is well worth a viewing.
posted by mattoxic at 3:02 PM on December 9, 2007


I don't understand why everyone kowtows to the usage imposed by a vicious government they claim to deplore.

I think one reason for this is that the British called it Burma, and very few people are big fans of British colonialism. Aung San, the father of Burmese independence (and of Aung San Suu Kyi), originally sought aid from the Japanese against the British during WW2.

On this topic, I read an interesting book last week, that connects British colonialism in Burma, the current regime, and the writings and life of George Orwell.

The idea that the Chinese have a huge hold on Myanmar may be wrong.

They don't have a huge hold, but they definitely provide support and arms to the current regime.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:02 PM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think one reason for this is that the British called it Burma, and very few people are big fans of British colonialism.

No offense, but that doesn't make any sense. The British called it Burma because that was its name; everybody called it Burma, or rather local variants thereof: Birmanie, Birma, etc. You might as well say we shouldn't call Russia Russia because the British call it that and they're evil colonialists.

Aung San, the father of Burmese independence (and of Aung San Suu Kyi), originally sought aid from the Japanese against the British during WW2.

And he called it Burma, and so does she.
posted by languagehat at 6:29 PM on December 9, 2007


Just FYI, The HRW website is blocked from here (Vietnam). There was also zero coverage of the protests here. I read somewhere that right before the fuel price hike in Burma Vietnam negotiated a deal to import lots of Burmese petroleum products. Connected? Could be.
posted by grubby at 7:15 PM on December 9, 2007


I don't particularly believe in Sky Gods, but if I did, I think Buddha and Jesus would be having a depressing conversation over a couple of glasses of water in the Sky.
posted by kozad at 10:20 PM on December 9, 2007


Thanks me & my monkey. Now I understand that the reason Orwell could write about miniluv so creepily and effectively is because he once worked there.
posted by telstar at 11:29 PM on December 9, 2007


Companies doing business in Burma - The Dirty List.
posted by adamvasco at 1:11 AM on December 10, 2007


me & my monkey: Thanks for a great book recommendation! Sounds like one of those books that was, simply, meant to be written at some point. :-)

From the wikipedia link:
Myanma is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama is the oral, colloquial name of the country. Burmese, like Javanese and other languages of Southeast Asia, has different levels of register, with sharp differences between literary and colloquial language.
Ahhh yes, totally makes sense now. We have that literary ('prkRti') and colloquial ('vikRti') split in Telugu too; 'India', for instance, would presumably be 'bharataavani' (or perhaps, 'jambudviipa' to use Vedic place-names) in prkRti, while it would be 'bhaarat' in vikRti.

The following bit seems curious:
This interpretation of the name was spread to India by some Buddhist monks from Ceylon and, although the usage is no longer current, Burma was historically known in India as "Brahma-desh" ("Brahma-land").
Oh, I don't know; off the top of my head, I can't remember reading anyone calling Burma as 'Brahma-desh' in any Indian language. Would be very interesting to read any citations on this; it does seem like one of those pan-Indian exaggerations. (Then again, I don't know what the Sanskrit name for Burma is, so I could very well be wrong)
posted by the cydonian at 2:00 AM on December 10, 2007


No offense, but that doesn't make any sense.

No offense taken of course, but do you really expect everything to make sense? Especially when talking about Burma? The current government has been quite busy renaming things to avoid using the names that were around during British times there. And if they weren't such despotic bastards, I suspect the people of Burma wouldn't really care too much about that.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:43 AM on December 10, 2007


do you really expect everything to make sense?

Heh. I know, I've got to get that foolish expectation out of my head...

Seriously, though, I think maybe I misunderstood you. I was talking about why foreigners have slavishly fallen in line with the Myanmar business, and I thought you were saying it was because of British colonialism. If you were saying that's why the current government made the change, that makes a lot more sense. I don't know whether it's true, but it makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.

(I'm more sympathetic to the other changes—Yangon for Rangoon and so on—because they more accurately reproduce the local names and don't cause so much havoc, but Burma is firmly entrenched in the language and is just as accurate as Myanmar.)
posted by languagehat at 11:50 AM on December 10, 2007


I was talking about why foreigners have slavishly fallen in line with the Myanmar business, and I thought you were saying it was because of British colonialism.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that foreigners who aren't familiar with the regime will use the name given by the regime. Most people in the US at least have no idea of Burma's existence, history, or current status. And if you don't know any better, Myanmar sounds more PCish than Burma.

Yesterday, I was shopping with my Burmese boyfriend. At the grocery store, an Asian lady (I'm guessing Vietnamese) repeatedly asked him where he was from. After saying "Burma" five times, he finally said "Myanmar," but she didn't recognize either name, so he gave up entirely.

However, among people who know about Burma, I've never heard anyone call it Myanmar.

Finally, given the ethnic division in the country, neither name is really representative when you get right down to it. Of course, the regime treats these ethnic minorities like shit.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:15 PM on December 10, 2007


I suspect that foreigners who aren't familiar with the regime will use the name given by the regime.

I would say rather that foreigners who aren't familiar with the regime will use the name given in the news media: if their TV announcer says "The government of Myanmar today announced..." they'll call it Myanmar, and why wouldn't they? My beef is that the news media, who know perfectly well what the regime is like, all jumped through the hoop, guaranteeing that the populace at large will use the regime's preferred name, and eventually atlases will carve it in stone. I'd sure like to hear from someone who knows how these decisions get made; don't they realize that a repressive regime like that is likely to fall, and then they'll have to rewrite the style manuals again?
posted by languagehat at 12:55 PM on December 10, 2007


Do you really want the news media to be making choices about how to name countries? Atlases are never carved in stone.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:40 PM on December 10, 2007


Do you really want the news media to be making choices about how to name countries?

I do not understand this question. The news media have to make choices about how to name countries, just like everybody else. They have to choose whether to call the country Burma, as it has been called for centuries and as the Burmese everyone agrees are in the right call it, or Myanmar, as a bunch of brutal thugs who happen to be running the place at the moment want it called. Short of constantly referring to "that country just west of Thailand," they have to choose one or the other. I do not understand why they choose the latter.
posted by languagehat at 2:45 PM on December 10, 2007


Human Rights Day
posted by homunculus at 2:57 PM on December 10, 2007


The news media have to make choices about how to name countries, just like everybody else.

There've been plenty of countries that have been renamed by their governments, and generally those countries are referred to by media using the name given by those in power. So, I'm guessing that the media (and other governments generally) have a policy to use the name given by the recognized government of the country in question. I don't think they have a "bureau of naming" judging every name dispute on a case-by-case basis.

Burma is an extreme case - everyone with any sense is on one side of the fence - but do you think the media should judge which name is correct if there's any question?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:32 PM on December 10, 2007


Well, in the first place, there isn't "the media"—there are a bunch of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc. Each one makes its own decision. If I ran a newspaper, my newspaper would use Burma, and as far as I'm aware there's no Central Media Bureau to force me to do it differently. In the second place, you seem to be implying that it's self-evidently awful for the media to "judge which name is correct," and I don't get it. Why shouldn't they? They make all kinds of judgments (judgment or judgement? serial comma or no?).
posted by languagehat at 4:01 PM on December 10, 2007


Unfortunately for us all, you don't run a newspaper. I would certainly subscribe if you did.

My assumption was that there's some sort of analog to Strunk & White for these sorts of stylistic questions. However, my Burmese boyfriend got his green card yesterday (woohoo!) and it lists "Burma" as country of origin.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:42 AM on December 11, 2007


My assumption was that there's some sort of analog to Strunk & White for these sorts of stylistic questions.

Well, there are a bunch of them (Chicago, AP, NYT, &c.), and each publication chooses one or creates its own. But obviously no preexisting style guide can cover new developments, like a regime suddenly demanding everyone start using a new name for their country; at that point you're on your own and have to make a decision.

my Burmese boyfriend got his green card yesterday (woohoo!)

Yay!

and it lists "Burma" as country of origin.

Woohoo!
posted by languagehat at 8:15 AM on December 11, 2007


Well, sure, but a style guide could say something like "always use the name given by the recognized government." But I am very happy that the US government doesn't do this.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:32 AM on December 11, 2007








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