Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Well, That's Interesting: Brooklyn and the Names of Things

I touched base at Google Translate and discovered that "Brooklyn" is 布鲁克林 (Bùlǔkè lín) in simplified Chinese.

That's actually closer to the original than the English take on at least one city in India. I speak American English, so as I grew up I knew the place as "Bombay." "Bombay" may have come from an Englishman trying to pronounce "bom bahia": Portuguese for "good bay". Which the place is.

Folks who lived there, and weren't Europeans, apparently called it Mumbai.
"...The city was called Bombay for much of the last four hundred years. The origin of the name is obscure, but is often said to come from the Portuguese phrase bom bahia meaning 'good bay'. The name Mumbai has been used in the main local languages for as long, and is ascribed to the local goddess, Mumba (ai means mother in Marathi). The name of the city was changed to Mumbai by an act of the parliament in 1997...."
(The Mumbai Pages, "By any other name" - More in their FAQ)

Things Change

I wrote a little about names, language, and history before. (February 26, 2010)

We might be calling that big city on a river in Britannia Londinium to this day, if the Caesars had managed to hold their empire together. But that's not how it happened. Romans founded the city, began developing that outpost of their empire, and retreated: leaving ruins and legends; and a shaken Roman's description of a huge, red-haired and very scary woman. They really could have handled Queen Boudicca with more finesse. But that's another topic.

Centuries after the Romans had retreated, leaving memories of a day when roads were built and order maintained, boatloads of French-speaking Vikings landed and picked up where the Romans had left off. Which is yet another topic.

Today, those Vikings are speaking the language that emerged from a sort of philological Cuisinart that imposed quite a lot of French and Latin on a Germanic language. We call it English. Which is yet again another topic.

Where was I? Londinium. Right.

That name hasn't changed all that much. From the sounds of it, a syllable or two dropped out - and I'm pretty sure the vowels aren't quite what the Romans used. There's a whole lot more going on: but I don't know as much about linguistics as I'd like to.

16 Centuries is a Long Time

Quite a lot can happen in 1,600 years. It's been that long, about, since Alaric succeeded in capturing Rome, but failed to hold the city.

Alaric's conquest wasn't an isolated incident. Germanic tribes and Huns were making life so hazardous, that some - but not all - Roman citizens were abandoning their cities. There's pretty good reason to think that quite a few Romans from Padua, Aquileia, Altino and Concordia, for example, fled into a (relatively) nearby marsh.

It looks like those Romans set up a sort of refugee camp. A thousand years later that camp was Venice: a sort of Mediterranean analog to New York City. Today, it's a city that looks quite a big like it did in its heyday: which is a good thing for its tourist trade.

It's possible to use Alaric's sack of Rome as a milestone, marking the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire. But not Rome's influence.

For a very long time, north of the Mediterranean, the only language you could be fairly certain that someone in the town you were in was Latin. The language of the Caesars was still taught when I was in school: but by then English was the language you were most likely to find in spoken somewhere. (More: "Why isn't there More Mandarin on the Web?," Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 4, 2008)) Those Britishers were everywhere.

Another 1,600 years, and things will have changed. Again. Still.

A 'good enough for a story' educated guess is that China will have finally sorted itself out, and be a major player on the world's stage. My take on what's coming is that they'll have emperors again - and that what we're seeing today is one of the messier inter-dynastic 'warlord' periods. With some moderately weird foreign ideologies mixed in.

Yeah: my guess is that people who are serious about putting the Middle Kingdom (中国, or Zhōngguó) back on the map will not want to keep reminders of colonial days around. Not even the time when they were trying to adapt the foreign ideas to their ways.

I've written about what I think is likely - possible, at least - with urban developments on the east coast of North America. ("Daniel Boone and the Megalopolis" (March 5, 2010))

I'm not assuming that the Boston-Washington D.C. corridor will still be heavily built up because I'm a red-white-and-blue-blooded American. The cities there have a reason for being there - mostly as break-in-bulk points for trans-oceanic trade. I don't see that changing.

Look at it this way: Rome is on an important river crossing, and more-or-less centrally located. And, after a rough patch after the awkward transition from Empire to recovery, an economically important part of - we're calling that part of the world "Italy."

So, why was I looking up what simplified Chinese is for "Brooklyn?"

Today, Brooklyn is a place sitcoms and comics can use as a locale for ditsy, amusing not-rich people. It's also a major seaport with industrial potential.

New York City is the "Big Apple" of course. And probably will be for quite a while. It makes a pretty good place to put financial enterprises and the upper end of other economic interests. And it's got that name: "New York City" still has a bit of panache.

It still may, 1,600 years from now. Or, not so much. I'm willing to guess that Brooklyn / 布鲁克林 / Bùlǔkè lín won't be just like it is today, either. I'm guessing that Bùlǔkè lín could be pronounced "Bulookeh Lin" and still be recognizable. Or, not. It's got a nifty exotic/familiar look to it, though.

Welcome to the Bustling Metropolis of Bulookeh Lin

Having visited the quaint Antiquities Preservation District of Niooyueh Shì, come see the hub of Greater Nyok, Bulookeh Lin.

Okay: I'm running out of time, but briefly: I see no reason why Brooklyn couldn't become a more central part of the New York City area. For starters, it's got what Manhattan doesn't have: square footage. upwards of 71 square miles.

Those names? I'm still thinking about that.

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