LINGUIST List 12.2623

Mon Oct 22 2001

Sum: Update: Near/Middle/Far East in Different Langs

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Caren Brinckmann, Updated Summary: Near/Middle/Far East in Different Languages

Message 1: Updated Summary: Near/Middle/Far East in Different Languages

Date: Fri, 19 Oct 01 19:31:37 +00 (MET DST)
From: Caren Brinckmann <cabrCoLi.Uni-SB.DE>
Subject: Updated Summary: Near/Middle/Far East in Different Languages

Re: Linguist 12.2404 (query)
and Linguist 12.2473 (first summary)

After posting my summary two weeks ago I received more dataon
Near/Middle/Far East in different languages. So I decided to compile
an updated summary. :)

This was my original 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 the following people for their helpful
responses (I hope I didn't forget anybody):

Zev bar-Lev
Fernando Berm�dez
Daniel Buncic
Chiao Yun-Chuang
Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Peter T. Daniels
Ruth Goetz
Manami Hirayama
Katsunobu Izutsu
Kevin Johnson
Denis Kazakov
Jonathan Lewis
Ahmad R. Lotfi
Robert McColl Millar
Bill Rockenbach
Lameen Souag
Richard Watson Todd

Below is a compilation of their replies with detailed data
regarding English, German, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic,
Persian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Algonkian.

Interestingly, even most of the non-European languages
nowadays have a term that literally translates as "Near
East" or "Middle East".

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

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

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.)

Robert McColl Millar:
In his interesting comment, Peter T. Daniels says: 'In
English, "Near East" usually refers to premodern times, and
"Middle East" refers to the present.' This might be true for
America, and it is probably true in the British Isles today.
But as a child in the early seventies, looking at school
atlases (which was a point of fascination for me at the
time), published mainly in the fifties, I would think, I
remember noticing that the South-West Asian area (which,
after the 1967 and 1973 wars, I thought of as the 'Middle
East', I would think), was termed the 'Near East' by all of
them. This might be a hangover from Biblical nomenclature
(interestingly quite often these maps had a smaller map of
'the Holy Land in Biblical times' beside the modern one),
but I can think of a couple of interlocking reasons why
there might be other reasons for the use of the phrase:

(1) 'Near' may have been preferred during the Second World
War to stress the importance of the various ongoing
conflicts there -- both in Egypt/Libya and Syria. I wouldn't
be surprised if more British servicemen saw action in these
regions than in the European conflict. In that sense also
quite small hamlets and wadis would be emotionally 'near'.

(2) from the end of the First World War until 1947/1948 (and
indeed until the 1970's in the case of Bahrain), Britain was
a very real presence in the politics of the region, directly
or indirectly (I believe there's a Farsi proverb along the
lines of 'trip over a stone and you'll find an Englishman
underneath'). In that sense, the area was also 'near'.

Another interesting question might be: when did the phrase
'Levant' begin to drop out as a name for the region. 

- ------
- ------
Caren Brinckmann:

In contrast to English, the German terms "Naher Osten" (lit.
'Near East'), "Mittlerer Osten" (lit. 'Middle East'), and
"Ferner Osten" (lit. 'Far East') all refer to different
areas on the world map. According to two German lexica
(Brockhaus, Meyer) and the German Yahoo! directory
the three areas consist of the following countries:

"Naher Osten":
Arabian peninsula (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen), Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Cyprus, Eqypt, Georgia, Iraq, Iran(?), Israel, Jordan,
Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Turkey.
(Whether Iran belongs to "Naher Osten" or "Mittlerer Osten"
seems to be controversial.)

"Mittlerer Osten":
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran(?), Kazakhstan,
Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,

"Ferner Osten": Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Indonesia,
Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines,
Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam.

All three terms can be shortened to "Nahost", "Mittelost", and
"Fernost" respectively. "Nahost" is used veryfrequently, "Fernost" is
sometimes replaced by "Ostasien" ('East Asia'), but "Mittelost"
clearly sounds odd to me. This is supported by the following numbers
from the IDScorpora (

 number of occurrences
Nahost / Naher Osten 2219 / 2877
Mittelost / Mittlerer Osten 44 / 392
Fernost / Ferner Osten 1591 / 804

The three terms also differ in the number of different
compounds in which they occur:
 number of different lemmas example
Nahost* 165 "Nahostgipfel"
Mittelost* 9 "Mittelost-Konflikt"
Fernost* 91 "Fernostimporte"

- -------
- -------
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")

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

Denis Kazakov:
In Russian, we also have Near/Middle/Far East (Blizhniy
Vostok, Sredniy Vostok, Dal'niy Vostok). The usual term for
Western Asia is Near East. Middle East is much less common
and often used in combination with Near East, e.g. "the
countries of Near and Middle East."
As a term, "Dal'niy Vostok" refers to a broad area bordering
on the Pacific Ocean that includes the eastern part of
Russia, Japan, Korea and the eastern part of China,
sometimes with Philippines. Specific meaning depends on the
context. I think it more often means just the eastern part
of Russia. E.g., when we say about a Russian person, "She
had parents from the Far East" or, in official speech,
"Committee for the Affairs of Siberia and Far East" - we are
talking about the part of Russia along the Pacific.
Otherwise we would be more specific (She had parents from
Japan). "War, situation, etc. at the Far East," on the other
hand, is broader in meaning and even may not involve Russia,
I think. 

Daniel Buncic:
Hier eine Erg�nzung zum Russischen: Dort wird _blizhnij
vostok_ 'naher Osten' gebraucht, wenn es um Israel,
Pal�stina usw. geht. Etwas wie *_srednij vostok_ 'mittlerer
Osten' habe ich nie geh�rt. Aber _dal'nij vostok_ 'ferner
Osten' ist ein fest gef�gter Terminus, der die russischen
Gebiete jenseits Sibiriens bezeichnet, also vor allem die
K�stengebiete von Wladiwostok bis zur Halbinsel Tschukotka.
In diesem Sinne wird _dal'nij vostok_ so h�ufig und
bedenkenlos z.B. auch in den im ganzen Land ausgestrahlten
Nachrichten gebraucht, dass ich mir nicht vorstellen kann,
dass es in Wladiwostok selbst nicht gebraucht w�rde.
(Selbst war ich leider noch nicht da.) F�r China oder Japan
habe ich dieses Wort noch nie geh�rt, will aber nicht
ausschlie�en, dass es auch in diesem Sinne gebraucht werden

Auch die anderen Himmelsrichtungen haben h�ufig sehr
konkrete Bedeutungen: _zapad_ 'Westen' ist weiter gefasst
als unser Begriff, so z�hlt z.B. Polen eindeutig zum
"Westen", und zwar nicht nur geografisch, sondern auch in
der Vorstellung der Russen von den polnischen Lebensver-
h�ltnissen (und wer Polen und Russland kennt, kann diese
Vorstellung nur best�tigen!).
Dagegen bedeutet _vostok_ 'Osten' in der Regel 'Orient',
also eigentlich im S�den Russlands gelegene Gebiete; als
Gegenst�ck zu _zapad_ im politischen Sinne (also in Bezug
auch auf Russland) wird es kaum gebraucht.
Das Wort _sever_ 'Norden' wird seltsamerweise h�ufig als
Synonym f�r Sibirien benutzt, obwohl das geografisch ja im
Osten des europ�ischen Russlands liegt, aber auch im
europ�ischen Russland herrscht wie in Westeuropa die
Vorstellung von der K�lte Sibiriens vor, obwohl die meisten
Einwohner Sibiriens ja im S�den Sibiriens wohnen, wo es im
Sommer sehr warm wird. 
Noch eine Randbemerkung: Das Sprichwort _alle Wege f�hren
nach Rom_ hat im Russischen zwei Entsprechungen:
a) _vse dorogi vedut v Rim_ (die w�rtliche �bersetzung)
b) _vse dorogi vedut cherez Moskvu_ 'alle Wege f�hren
 durch Moskau' (egal, wohin man eigentlich will) 

- ------
- ------
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).

- ------
- ------
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.

- -------
- -------
Ahmad R. Lotfi:
In Persian, we use 'xaavar-e miyane' (lit. east-of middle),
'xaavar-e dur' (lit. east-of far), and 'xaavar-e nazdik'
(lit. east-of near). Apparently, the geographical
orientation of these expressions doesn't bother us. We've
got accustomed to looking at the world through European
spectacles! Translations must have played some role in this
respect, esp. because the terms have always been in the news
with translators having little time to think of non-literal
Another example is the East (when referring to the former
communist countries). They are actually in the north/west
north of Iran. Despite that, we refer to them as 'shargh'

- ----
- ----
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 especiallyinteresting
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:
 chuutoo: middle+east, or
 chuukintoo: middle+near+east

Manami Hirayama:
We do use the exact direct translation to the three words
in Japanese.
Near East: kintoo
Middle East: chuutoo
Far East: kyokutoo
As Mr. Bill Rockenbach says, we also have the expression
chuukintoo, literally 'middle (chuu) near (kin) east
(too)', but this is a synonym of Near East: kintoo
(Shinmeikai Kokugo Jiten (Shinmeikai Japanese Dictionary)
Tokyo: Sanseido).

Jonathan Lewis:
There is a indeed a well-known Japanese expression for Far
East: kyoku-to (literally "extreme East"). You can find the
term in all Japanese dictionaries; the authoritative
_Kojien_ dictionary notes, reasonably enough, that the word
implies a European perspective.
As you would expect, the term is used to translate "Far
East" in "Euro-centric" organization names, such as those
concerning the post-war occupation of Japan.
But searching for kyoku-to on Yahoo! Japan also showed a
considerable number of Japanese companies and institutions
that use the term in their name: Kyoku-to Boeki (Far East
Trading), Kyoku-to Kogyo (Far East Industries), Kyoku-to
Kaihatsu-kogyo (Far East Development Industries) and so on.
The Yahoo! search also shows that the term is used to refer
to the Russian Far East (roshia kyoku-to). 

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, Fax: +49-681-3024684
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