Friday, December 05, 2008


At Lawyers,guns, and Money, djw and commentators discuss the choice of "Bombay" or "Mumbai" as a name, with some reference to some things I wrote about it some time ago. I still do say "Bombay," for the reasons I describe in the passage quoted in djw's post. As John says in the comment thread, "I'd rather side with Rushdie than with Shiv Sena."

But as a usage matter, "Mumbai" has stuck, and now has almost ten more years in use than it had had when I wrote Multiculturalism of Fear. I think I correctly described what happened then, and that the general point I was using the case to illustrate is right, but I do also recognize that in linguistic matters, eventually "long usage is a law sufficient." I'm not sure at what point my resistance to Shiv Sena becomes the cranky old Bircher in the corner saying "Peking" or Grandpa Simpson refusing to recognize Missourah.

I've got nothing else new to add, though of course I was pleased that djw found my discussion of the case useful.


Anonymous said...

Jacob-- I realize that this isn't part of the overall point, but Peking to Beijing isn't really a name change. The characters 北京 (and the pronunciation) in Chinese never changed in this case. What changed is the Romanization system used by most Western media. Of course people still continue to pronounce the Romanization in a way that doesn't really match the original, but they get a lot closer when they try to pronounce "Beijing" than when they try "Peking."


David Watkins said...

"long usage is a law sufficient."

Yes, I agree with this. Ultimately, since I (far, far away from Indian political disputes) am very unlikely to refer to the city while speaking to an audience that has any political or personal stake in the name change, I don't think it's all that important whether I (and people similarly situated) say Mumbai or Bombay. I do think that for now, at least, I'd like to see copy-editors give authors the option.

I first read that chapter of your book when I was working on a (long since abandoned) paper on the politics of names and naming, and your use of Shklar helped clarify the nature of some of my then-half formed thoughts about the limitations of rights-based political theorizing.

Anonymous said...

So I take it you say "Burma" and not "Myanmar."

BTW, great to see the comments feature re-enabled!

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Burma" seems to me an easy case-- yes, of course I do, and one really ought to. The government that changed the name of Bombay was democratically elected and there's been uptake on the new name from the democratically elected federal government of India. The junta that changed the name of Burma was none of those things, and Burmese human rights activists and opponents of the regime still say Burma.

Anonymous said...

Jacob -- please don't forget that in Marathi, the native language of the state of Maharashtra which contains Mumbai, the city has always been known as Mumbai. The British preferred to convert and export this name as Bombay, and thus it became a part of global English. To my ears, I have no problem terming the city Mumbai.

Removals said...

Sometimes the usage of the old name refers to a historical perios that people would like to forget and thus you can evoke unpleasant feelings and disapproval from your audeince. Or it can be a deliberately provoked affect.