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I don't speak Mandarin at all, but I have a Chinese coworker who told me that Mandarin doesn't have nouns per se, it prefers to describe things with their most obvious properties.

I was curious how the Chinese call foreign nations. I found that it's mostly the Chinese people's general impression of them. For example they call the English "brave people", the French "people of law and teaching", and the Austrians "people difficult to make business with". Czechs seem to be the ones "who quickly lose the war". Apparently the Chinese weren't aware that Czechia exists before 1938. My own nation, Hungary is something like "white people for profit", which corresponds to how we are frequented by Chinese merchants since the early 20th century. And the Jews are simply referred as "contradiction". Oh you brutally honest people, you.

Then I found that the Chinese name for the Polish means "abandoned honour". Why is that? The Poles are one of the bravest people in the world. Is this because they were so badly defeated in World War II?

Do the name of nations change over time?

When a country's name is a transliteration of their original name (like Canada or Bulgaria), does that somehow carry a meaning too?

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    I'm not sure if your Chinese coworker is just joking with you. Of course there are nouns in Mandarin. In Mandarin referring people from a certain country is usually just "Country Name people", such as "England people" (英国人), "France people" (法国人). Polish are just "Poland people" (波兰人). – Chan MT Jan 11 at 5:06
  • I mean 英国人 consists of three parts: 英 means hero, brave (and some other things, indeed), 国 means country and 人 is language. Which sums up as "language of the brave country". – Tamás Polgár Jan 11 at 5:16
  • @TamásPolgár the 英 is short for 英格兰 (ying-ge-lan = "England"). Country names are almost all chosen by sound, and in a couple rare cases by literal translation (e.g., Iceland is 冰岛 = ice island). The 英 was just chosen as a vaguely positive character that sounds like "ying". It wasn't chosen by starting with the meaning. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jan 11 at 5:19
  • So 抛光 is simply "Poland" -> "Paoguang"? – Tamás Polgár Jan 11 at 5:22
  • @TamásPolgár Poland is 波兰(Bo Lan), simply a transliteration. As for polish 抛光, LOL, what is the meaning of polish in English? Polish is 波兰人/波兰语. – Toosky Hierot Jan 11 at 5:39
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It's all joking lah!

The translation of a nation name is often chosen according to its sound, but Chinese characters have their own meanings as well, so you can indeed explain it somehow that way, which has nothing to do with the characteristics of that nation.

英国 Britain:英勇之国 the nation of bravery

法国 France:律法之国 the nation of law

德国 Germany:美德之国 the nation of virtue

捷克 Czech:捷速攻克 who quickly conquered

匈牙利 Hungary:匈>胡>白人+牙利 =white with sharp teeth

etc.

  • It is interesting though how some of these actually correspond to certain stereotypes about this or that nation. – Tamás Polgár Jan 11 at 5:52
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    @TamásPolgár I think it's because somehow when Chinese choose the word corresponding to the sound, the word's meaning is taken into consideration too. – sylvia Jan 11 at 6:03
  • The Chinese call themselves 中国。Meaning the "Central Country", like the Center of the World. Wonder how that came about? – Wayne Cheah Jan 11 at 7:46
  • @WayneCheah Because the ancient people did think that way. – Toosky Hierot Jan 11 at 7:52
  • And why is the USA the "Beautiful Country?" Indeed it isn't ugly, but most others aren't either. – Tamás Polgár Jan 11 at 8:24

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