Language and Characters

+5 votes

I spotted the orphaned profile of Mao Ze-dung (Mao-18), the first leader of the Peoples Republic of China and adopted it to have some standing in the conversation about having a display screen for East Asian names the follows the East Asian custom of placing the family name first rather than last.  Having spent my own childhood in China (with a Chinese name of Dai Wan-kwang), WikiTree's inability to present such a display seemed inappropriate for a site that wants eventually to link everyone.  So now I'm in conversation with the manager of Mao-4, the same person, on how best to jerry-rig the data field in a merged file.

Checking the file today, I realize that Mao-18 has a wife, 李-11,  Li Shu-meng who presents a new issue -- the use of Chinese script, which WikiTree DOES accomodate.  The issue is that while a speaker of English but not French can read French because it employs the same script,  he or she cannot read Chinese, Arabic, Tamil, Hindi or Sinhalese because they use different scripts.  Li Shu-meng's profile is well done on this score because it leads with Chinese script but gives explanations and narratives in English, so it still appears to be written for an English speaking audience.  With a WikiTree profile number of 李-11, however, it is unlikely to be found by anyone not literate in Chinese, except by accident.  

I don't have a recommendation on this.  The logic that says the family name should come first because that's the way the people involved do it also says that the profile should be in the person's native language.  Following that logic, though, not only Chinese but German and Czech profiles would become inaccessible to their American descendants.  Should WikiTree adopt the standard that English (with British spellings like colour and labour versus American spellings that the rest of the world rejects) is today's international language and should be at least secondary in all profiles?  (I notice the computer's editor as I type this tells me that putting a "u" in colour and labour is wrong!)   Should there be a special badge for people qualified in Chinese so that those not literate in Chinese, like me, would not be allowed to mess them up?  These are questions that don't need answers tonight or tomorrow, but will need to be addressed some time!  (My father, who died 11 years ago at the age of 94, could read and write, as well as speak both Mandarin and Szechuanese dialects of Chinese, and he would have enjoyed this!)

WikiTree profile: 青 江
in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (363k points)
retagged by C S
Well I might think I'm RJ Horace, but I'm Horace RJ in the phone directory.  And it's no use me complaining that I don't do it that way.  It has to follow the phone directory's convention, not mine.

The problems of a multilingual database are massive and mostly unsolved, but at the very least you'd need some sort of Locale field and we don't have that.
So I was sent a link to this since I was the one who created the profile for 李淑蒙 (Li Shu-meng). As it happens, I have a lot of thoughts on how WikiTree deals with other languages. Here are some of the ones relevant to this topic:

I’ve read a lot of the previous G2G discussions about how best to deal with non‑English names, and the consensus generally seems to come down to “use native, contemporary names in their native, contemporary alphabet in the main fields wherever possible, for both people and locations”, a stance I fully support. It is also commonly suggested to include explanations in English in the biography section of any such names that an English speaker might find incomprehensible.

Unfortunately, while this seems to be the consensus on G2G, there are many profiles that do not follow these guidelines, instead using romanizations for the main fields.

Personally, I have done my best to stick to what I perceive as the G2G consensus whenever I find myself adding profiles.

On the subject of how easy or difficult it is to find some of these profiles, specifically the comment about not being able to find them unless you’re literate in Chinese… well, I’m not sure I’d describe myself as literate in Chinese (not yet, anyway), but anyone can copy and paste. It should be possible to copy and paste a Chinese name into WikiTree’s search and find out if they already have a profile. This requires that you know which is the surname and which is the given name, but this should be relatively easy to learn, especially if you’re interested in looking at and/or working with profiles of Chinese people.

Another related problem, not necessarily a bug but still something that ought to be corrected, is that WikiTree uses the terminology of “first name” and “last name” for labeling name fields. Now, since the family name comes first in Chinese names, technically “李” (Li) is the first name of 李淑蒙 and “淑蒙” (Shu-meng) is her last name, but obviously the LNAB field, despite its name, should be for the person’s family name, not necessarily the person’s last name.

When adding Chinese people to WikiTree, I have chosen to put the family name / first name into the field labelled “Last Name”, and the given name / last name into the field labelled “First Name”; due to how I interpret the intent of these fields. If I was just slightly more rigid in my thinking, I might have done the opposite.

Ideally, none of these fields should be labelled with terms like “first name” or “last name”; they should instead use terms like “given name” and “surname”. A related issue is, as Jack mentioned, that Chinese names ought to be displayed in the correct order. This also doesn’t seem like a difficult problem to solve, speaking as someone who has programmed this sort of thing before. At the user level it could simply look like a checkbox or a pair of radio buttons when editing a person’s profile.

1 Answer

+1 vote
  1. Wikitree supports adding UTF-8 characters is my understanding ==> add what you want
    1. 毛泽东, 
    2.  毛澤東
    3. Máo Zédōng
    4. ማው ፀ-ቶንግ
  2. Wikitree has to few fields for adding more variations of spelling of names so a half good workaround is adding them to the freetext section Bio section or add it as a comment
  3. Searching on some characters could be a problem... see other discussions on G2G
  4. One maybe better solution is that we create wiki templates for different name forms ==> other software could understand that this text is the name of the current Wikitree profile...  


by C S G2G6 Pilot (274k points)
Magnus, I'm guessing that if my starting point is "I am looking at the English script name 'Mao', what would the equivalent Chinese character be?" that there's no easy answer, correct?  Because letters are derived from sound while characters are derived from meaning.

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