Place names

<img class="imgr" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-398.jpg">[b]The correct way of writing the names of Belarusian cities, villages and streets in various languages[/b]<br />The Parliament of Belarus plans to discuss changing the law to specify how names of settlements should be spelt in the Belarusian, Russian and Latin alphabet.<br />Since our state is located at the centre of Europe yet desires to keep its national heritage, it wishes to be open and clear to its neighbours — from the West and the East. This is especially relevant in advance of the Ice Hockey World Championship, which begins in Minsk on May 9th. Transport signs have been made in Belarusian and English — thanks to the efforts of linguists in translating Belarusian names into foreign languages - while metro stops are to be announced in two languages.
The correct way of writing the names of Belarusian cities, villages and streets in various languages

The Parliament of Belarus plans to discuss changing the law to specify how names of settlements should be spelt in the Belarusian, Russian and Latin alphabet.
Since our state is located at the centre of Europe yet desires to keep its national heritage, it wishes to be open and clear to its neighbours — from the West and the East. This is especially relevant in advance of the Ice Hockey World Championship, which begins in Minsk on May 9th. Transport signs have been made in Belarusian and English — thanks to the efforts of linguists in translating Belarusian names into foreign languages - while metro stops are to be announced in two languages.
In 2012, the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) passed a resolution approving principles of Romanisation of Belarusian geographical names (using the Latin alphabet) — as first adopted in 2000 and amended in 2007. The UNGEGN recommended this system for use all over the world as an ‘international system of Romanisation of Belarusian geographical names’. However, in spite of these rules, certain difficulties remain, inspiring discussion in Minsk, in March, at the conference of the Republican Toponymical Commission of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
The Chairman of the Commission, Igor Kopylov, the Academic Secretary of the NAS’ Institute of Language and Literature (named after Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala) here shares the outcomes of that conference and his personal views.
In 2010, the law ‘On Geographical Names’ came into force, establishing consistency in naming settlements and places within Belarus. In Brest, for example, Rodnikovaya, Klyuchevaya, and Krinichnaya streets all become, in translation into Belarusian, Krinichnaya. They were written in Russian long ago but are now named in Belarusian and are transliterated using the Cyrillic or Latin alphabet.

What changes will national toponymy bring in future?
The Council of Ministers is debating change to the law ‘On Geographical Names’. The project was developed by the State Property Committee and has been examined by the Toponymical Commission, which has suggest amending article 17 of the law, to read:
‘In Belarus, names of geographical places are given in the Belarusian language, from which they are translated into Russian. Names of geographical places are subject to state recording in Belarusian and Russian languages. Rules and methods of translation of names of geographical places from the Belarusian language into Russian, and into other languages, are defined by the State Property Committee.’
We suggest amending article 18 to read:
‘Names of geographical places on information boards and on road signs and other signs are written in Belarus in Belarusian and, if necessary, in Latin alphabet — from the Belarusian form of writing’.

How long has the Republican Toponymical Commission under the National Academy of Sciences existed?
The Commission was created by decree, by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the BSSR, on September 27th, 1991. Its main aim is the revival, preservation and ordering of Belarusian toponymy, and the development of rules for translation into other languages. It includes instructions on transliteration of geographical place names in Belarus using the Latin alphabet, as well as rules for translation into Russian, and rules of translation of geographical names from Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania into the Belarusian language. We have a series of regulatory reference books entitled ‘Names of Settlements of Belarus’, which contain a complete list of names of settlements in Belarusian Cyrillic and the Latin alphabet, as well as in Russian.

Which problems remain unresolved?
The toponymical system of Belarus has numerous alternatives, due to Belarusian history. From the 17th century, many ancient Belarusian geographical place names became recorded on maps and other official written sources in Polish — such as Bzhegi, Vulka, Brest, Grodna, and Navagrudak.
Nobody cared about exact translations of Belarusian proper nouns, hydronyms and microtoponyms into Russian. So, we gained Ivanovichi instead of Ivanichi, Pushkino instead of Pukshina, Barbarovo instead of Barbarov, Cheremushki instead of Charemushniki, Babionka instead of Babenka, Miory instead of Mery, and Liozno instead of Lezna.
In Soviet times, all Belarusian toponyms were translated into Russian but, even then, no comprehensive official lists of names existed. The Russian form was used in translations of geographical place names in Belarus, which generated inconsistencies in translation into Belarusian:

Deraki — Dzyaraki, Dzeraki;
Kamenets — Kamenets, Kamyanets;
Komki — Komki, Kamki.


What is to be done with names which differ in Russian and Belarusian? Do we transliterate or translate them?
Earlier, names were simply translated from Russian into Belarusian:

Trudovaya — Rabochaya;
Labour — Worker.


As a result, there were often two names for one word:

Dvigatel — Rukhavik;
Krasnyi Pakhar — Chyrvony Araty;
Romashki — Ramonki; and
Oktyabr — Kastrychnik.


Toponyms no longer fulfil their original function: serving as an unequivocal landmark. Dyyamentavya (brilliant) Street is translated from Belarusian into Russian as Almaznaya (diamond). However, diamond is a raw natural mineral, while a brilliant is a cut and sparkling diamond. The true Russian equivalent to dyyament (brilliant) is ‘diamant’ so where has Almaznaya come from?
Yaravaya Street is translated into Russian as Ovrazhnaya: the word ‘yar’ has various meanings: a steep riverbank, a lake, the slope of a ravine or a ravine’s hollow. We have no idea why ‘ravine’ was chosen. There are more questions than answers.
The approach applied to usual words cannot be used for toponyms, since their meaning grows gradually, through history; it’s almost impossible to justify any one choice since many words are from a long-forgotten age — or have changed in meaning over the years. Names reflect a nation’s individual history.

Which is the correct way to translate geographical place names from Belarusian language into Russian?
We can combine two ways. The first is transliteration:

v. Zhusiny — v. Zhusiny;
v. Traigi — v. Traigi.


The second is transliteration by replacing separate elements of morphemes:

s. Baraulyany — s. Borovlyany;
Str. Pryvabnaya — Str. Privabnaya;
Igumenski high way — Igumensky
high way.


Some names should not be translated, but transcribed according to the rules of Belarusian spelling:

v. Kastrychnik — d. Kastrichnik;
v. Chyrvonaya Zorka — d. Chirvonaya Zorka.


Disputes will always arise. Shpaler-naya Street is Oboinaya in Russian, while Chygunachnaya is Zheleznodorozhnaya, and Gandlevaya is Torgovaya. The names sound utterly different — as if they are different streets...
One solution is, with all due respect to the Russian language, to give priority to national (Belarusian) toponymy in national (Belarusian) language — to preserve the historical and cultural value of place names. Rather than translate Pratsounaya Street as Trudovaya, we can transliterate it to Pratsovnaya, or Chygunachnaya, and use Chigunochnaya instead of Zheleznodorozhnaya. If local authorities are unsure as to which name to choose, or how to write it in Belarusian or Russian, they need only ask the Toponymical Commission. We can assess how the name fits into toponymical systems, and how it is translated from one language into another, as well as how it would be used in linguistic practice.

We call your attention to the most difficult examples of translation of names of streets from Belarusian into the Russian language.
Lunnaya — Mesyachnaya, Mesyatsovaya, Lunnaya;
Otradnaya — Utseshnaya, Utseshlivaya, Pryemnaya, Atradnaya;
Chistoprudnaya — Chystaprudnaya, Chystasazhalkavaya;
Roshchinskaya — Roshchynskaya, Gaevaya;
Putevaya — Putsyavaya, Darozhnaya; and Lazurnaya — Lazurnaya.

Rules of transliteration for geographical place names of Belarus, officially adopted in Belarus and approved in 2012 by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)
А а A a Аршанскi — ArЁanski
Б б B b Бешанковiчы — BieЁankovičy
В в V v Вiцебск — Viciebsk
Г г H h Гомель — Homieĺ, Гаўя — Haŭja
Д д D d Добруш — DobruЁ
Е е Je je* Ельск — Jeĺsk, Бабаедава — Babajedava
ie** Венцавiчы — Viencavičy
Ё ё Jo jo* Ёды — Jody, Вераб’ёвiчы — Vierabjovičy
io** Мёры — Miory
Ж ж ґ ё Жодзiшкi — ґodziЁki
З з Z z Зэльва — Zeĺva
I i I i Iванава — Ivanava, Iўе — Iŭje
Й й J j Лагойск — Lahojsk
К к К k Круглае — Kruhlaje
Л л L l Лошыца — LoЁyca, Любань — Liubań
М м M m Магiлёў — Mahilioŭ
Н н N n Нясвiж — Niasviё
О о O o Орша — OrЁa
П п P p Паставы — Pastavy
Р р R r Рагачоў — Rahačoŭ
С с S s Смаргонь — Smarhoń
Т т T t Талачын — Talačyn
У у U u Узда — Uzda
Ў ў Ŭ ŭ Шаркаўшчына — ¦arkaŭЁčyna
Ф ф F f Фанiпаль — Fanipaĺ
Х х Ch ch Хоцiмск — Chocimsk
Ц ц C c Цёмны Лес — Ciomny Lies
Ч ч Č č Чавусы — Čavusy
Ш ш ¦ Ё Шумiлiна — ¦umilina
Ы ы Y y Чыгiрынка — Čyhirynka
Ь ь accent on the previous consonant Друць — Druć
Э э E e Чачэрск — Čačersk
Ю ю Ju ju* Юхнаўка — Juchnaŭka, Гаюцiна — Hajucina
iu** Цюрлi — Ciurli, Любонiчы — Liuboničy
Я я Ja ja* Ямнае — Jamnaje, Баяры — Bajary
ia** Bаляр’яны — Valiarjany, Вязынка — Viazynka
‘ not translated.

*Used at the beginning of a word, and after vowels and apostrophes and dividing soft signs and after the letter ‘в’ ** Used after consonants.

By Viktar Korbut
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