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  • Letters to Language
  • Martin Haspelman, Peter T. Daniels, and Eric P. Hamp

Language accepts letters from readers that briefly and succinctly respond to or comment upon either material published previously in the journal or issues deemed of importance to the field. The editor reserves the right to edit letters as needed. Brief replies from relevant parties are included as warranted.

Names and bibliographic practice

October 1, 2008

To the Editor:

Not all linguists have a special interest in onomastics, but we all use our colleagues' names in our publications. By current conventions, this crucially involves dividing a name into surname and given name, and this division is not always straightforward. For example, should the recent Language article by Sarah Bunin Benor and Roger Levy be cited as 'Benor & Levy 2006', or as 'Bunin Benor & Levy 2006'? It seems to me that scientific publications should provide this information, so that readers are not forced to look for clues elsewhere (e.g. the author's website, the name-giving conventions of the culture from which the author comes, etc.). In the past, journals such as Language have withheld this information, apparently because it was assumed that readers can infer it. And indeed, for simple English names like Richard Hudson, this inference is easy, even for readers who are not well-versed in Anglo culture. But other naming systems create problems:

  1. a. Tripartite names (and names with even more components) are not uncommon, especially in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking regions (e.g. Carmen Torres Manrique, Rafael Tomás Las Heras, Zenaida Guadalupe Mínguez, Francisco de Assis Rocha Neves, César Augusto Melo e Silva).

  2. b. Some languages have minor name components that are often spelled with lower case and ignored in alphabetization (e.g. Raoul de la Grasserie, Henk van Riemsdijk). Confusingly, the conventions may be different in closely related languages (Spanish and Italian) or countries (Belgium and the Netherlands).

  3. c. In different languages, the normal order of surname and given name is different: While most European languages usually have the order 'given name - surname', the order 'surname - given name' is normal in Chinese, Korean, Hungarian, and elsewhere.

  4. d. In some naming systems, the surname is much more informative than the given name, so that abbreviating the given name does not lead to much information loss (e.g. Russian, where a relatively small number of given names is in use). But in other systems, the information value of the name components is the reverse (e.g. in Korean, where some surnames are extremely frequent, and given names are extremely diverse).

The diversity of naming systems will become more of an issue in an increasingly interconnected world, where it simply cannot be assumed that the division of names and the correct identification of surnames and given names can be inferred on the basis of one's cultural knowledge. The issues identified above could be remedied by adopting the following conventions in bibliographical references:

  1. i. Given names are never abbreviated.

  2. ii. Author names are always written in the order 'surname - given name', and separated by a comma, even when the name is not first in a list. Thus, not only Foley, William A., but also Foley, William A. & Van Valin, Robert D. (rather than Foley, William A. & Robert D. Van Valin, where the parsing of the second name may be unclear).

  3. iii. Names are always parsed exhaustively into surname and given name, ignoring any local conventions that assign special status to minor name components. This requires van Riemsdijk, Henk, and van Riemsdijk 1978, not Riemsdijk, Henk van (with Dutch-style alphabetization despite the fact that van is usually considered a surname component), or Van Riemsdijk 1978 (with Dutch-style capitalization in the absence of the given name). Likewise, English minor name components such as Jr. are not given special treatment.

  4. iv. To allow readers to put the surname and the given name in the right order, two different boundary symbols are used: the comma for names that should appear in the order 'given name - surname', and some other symbol (such as the dash) for names that should appear in the order 'surname - given name' (e.g. Liu - Danqing, Zhang - Min, Nguyên - Dình...


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