The Sinosphere and Southeast Asia

On Language Log, an interesting discussion about what the term “Sinosphere” means. Southeast Asia figures prominently here, of course, but not in a way which conveys any confidence that the contributors know anything at all about the region. For example, silly snippets like “I was Singapore there was widespread evidence of Chinese characters on store fronts (I presume it’s the same in the Philippines and Indonesia).” Right, good luck with that. I was recently in Freiburg and heard a lot of English (I presume it’s the same in Albania).

But what really catches my attention is the comment attributed to Matt Anderson: “I refer to the Chinese and Indian areas of linguistic / cultural influence in Southeast Asia as the ‘Sinosphere’ and the ‘Indosphere’.” A bunch of related discussion follows.

This view is common. It is of course true that the languages in the region took their syllabaries from Indic or Chinese origins, and that religions and state forms and things came through such channels too. But Sinosphere and Indosphere are commonly used to mean something much more than that. Among Western scholars, it reflects the belief that Southeast Asia is somehow a diminished or reduced thing, which can only be understood in relation to the Great Nations of China and India that have High Cultures and Important Traditions. Among Chinese and Indians, it reflects something of a global ambition for a modern sphere of influence which is somehow rooted in historical fact.

Bah, I say. I will talk about Southeast Asia as part of the Sinosphere or the Indosphere as soon as we start talking about China and India as part of the Mongolsphere, and I am being absolutely serious.

Comments 2

  1. Charley Sullivan November 8, 2012

    Southeast Asia is where the Chinese and the Indians came, to be used as Malays and Tais and Burmans and Viets saw fit, then sent scrambling home. Or something like that . . . cf, Vic Lieberman’s work on Eurasia, “the most important work of history of the 21st century so far” according to the AHA (I think it was.)

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