It’s all in the name… how haphazard English translations have muddied the Saudi landscape

RIYADH: Decades of muddled English translations and a lack of records have left officials with a challenging task of standardizing how many of the Kingdom’s locations and landmarks should be spelt, a UN committee has heard.

National Committee for Geographical Names Chairman Dr. Mohammed bin Yahya Al-Sayel addressed the problems his department faces, including limited academic references to geographical names, and the use and acceptance over the years of haphazard English renderings of the original Arabic for roads, streets and other landmarks.

He told the third session of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names in New York that the NCGN was setting national rules for collecting, controlling and standardizing geographical names and solving linguistic and phonetic problems in an attempt to unify how the Kingdom properly names its landmarks.

Al-Sayel, who is also President of the General Authority for Survey and Geospatial Information, said his committee was also cooperating with academics and organizations to collect and document established names, and preparing a mechanism for developing and governing rules that regulate changes.

The unified Arab system (Romanization) adopted at the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names meeting in 2017 was developed to enable all sectors to write in a uniform manner and to highlight the significant economic, social, cultural, historical and religious benefits of collecting, controlling, preserving and standardizing geographical names, he said.

Al-Sayel said that the Kingdom pays great attention to geographical names.

“The NCGN aims to unify efforts related to geographical names in the Kingdom in terms of writing, control, spelling and everything related to the national standard in addition to its database,” he said.

“The NCGN seeks to strengthen its relations with international organizations, committees and technical teams to ensure the achievement of common strategic goals, which in turn are reflected in the achievement of sustainable development goals.”

The third session of the UNGEGN discussed reports submitted by governments involved and progress in standardizing geographical names.

The group of experts also addressed the standardization of geographical names at the national and international levels, strengthening cooperation and building partnerships with scientific, technical and academic organizations

They spoke of the importance of providing technical advice and exchanging best practices during the national and international meetings and conferences, and spreading awareness of the importance of geographical names as a source of culture, heritage and identity.

The session was held under the theme “Strengthening relations, ties and bonds in standardizing geographical names and achieving sustainable development.”

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