The Wordsmyth online dictionary gives this definition of Indonesia: “an island country south of Indochina and the Philippines.” Indonesia and Indochina: is there a connection in the first part of the names of those two regions? (Indonesia is a country, of course, but it’s so large and spread out that I can justify calling it a region.)

The answer is yes, and it involves another huge country large enough to be considered a region. From a European vantage point—and that’s the one that the Spanish and English languages have inherited—India dominated a large part of the known world, and so other places came to be named with reference to it. What we now call Indonesia we used to call the (Dutch) East Indies, islands formerly controlled by the Dutch and located to the east of India. Indochina, now an increasingly outmoded word, refers to a group of countries bounded by India to their west and China to their north: Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

And an etymologist would be remiss in not pointing out that Indoeuropeo/Indo-European is the conventional name given to the language whose descendant languages before the Age of Exploration had spread as far west as the Icelandic of western Europe and as far east as Sanskrit and its descendants in India.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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