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Name of China's Largest Desert Misinterpreted: Expert

The name of China's largest desert, the Taklimakan in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has long been misinterpreted, a researcher based in the regional capital Urumqi has said.


"It's widely believed the name of the desert means 'once you're trapped there's no escape' in Uygur. It's a huge mistake," said Qian Boquan, a researcher at Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.


After a thorough phonetic study into the Uygur dialect, Qian, a historian, said "Taklimakan" actually means "land of poplars" because "Takli" is the derivative of the Turkish word "Tohlak" or "Tohrak," meaning "poplar." "Taklimakan is known in Mandarin as Taklamakan," he added.


On the other hand, historical documents also prove that poplars abounded in the region in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420- 589), he said.


The syllable "ma" that follows the "Takli" stands for "big" and "kan" -- a variant of "kand" in ancient Persian, means land, town or village, according to Qian.


The earlier interpretation of the desert's name, he said, was given by a team of journalists who visited Xinjiang in the early 1980s. "In a book they compiled after the journey, they explained 'Taklimakan' meant 'there's no escape once you're trapped'. They had obviously misunderstood the local people's explanation but the misinterpretation has been passed on and even included in geography textbooks for school children."


The Taklimakan, known as the "sea of death", is located in the center of the Tarim Basin south of the Tianshan Mountains. It is 1,000 kilometers from west to east and 400 kilometers from north to south, covering 324,000 square kilometers.


(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2005)

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