Suoyi Hutong, Beijing
There’s several different names in English for small, secondary streets that run between blocks or behind major roads. Alley and lane are the words most often used in North America, but there’s significant variation in the UK, where regional words like vennel, chare, wynd, twitten and jigger are common.
It’s a similar story in China. Just about every city has a lu (路), which is the word mostly commonly used to describe important roads. And even though there is a basic word for lane — xiang (巷) — there are also many regional variations. In Beijing, it’s hutong (衚衕); in Shanghai, it’s longtang (弄堂) and in Chengdu, it’s xiangzi (巷子).
I don’t know anything about the exact origins of these different words for alley, but I imagine they have roots in local languages and geography. In Guangzhou, for example, a common name for alley is tung jeun in Cantonese (衕津), which literally means “alley dock” and refers to a lane near the Pearl River. Nobody uses this word in Hong Kong, where two other words are used to refer to alleys: fong (坊) and lei (里), which is a Cantonese transliteration of the English word “lane.”
Colonial influence can be seen in another generic street name that is unique to Hong Kong: “praya,” which comes from the Portuguese word for beach, praia, and refers to a street that runs along the waterfront.
Foreign influence can also be seen in Taipei, which was a Japanese colony between 1895 and 1945. Neighbourhood names are often followed by the suffix ding (町), which is pronounced cho in Japanese and is a kind of municipal administrative unit, similar to a township or borough.
For laneways, on the other hand, Taipei leans towards the generic: they’re numbered, not named, and referred to by the very indistinctive xiang.
Alley off Zhongxiao Dunhua Lane 205, Taipei
Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong
Tags: Beijing, China, Hong Kong, Hutongs, Laneways, Language, Street Names, Taipei