The question does sound pretty absurd, but hear me out first. The Periodic Table of the Elements, as I know it, is supposed to be a common standard adopted by the global scientific community.

However, I see a hitch when it comes to a total world-wide acceptance of such a standard.

Every Periodic Table of the Elements that I've seen in print uses the Latin Alphabet, and quite a few chemical symbols are assigned based on the Latin words for the elements ( Fe- Ferrum, Sn- Stannum, Au- Aurum, Cu- Cuprum, etc etc).

Now this appears to be a rather clever compromise reached by the English-speaking countries (the U.S.A, the U.K, Australia, etc) and countries that don't really use English, but use the Latin Alphabet (Germany, France, Spain, etc, etc). Obviously, using a "dead-language" to assign chemical symbols helps eliminate resentment that could rise by favoring one language (say, German) over another (say, English). Well, this appears to be the same logic behind the use of Latin in biological nomenclature too.

Now here's the catch;

How do countries that don't use the Latin Alphabet deal with this?

Alright, it seems credible to believe that Middle-Eastern countries (Arabic) and African countries would use the standard, Latin Alphabet Periodic Table that we use, without complaint. I guess the same goes for former European colonies too.

But what about:

1) Countries like Russia (Cyrillic) and Japan (Kanji), which have made significant contributions to the modern Periodic Table? Since they did contribute quite a bit to the Table, they probably "feel" they have the right to use their own customized Periodic Table using Cyrillic or Kanji characters.

2) Countries that vehemently oppose cooperation with Western countries, and would obviously dismiss the Latin Alphabet Periodic Table as an 'instrument of the West'. For example North Korea.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Element names might be in a different language, but the one/two letter symbols are universal. $\endgroup$
    – Zhe
    Dec 21, 2016 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Our element symbols are the same as yours. Element names are in Russian, but that's another story. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2016 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Chinese periodic tables make nice use of their one-character names. $\endgroup$
    – DHMO
    Dec 21, 2016 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ Ivan (and Zhe) are right. The Chinese characters are simply the Chinese names of the elements, they are hardly meant as a replacement for the symbols. Any Chinese version of the Periodic Table will most likely have the standard symbols printed along with the Chinese characters. (And of course, you can see that perfectly clearly from the one DHMO linked.) $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2016 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ Even western European countries don't all use the same names for elements. But they all use the same symbols. And the structure doesn't change according to what language you speak because it depends on the electronic properties of elements which don't change with the language you use to describe them. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Dec 22, 2016 at 0:04

2 Answers 2


Both North Korea and South Korea use the periodic table. The names, however, are different. Here is a periodic table in North Korea

enter image description here

The title translates to "Mendeleev's atomic periodic table." The names of the elements are different for some.

In South Korea Hydrogen is known as and pronounced as soo-saw. Phosphorus is known as and pronounced as in. Potassium is known as and pronounced as kallium. etc.

But some are the same.

In South Korea Magnesium is known as and pronounced as magnesium. Argon is known as and pronounced as argon. Fluorine is known and pronounced as fluorine.

I haven't taken classes in North Korea or visited any research facilities. But it is likely that they have further modified the names to be "less western".

All of these are names, and do not replace the symbols used in the periodic table.

  • $\begingroup$ They even have their own OS: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Star_OS Most of their education is brainwashing though. A university degree there is not very transferable. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2016 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ While interesting, it should be pointed out that the question asked specifically about symbols, not names. $\endgroup$
    – Marcel
    Jan 6, 2017 at 16:26

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is the body that standardises these symbols, along with names and symbols for new elements.

IUPAC is affiliated with 60 different national chemistry organisations, including the National Committee of Russian Chemists, the Chinese Chemical Society, and the Science Council of Japan.

Historical precedent combined with the fact that (as far as I'm aware) the vast majority of scientific literature is published in English are obviously large factors here, but there's no massive incentive for any given scientific user to rock the boat on this, and there's a disincentive to training scientists in a system which would leave them unable to easily read scientific literature (even if you're an isolationist liebox like North Korea).

On a side note, Japan in particular recently gained the distinction of having an element synthesised there named after it (Nihonium), and while I'm not an active follower of nucleosynthetic proceedings, it wouldn't surprise me particularly if we saw a Chinese-named element some time in the next decade.


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