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Ukraine vs. The Ukraine:

A Seventh Circuit opinion remarks on what to call the country (which happens to be where I was born, though it wasn't an independent country back then):

There continues to be confusion over whether to use the article "the" in connection with "Ukraine." In the briefs, Gutnik's counsel uses "the Ukraine," while the government uses "Ukraine." Likewise, at joint remarks in January 2005, Vice President Cheney used "the Ukraine," while President Yushchenko, the elected leader of the country, used "Ukraine." See Press Release, Office of the Vice President, Vice President's Remarks with Ukrainian President Yushchenko (Jan. 26, 2005) (Villa Decius, Krakow, Poland). We will use Ukraine, which is not only correct but is also preferred by Ukrainians themselves, see Associated Press, Terminology of Nationalism, N.Y. Times, Dec. 3, 1991, at A10, and is the grammatically consistent choice, see Andrew Gregorovich, Ukraine or "The Ukraine"?, FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 90, Spring/Summer 1994.

I say "The Ukraine," because that's how I learned it; I take it Cheney learned it this way, too. Interestingly, though Russian doesn't have articles such as "the," there's a similar controversy there — for most areas, you'd say something is in the area ("v Pol'she, v Angl'ii," "v" meaning "in"), but for the Ukraine, you'd say something is on it ("na Ukrain'e," "na" meaning "on"), or at least that's how you said it when I was growing up during the Soviet era. Nor was it just a country vs. area-in-a-country distinction; you'd say "v Litv'e," or "v B'elorussii," but "na Ukrain'e").

My sense is that this was because "Ukraina" wasn't just a place name, but also retained part of its non-place-name origins, in the sense of "borderland." It might also explain why Russians are quite comfortable with the "na Ukrain'e" / "the Ukraine" usage, and (as best I can tell) many Ukrainians prefer "v Ukrain'e" / "Ukraine" usage, which focuses more on the country as a country like any other rather than just the borderland of Greater Russia. I'll probably keep saying "the Ukraine," perhaps because I'm culturally much more Russian than Ukrainian (I'm still more American than Russian, but that's less relevant here), but my sense is that the tide is turning against it overtime, just as "the Lebanon" and "the Sudan" have in the past.

JamesT:
Hmmm. The Russians I work with claim it is "na B'eloruss'e", and they are youngish 20somethings.
11.30.2006 12:35pm
KevinM:
So are the people who live there "the The Ukrainians?"
11.30.2006 12:40pm
Spartacus (www):
What about The Netherlands? The Bronx? The Bahamas? The Vatican? Certainly the use of the article "the" need not be intrinsically offensive; though I suppose in the case of (the) Ukraine, the implication is that it has a subtle derogatory history.

I grew up with The Sudan, but just plain Lebanon; why did these changes occur, but not the others mentioned above, and when?
11.30.2006 12:42pm
doesn't know (mail):
Does anyone know why it's "the Gabon"? Also, is it "the Hague," because the place name has a definite article in it"? We have some of those here, as in Las Vegas ("the plains").
11.30.2006 12:45pm
Vovan:

My sense is that this was because "Ukraina" wasn't just a place name, but also retained part of its non-place-name origins, in the sense of "borderland." It might also explain why Russians are quite comfortable with the "na Ukrain'e" / "the Ukraine" usage, and (as best I can tell) many Ukrainians prefer "v Ukrain'e" / "Ukraine" usage, which focuses more on the country as a country like any other rather than just the borderland of Greater Russia.


It might, but it also might not, since we also say "Na Cube", "Na Kipre", "Na Altae" etc. Most of linguistic forms have to do with traditions that span back quite a number of years, and the big brother/little brother Russia/Ukraine controversy was simply a conveninet way to "fire up" the base.
11.30.2006 12:46pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
A non-geographical parallel is the definite article with ancient Greek plays; one used to speak of "the Antigone" the way we do with "the Iliad," but that seems to be on the way out.
11.30.2006 12:50pm
Seamus (mail):
I've noticed a tendency to drop the definite article from a lot of country names. Thus, the Sudan and the Congo and now typically simply called "Sudan" and "Congo." The Gambia has managed to hold on to its definite article by capitalizing it. (Even so, I've sometimes seen it simply referred to as "Gambia." Interestingly enough, I'm not aware that "Upper Volta" ever was called "the Upper Volta" in English, even though that would be appropriate by analogy with "the Congo" and "the Gambia." But I suppose that the life of place naming, like the life of the law, has not been logic but experience.)

So far, I see no signs that the Netherlands, the Philippines, the Maldives, or the United States are losing their definite article. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that those are all plural in form.

One reason I've seen for dropping the article from "the Ukraine" is that that's the preference of the Ukrainians. That strikes me as about the worst reason. I don't see what right the Ukrainians have to tell English speakers how to speak translate the name of their country into English. Unfortunately, we've meekly given in on the names of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and may be doing the same with the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire--and notice how the definite article gets dropped there?), but I wonder where it will all end. Will the Germans start demanding that we call their country "Deutchland" or the Chinese (having won on the names of their cities) that we call theirs "Zhonngguo"?

OK, I'm finished ranting. Boy, I feel better now.
11.30.2006 12:51pm
Spartacus (www):
Consider also America vs the United States of America. Not that the "the" is an integral part of the name (note the lack of capitalization) but saying USA without using the article is stilted (as in "I am going to USA" as opposed to "I am going to the USA"). Perhpas a compromise could be simply de-capitalizing the "the" when refering to the Ukraine?
11.30.2006 12:51pm
Anthony A (mail):
There's also the nearly defunct (in the US - I don't know the UK usage) "The Argentine" for "Argentina".

"The Netherlands" is descriptive, it means "the low countries". "The Bahamas" refers to the group of islands which includes Grand Bahama and Lesser Bahama, so it makes sense.

"The Vatican" is probably akin to "The Court of St. James" or "The White House" - the country is "Vatican City", but when referring to pronouncements made by spokesmen for the Pope, "The Vatican" is more common.

I'm not sure how "The Bronx" got started; it's Bronx County. But "broncks" may mean something in Dutch which prefers a definite article in English.
11.30.2006 12:52pm
Anthony A (mail):
Spartacus - usage for the country between Canada and Mexico is complicated because the name "America" can also refer to a pair of continents, of which the U.S.A. only is sovereign over a part. Otherwise, people would call the U.S. simply "America" even in fairly formal settings, just as they call the United States of Mexico "Mexico" in all but the most formal settings.
11.30.2006 12:56pm
M (mail):
My understanding was always that 'the Ukraine' referred to a region or area, much like 'the deep south' or 'the Nile river delta' while 'Ukraine' was the proper name, so one was a description and the other a name. Of course you can have a name with an article in it if you want, but it's unusual.
11.30.2006 1:06pm
rbj:
Anthony, I have always seen it as The Americas, in reference to the fact there are two continents.
11.30.2006 1:15pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
I once lived in the Bronx and always wondered why we used the definite article, especially since the Bronx is in Bronx County and not the Bronx County. It might have to do with Jonas Bronck who had a 500 acre farm there in 1641. So I guess people would say something like “I’ll meet you at the Bronck’s farm,” as we would today.
11.30.2006 1:17pm
Elliot Reed:
My sense is that geographic constructions of the form "the X" ("the Midwest," "the Continent") tend to connote a region rather than an entity, but don't always ("the Netherlands," "the Bronx"). I think a major difference between the classes of cases is that the contested constructions were used by colonial/imperial powers specifically to take advantage of the connotation that the area was a region rather than a national entity. I'm sure that's why the Soviets popularized "the Ukraine" as the English name for that area. Given that history I think it's reasonable for Ukrainians to object and I think "Ukraine" is a better choice.

I don't know the history of "the Netherlands," but even if it has a colonial history any connotation of regionality that might once have existed has been killed by time.
11.30.2006 1:36pm
Michael_The_Rock:
Actually once heard a radio traffic reporter refer to "The Brooklyn" immediately after referring to The Bronx. Yes, she was new.
11.30.2006 1:39pm
MDJD2B (mail):
It is my understanding from Ukrainian-Americans who strongly identify with the original country that "Ukraine" has connotations of an independent nation, while "the Ukraine" is favored by Russians who like to think of the place as the Russian march rather than as a separate nation. This is somewhat analogous to Israel/Palestine, or West Bank/Judea &Samaria. The usage ot the definite article expresses the speaker's view of the optimal poitical status of the lands east and wast of the Dneiper River.
11.30.2006 2:00pm
Byrne Hobart (mail) (www):
Lileks weighed in:

I won’t point out that he referred to “The Ukraine” on the show today, because I know that’s his way of speaking. “We were right to invade The Iraq,” he said to me the other day, “even though The France objected.” It’s just his way. Why do you think it’s “The Hugh Hewitt Show”? Because his friends call him “The Hugh Hewitt.”
11.30.2006 2:01pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Words like "the Netherlands" and "the Philippines" are easy to explain: it's "the nether lands" and "the Philippine islands."

Some Russian expressions like "on Cuba" or "on Cyprus" are explainable because you can be "on" an island — that's probably the same reason why "small Greek islands" like, say, Rhodes, have a particular grammatical form in Latin that other places don't have. "On Altai" is like "on the Ukraine" because of Ukraine's origins as a vague geographic area.

The same was once true of Russia — the archaic term for the area of all the old Russian city-states was "Rus'" and you would say "na Rusi." But with the modern name, "Rossiia," you say "v Rossii." Which could explain why you might say "v Belorussii" but "na Belarusi," depending on which name of the country you use.
11.30.2006 2:11pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I'd suggest that certain place names, particularly in the Middle East and parts of Africa, carry linguistic baggage of Arabic as well. Some countries, as Sudan, Lebanon, Algeria and Yemen (As-Sudan, Al-Lubnan, Al-Jaza'ir, Al-Yemen), require the definite article "al". Others, such as Egypt (Misr), Libya (Libia), do not. When Arabists were using the names of the countries in their writings in European languages, local usage of the definite article seems to have carried over.
11.30.2006 2:25pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
In the case of Lebanon, I thought that it would have sometimes borne a "the" because of "the Levant," i.e., land of the rising sun. But now I see, through the all-knowing Wikipedia, that Lebanon and Levant have completely different roots.

On a different note, does anyone have any insight into why "Switzerland" has a definite article in German ("die Schweiz")?
11.30.2006 2:29pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Jacques Barzun in his book Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers discusses the use of the definite article the. In particular he gives an example of a letter to American scientists from the Soviet Academy of Sciences written in excellent English except for a few slips. The letter contained the phrase “under sponsorship of the State Commission for the use of the Atomic Energy.” According to Barzun, in Russian the Atomic Energy is the normal way of understanding such an entity. The language defines at large what in English we leave indefinite unless we mean to specify, as in ”the Atomic Energy in plant 162.”
11.30.2006 2:37pm
David Matthews (mail):
And, of course, we should also thank Robert Smith and Chris Carter (followed by many others in THE NFL) for returning the "THE" to "THE Ohio State University."
11.30.2006 3:03pm
CJColucci:
So, did the Ukraine girls really knock you out and leave the West behind, or were you too young to notice when you left?
11.30.2006 3:07pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
The Bronx? No thonx.

The usual explanation is that it was the site of the Bronck’s farm (as opposed, perhaps, to Yasgur's Farm or Grandpa's Farm) but a letter to The Times (Mom, a city girl who was embarassed to have been born in and later live in The Bronx, taught me that you shouldn't have to explain which Times) by Bronx County historian Lloyd Ultan says the borough was named after the river, which fits many of the other examples given. (The river was named after Jonas.)

That river, New York City's only true river, is historically significant because the map the British used implied that it was deep enough for warships -- a plan utilizing that fact for an invasion during the Revolutionary War failed.

Most definite articles: three, The El Alamein Battle.
11.30.2006 3:13pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Okay... so what's the deal with "I was driving on the I-40" instead of "I was driving on I-40"? Seems purely regional, but the former surely isn't from my region....
11.30.2006 3:32pm
Robert West (mail) (www):
Another one that isn't changing: "the Czech Republic." There does not appear to be a legitimate short form of that in English; "Bohemia" is possible but (a) not widely understood and (b) not something the Czechs are happy with.
11.30.2006 3:36pm
Hoosier:
I've always assumed it's "die Schweiz" auf Deutsch due to the confederal nature of the country. The "die" is now constructed as grammatically femine.

But I wonder if this is a back-construction of what had been an adjective, since 'Eidgenossenschaft' is feminine. Thus "the Swiss Confederation" became simply "the Swiss", since the German word for confederation is too long to say, especially if you're in southern Germany and have to talk about the place all the time. No one in New Hampshire wouold waste their time saying "The Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
11.30.2006 3:45pm
M. Lederman (mail):
Shouldn't that be: "A Seventh Circuit opinion remarks what to call the country . . . "? ;-)

Cf. Eugene's immediately subsequent ("Smackdown") post.
11.30.2006 3:52pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
the I-40

I've noticed that in greater Boston public school names get definite articles. While I went to IS 181 X (where the X could be read "The Bronx"), The Pablo Casals School, and I might say I went to "Pablo Casals", my daughter's "John F. Kennedy Middle School" is referred to as "The Kennedy", as in "Students from the Goodyear and the White go to the Kennedy, but those from the Shamrock and the Clapp go to the Joyce."
11.30.2006 3:53pm
ys:

I've always assumed it's "die Schweiz" auf Deutsch due to the confederal nature of the country. The "die" is now constructed as grammatically femine.

But I wonder if this is a back-construction of what had been an adjective, since 'Eidgenossenschaft' is feminine. Thus "the Swiss Confederation" became simply "the Swiss", since the German word for confederation is too long to say, especially if you're in southern Germany and have to talk about the place all the time. No one in New Hampshire wouold waste their time saying "The Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

This sounds plausible from "Die Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft". It was derived from the name of a canton (Schwyz), although I am not sure why this one out of the three founding ones. Incidentally, you can see theories that this name in turn was derived from a Slavic word (here)
11.30.2006 4:34pm
Houston Lawyer:
Before the fall of the Soviet Union, we all referred to it as The Ukraine. Only after the fall did we hear that Ukranians objected to the The. I don't believe that Americans need to change what they call a country merely because that country desires it. We have our name for a country in English and they have their name in their own language.
11.30.2006 4:52pm
Aaron:
Why do we translate proper nouns anyway? The city is "New York", not "Nueva York" or "Neue York" (although I might grant you Nieuw Amsterdam, but I digress). Same with Munchen, Moskva, and Ukraina. It bugs me that for colonial reasons, we don't call the place by its actual name. It's Torino, not Turin, dammit.

I mean, unless they do it themselves, we should respect the names that were given to them, right, Yevgeny?
11.30.2006 4:53pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
A. Zarkov: I'm puzzled by your saying that "in Russian the Atomic Energy is the normal way of understanding such an entity." There's no "the" in Russian, and I don't see why "atomnaya energiya" should be translated as "the atomic energy" rather than "atomic energy."

I can say that, because Russian doesn't have articles and English does, Russians who don't know English that well (such as perhaps the speaker to whom Barzun was referring) won't get the articles right. Usually they omit the articles when the articles should be included, but it wouldn't be surprising to see hypercorrection, where a speaker who's too afraid of erroneously omitting an article ends up erroneously including it instead.
11.30.2006 4:55pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I don't know about "die" being left over from "die schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft." The Czech Republic is "Tschechien," not "die Tschechien" because of "die tschechische Republik." That's admittedly quite new. So how about common countries whose names include common nouns? We have "die Niederlande" (same idea as "The Netherlands"), but we don't have "das Deutschland," "das Russland," "das Frankreich," or "die Dänemark."
11.30.2006 5:12pm
BKriplur (mail) (www):
Evgeny,

I would have to criticize your decision to stick with "the Ukraine." Most of the Ukrainians I know feel that it is an insult because it implies that Ukraine is still a region in Russia (akin to calling Ukraine "little Russia"). Even if grammatically this is not the case, you should keep in mind that many feel it is derogatory. Probably more so in Lviv than in Crimea.

Also, I do see that form of hypercorrection a lot. I see it more in writing than in conversation though.
11.30.2006 5:17pm
Randy R. (mail):
Don't feel bad. The french call London Londres and use french words for plenty of other place names. I guess colonism dies hard....
11.30.2006 5:24pm
Randy R. (mail):
And is it Edinboro or Edinburgh? I'm really confused now.

Thank goodness I come from Buffalo, which never gets translated into anything else.
11.30.2006 5:25pm
Stryker:
Sasha,

Just a guess, but there is a pattern: The countries without the article in German, Frankreich, Russland, etc, all had strong linguistic foundations before the Printing press. The others (Switzerland, Niederland,) were after.
11.30.2006 5:31pm
Georgiana (mail):
And in English at least, the Netherlands were referred to as the Low Countries (well Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) so the "the" may be left over from that habit.
11.30.2006 5:41pm
RV:

Okay... so what's the deal with "I was driving on the I-40" instead of "I was driving on I-40"? Seems purely regional, but the former surely isn't from my region....

It is regional. I grew up in LA where all freeways are "the 5," "the 134," etc. (we never use the "I" in front). Now I live in DC and everyone says "I-66" or plain "66." People here have insinuated that it is because we Angelenos find freeways so important that we use the honorific "the" in front. Which interestingly goes against a lot of the theories in this thread that using a "the" in front of countries is an insult.
11.30.2006 5:54pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Eugene Volokh:

I am merely quoting Barzun (page 66). I quoted it to get a response from someone more familiar with the Russian language than I am. Barzun is careful to state that other than usage of “the” and “a,” the translation to English was impeccable. Evidently the Russian somehow believed that the proper translation would require the definite article in English. I’m not exactly sure what Barzun means, but I think he is saying that Russians conceptualize “Atomic Energy” differently than we do in the US and so the translation would require the definite article. In other words, the difference lies not in language but in concept. Any additional insights you could provide would be apprecriated. I can provide more the text if necessary.
11.30.2006 6:16pm
Gaius Obvious (mail):
Will the Germans start demanding that we call their country "Deutchland" or the Chinese (having won on the names of their cities) that we call theirs "Zhonngguo"?

The Chinese already insist that we refer to Mt Everest as "Chomolungma."
11.30.2006 6:23pm
Seamus (mail):

It bugs me that for colonial reasons, we don't call the place by its actual name. It's Torino, not Turin, dammit.



I knew my history education was defective, but I totally missed that part where the English colonized Torino.
11.30.2006 6:29pm
Seamus (mail):

Now I live in DC and everyone says "I-66" or plain "66."



Well, when I was growing up in Arlington, everyone I knew referred simply to "Chain Bridge," "Key Bridge," or "Memorial Bridge." (We referred to "the 14th Street Bridge," "the Wilson Bridge," and "the Cabin John Bridge," however. Go figure.) Now the traffic reporters on WTOP always seem to refer to "the Key Bridge" and (I think) "the Memorial Bridge." I can't recall whether they put "the" in front of "Chain Bridge," however.
11.30.2006 6:33pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Might it make a difference that Chain Bridge is also the name of the associated street? I, for one, think of Chain Bridge as primarily a street, not a bridge. But there's no street called Key Bridge that's larger than the actual Bridge.
11.30.2006 6:37pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Eugene: My mother, who was born in a shtetl in the Pale (the area of Russia in which Jews were allowed to live in Tsarist times), in what is now Ukraine, says (in English, I speak neither Russian nor Yiddish): "in Ukraine." She corrects people who call her Russian, she says: "I am Jewish," which was what her Soviet identity card said.

David Matthews: It was neither Smith, nor Carter, nor any of their illustrious Buckeye predeccessors in the NFL, who named our (Smith, Carter and me) Alma Mater. Rather, in the late 19th Century, the Ohio General Assembly adopted what is now Section 3335.01. of the Revised Code:

"The Ohio State University." The educational institution originally designated as the Ohio agricultural and mechanical college shall be known as "The Ohio State University."

It is worth noting that, in the era before the Revised Code (1953), Ohio corporate law had provisions which required corporate names to begin with the word: "the".
11.30.2006 6:40pm
jahoulih:
I've heard Tony Blair say "the Lebanon." I wonder whether he's being old-fashioned, or this is still general British usage.

I think the Vatican is so called by analogy to the seven hills of Rome (the Palatine, the Quirinal, the Capitoline, etc.). Note that the Vatican is not one of the canonical seven—it's on the wrong side of the Tiber.
11.30.2006 7:36pm
Aleks:
Re: Another one that isn't changing: "the Czech Republic."

Also: "The Dominican Republic"
11.30.2006 8:06pm
Seamus (mail):

Probably more so in Lviv than in Crimea.



You mean the Crimea?
11.30.2006 8:53pm
Hoosier:
I think we have to leave "the Vatican" out of this one, since "the Vatican"—which does get its name from the hill, as jahoulih notes—is used ambiguously by most of us. As it's used, it can mean the country, the Curia, the geographic site, the pope . . .

But the nation itself is properly called Vatican City, with no article. And the government is, technically and in international law, "the Holy See." The Vat makes the distinction (in Latin) thus: The Vatican is not a state, but is /has/ a state.

Sasha—Prior to its break-up, Germans spoke of the nation in quetion as "the Chechoslovakia." It doesn't work in lingustics to try to exclude a possibility because similar cases are treated in a disimilar manner. (Why do some people pronounce the 't' in 'often,' but no one pronounces it in 'soften'?—Who knows? That's just what has happened.) Natural languages are all organic, conventional, and arbitrary.
11.30.2006 8:54pm
Aukahe:

Okay... so what's the deal with "I was driving on the I-40" instead of "I was driving on I-40"? Seems purely regional, but the former surely isn't from my region....

In Southern California it would be "the 40". It is shortened from "the 40 freeway".
11.30.2006 9:07pm
Seamus (mail):

But the nation itself is properly called Vatican City, with no article.



I'm not so sure. It's the Vatican City State (Stato della Cittá del Vaticano, the State of the City of the Vatican).
11.30.2006 9:15pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
David Chesler: "Mom, a city girl who was embarassed to have been born in and later live in The Bronx, taught me that you shouldn't have to explain which Times"

You should obey your Mother out of fillial piety, even when she is wrong, as she is here.

The Times refers to the the venerable journal of London England, The Times (Milord, there are three newspaper reporters here to see you, and the gentleman from The Times).

See the online edition of The Times Style and Usage Guide under "Newspapers".

Also note that a search of "The Times" on Google yields timesonline.co.uk as its first result. Nytimes.com is second. The LA Times is being used to housebreak the puppy.
11.30.2006 9:26pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Hoosier: Ooh, interesting. We have not only "die Tschechslowakei," but also "die Türkei," "die Mongolei," and (of course) "die Slowakei." We just say "Brunei," but that's a new country, so we can distinguish that one.

Incidentally, the Germans also say "die Ukraine."

I agree that things get the way they are in languages for lots of idiosyncratic reasons. But sometimes they get the way they are for understandable and regular reasons. Science suggests that we might at least inquire as to whether there's some general rule.

Another interesting regularity with exceptions: In French, (almost) all countries ending in "e" are feminine (la France), while all countries not ending in a "e" are masculine (le Nigeria, le Monaco, le Luxembourg). (Of course I mean the main noun of the country name, so "les Etats Unis d'Amerique" is masculine plural even though it ends with an "e"!)

The only exceptions I can recall right now: "le Mexique," "le Cambodge."
11.30.2006 9:27pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Robert West: Bohemia was the Western two-thirds of what is now The Czech Republic. The south-eastern third of the Czech lands was, in Imperial times, known as Moravia. Bohemian-Moravian republic is also a mouthful.
11.30.2006 10:01pm
libertarian soldier (mail):
Georgiana:
And in English at least, the Netherlands were referred to as the Low Countries (well Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) so the "the" may be left over from that habit.
Also in French: Les Pays-Bas
11.30.2006 10:18pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
... Interestingly, though Russian doesn't have articles such as "the," there's a similar controversy there — for most areas, you'd say something is in the area ("v Pol'she, v Angl'ii," "v" meaning "in"), but for the Ukraine, you'd say something is on it ("na Ukrain'e," "na" meaning "on"), or at least that's how you said it when I was growing up during the Soviet era. Nor was it just a country vs. area-in-a-country distinction; you'd say "v Litv'e," or "v B'elorussii," but "na Ukrain'e").

I've heard it claimed that there's a similar division regarding "on Hawaii" vs. "in Hawaii" (or Hawai'i, if you're a purist). Can anyone verify this?

And IIRC, in one of Robert A. Heinlein's stories, you could tell the tourists from the natives by noting who said "on Luna" vs. "in Luna" ...
11.30.2006 10:27pm
That Lawyer Dude (mail) (www):
Getting back to The Haugue in The Netherlands... ( or is it Holland??) If I remember a trip there long ago, the dutch referred to it as Der Haugue, as the name of the city. I always thought Der meant The hence why we refer to it that way.
11.30.2006 11:09pm
jahoulih:
The reference to three definite articles in "the El Alamein" seems to be mistaken. "El Alamein" is Arabic for "the two worlds"; add "the," and you have two definite articles. (But Google does show a few examples of "the el Alcazar" and "the el Alhambra," which really do have three definite articles.)

My favorite extra definite article: "the hoi polloi."
11.30.2006 11:47pm
K Parker (mail):
Hey, I think reciprocity and liguistic respect go hand in hand. So I'm quite willing to call Ivory Coast "Cote d'Ivoire" as soon as I hear the majority of Ivoirians (and the French) have given up their femmy-sounding "Etats Unis" nonsense and are instead using "Thee Yew-nited States of Amerrrrica" with a good old American-English retroflex 'r'. Until then, not. And don't get me started on the poor Finns, either...
12.1.2006 1:47am
Can't find a good name:
My opinion is, follow the country's preference, but you can make exceptions if the country's government is really evil. Since what I used to call "the Ukraine" was reasonably democratic after the Soviet Union fell and they announced they wanted to be known just as "Ukraine," they're "Ukraine" to me now. But as far as I'm concerned, it's still Burma, not "Myanmar," and it was always Cambodia, not "Kampuchea" (as the Khmer Rouge government called it). If the Burmese ever get a democracy back, they can decide then whether to go with "Myanmar" or "Burma" as their name.
12.1.2006 1:51am
Zach (mail):
Check out this Economist article on countries changing their English names:
link


I think it is a bit presumptuous to demand that another country call you by the "correct" name. Why can't we say Peking, Bombay, etc? Do we demand that other nations call us the "United States of America" rather than "Soyedinyonniye Ameriki Shtati", "États-Unis d'Amérique" or "Vereinigte Staaten". When speaking English, I will say Munich not Muenchen, Florence, not Firenze and Moscow and Warsaw not Moskva and Warszawa (or would that be Varshava?)
12.1.2006 1:54am
kovo62 (mail):
Switzerland: die Schweiz, la Suisse, la Svizzera
Turin: "Torino" (in Tuscan Italian) but "Turin"(in many northern Italian dialects including Torinese)
12.1.2006 7:51am
Hoosier:
Seamus--

You're right about the Italian, of course. But that's not a good guide to the English, since Itlaian uses articles before nouns in so many cases where they would not be used in English. Including in the name of the Vat.

"L'onesta' e' piu'preziosa della bellezza."

"The honesty" . . . "the beauty" . . . "The City of the Vatican"
12.1.2006 10:32am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Why can't we say ... Bombay, etc?

Same reason we can't say Byzantium Constantinople, or Leningrad, or Newtowne -- the name was officially changed. (Bombay is an anglicization of the Portuguese Bom Bahia [Good Bay] -- Mumbai is officially the new name as of the mid 1990s, although there is dispute whether it is, as claimed, related to the Mumbadevi temple, or not more than coincidence the Gujaratization of Bombay.)
12.1.2006 11:54am
Hoosier:
Zach—

I agree. And I'd add "Paris" and "Berlin," just to drive the point home. We spell these exactly as do natives. But who says pah-REE? bear-LEEN?

And on this question, PLEASE HELP ME Volokhophiles! When and why did the US TV and radio news cabal decide, all at the same time, and w/o consulting us, to start calling the Russian capital MOS-coe?

I say MOS-cow. Like cow. Moo.

Not Coe, like the college in Iowa.

But listen to the news-speakers some time: With the exception of Brit Hume, they all do it. Do they think it sounds bad to have "cow" in the word? We can't use barnyard animals in geographic names? If we need to get the Cow out of Moscow, shouldn't we get the Bull out of Bolivia?

And what about Turkey?

MOS-coe does not represent a better approximation of the native pronunciation than the way that the rest of us say it. So it's not like in the 1980s, when we all-of-a-sudden started hearing news about these new countries called CHEE-lay and Nee-ha-RHAGH-wah down to the south.

So what's up with that?
12.1.2006 11:55am
Hoosier:
We can't say Constantinople anymore?

Then what the heck are we supposed to call it? Bosporus City?
12.1.2006 11:57am
David Matthews (mail):
Robert Schwartz: I didn't say they named it, I said they "returned the 'THE'" to the name. Previous NFL players, when introducing themselves would say, "Archie Griffin, Ohio State." Smith and Carter and others started saying, "Robert Smith, THE Ohio State University," with an exaggerated emphasis on the "THE" (as if to differentiate it from simply "an Ohio State University"), and which emphasis I'll in the future apply to THE Ukraine (as opposed to just any old Ukraine), and THE Dominican Republic (I used to say "The DOMINICAN Republic" to differentiate it from, say, the Jesuit Republic.)

Anyway, best of luck in that championship game in January. Go Buckeyes.
12.1.2006 12:52pm
multilinguist1:
Sasha-
There's a very simple explanation why its les Etats Unis d'Amerique in French — the les is modifying the plural noun Etats, not the place name "Amerique." Etats Unis is a fuller name, I suppose, more like "la Republique de France."
Two other interesting things in French. Despite that it's la France or la Republique, the French still refer to it as "la Patrie" — Fatherland, which is itself a feminine noun.
Also, Den Haag or s'Gravenhage or The Hague, which I think is masculine in Dutch, in French is rendered La Haye.
12.1.2006 2:29pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
multilinguist1: Re les Etats Unis -- Indeed, I believe that's exactly what I said.
12.1.2006 4:04pm
Aleks:
Re: The only exceptions I can recall right now: "le Mexique," "le Cambodge."

In both cases the "e" is part of a spelling convention (-que being the usual way the /k/ phoneme is spelled at the end of a word in French, with exceptions of course; and -ge being the usual terminal spelling of the "zh" sound. In the feminine country names however the "e" represents a lost "a" phoneme (Francia, Espagna, Italia etc.) and as such these nouns pattern with the old feminine first declension set from Latin.

Re: Also, Den Haag or s'Gravenhage or The Hague, which I think is masculine in Dutch, in French is rendered La Haye.

Modern Dutch has all but lost its gender distrinction between masculine and feminine, there being but one article (de) for both, and also a neuter article (het). Like English though there are still gender distinct pronouns (hij and zij)
12.2.2006 8:33pm
Bleepless (mail):
Los Estados Unidos de Mexico. La Argentina. The Gambia. The USSR. The Empire of Japan. Das Deutsches Reich. La Italia. The Karelian Autonomous Oblast. The Hell with it.
12.2.2006 9:24pm