Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I've been watching this business in the Ukraine with much interest and hope. Nothing quite so exciting and hopeful as a good people's revolution, without all the bloodshed and gunfire and ugliness. People who know better than I aren't exactly sanguine, but then, they've been wrong before, so here's hoping.

But that wasn't what I was on about. What I want to know is this: when did the Ukraine become "Ukraine"? I hadn't noticed this style change until the furor over the election broke out. Some countries have always been assigned their own definite article "the", as a preservation of some archaic distinction now lost to the mists of time: the Sudan, the Ukraine, the Gambia, the Congo etc. The Gambia and the various Congos retain their definite articles, probably due to their dual-status as both countries and terrain defined by riverine geography. The commonality between these definite-article states seems to be their primary status as geographical, above national, definition. The Sudan was a territory in the geographical sense before becoming a postcolonial state in the political sense; the Ukraine was never a state in its own right, being rather a nomadic plained expanse, debated land between the Russias and the Ottomans.

Note the distinct usages of the definite-article "the" in both of those constructions, one referring to a multiplicity of states/clans/principalities "the Russias", the other to an empire defined by the overlordship of a people "the Ottomans". A fourth usage of definite article "the" is still in official usage, the multiple-entity "the", usually associated with archipelago-states. the Bahamas and St. Vincent and the Grenadines retain these islandic definite articles, although Philipines and Maldives both seem to have lost their "the"s when my back was turned, damnit.

Now that I'm looking, the CIA hasn't yet caught up to the official US recognition of Macedonia as "Macedonia" - they still have them listed as Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of. For shame, that's been in the papers for the better part of a week and a half now. You're not reinforcing defenses of the CIA's competence and efficiency with this sort of slop, Langley.

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