"The" Philippines

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Sat Apr 2 20:03:42 UTC 2005

Jim intoned:


Back to the original question.  There are several countries whose name takes
"the" in English.  The Phillipines because they are an archipelago.  Japan,
although also an archipelago, does not take "the".  Why?  I think because
Japan was thought of by English-speakers as a country before it became known
to the Occident that there was more than one island to it.  Remember
Columbus asking the West Indians for the island of "Cipango" which is what
he knew Japan as.


More to the point, IMHO, is that "Philippines" (watch that floating double
letter) has the form of an English plural, with good reason because it's
derived from a plural NP, "the Philippine Islands". "Japan", OTOH, is just
an unanalyzable root with no evident English morphology, like "France" or
"Hungary" -- or "Philip", for that matter -- and there's no motivation to
treat it as anything but a singular proper noun.

A singular proper noun, by definition, refers to only one definite thing,
apart from namesakes -- "Which Paul were you calling?". (Meseems that the
Greek use of the definite article with names of famous people -- ho
Alexandros 'the Alexander' for A. the Great, but not for the toddler next
door -- reflects this.) But an English plural noun, common or proper, is
indefinite, and often rather odd, unless it has the definite article:

        I saw the McInerneys today.
        ??There are McInerneys in the park.
        ?... some McInerneys ...

In short, our grammar requires "the" with "Philippines" or "Aleutians" or
"Great Lakes", and bans it with most singular place-names; the exceptions
must be learned from a list, because there is no rule for them.

mark by hand

More information about the Ads-l mailing list