"the" before country name

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon May 12 13:35:08 UTC 2008

At 8:26 AM -0400 5/12/08, Charles Doyle wrote:
>Speaking of place names and articles:
>"The" before a California-county-name-initialism
>seems to be a mark of prestige: viz., "The O.C."
>(Did we discuss this phenomenon a few months
>ago, adducing analogs?)

Well, a few years ago we discussed it with
reference to (southern) California freeway
nomenclature, but I'm not sure that "the 5" or
"the 405" connotes prestige.  Maybe honorific
respect, like "the bear" among our ancient
Indo-European ancestors.  Or "the Eumenides" (to
avoid referring to an object of totemic power
directly by its unutterable real name.)


>---- Original message ----
>>Date: Mon, 12 May 2008 06:13:23 -0400
>>From: David Bowie <db.list at PMPKN.NET>
>>From:    "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
>>>  ...The Netherlands and (formerly) the Ukraine
>>>are the only examples of country names with
>>>"the" that come to mind...
>>(John had already discussed the US, of course.)
>>Working from Wikipedia's list of countries
>>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries, the following seem to my
>>intuition to require a preceding the (leaving aside formal names like
>>"Principality of Andorra", which almost always require a the for me);
>>those followed by an asterisk include a the in the Wikipedia list:
>>The Bahamas*
>>The Cayman Islands
>>The Cook Islands
>>The Czech Republic
>>The Falkland Islands
>>The Faroe Islands
>>The Gambia*
>>The Isle of Man
>>The Netherlands
>>The Northern Mariana Islands
>>The Philippines
>>The Ukraine
>>The United Kingdom (also obligatory for the full name)
>>The United States (also obligatory for the full name)
>>The British Virgin Islands
>>The US Virgin Islands
>>As you can see, having a Adj+N-like stricture (Cook Islands, Czech
>>Republic), makes a definite article quite likely--but that's not the
>>only thing going on: The Bahamas, The Gambia, The Netherlands (though
>>that one's marginal, since that's a transparent Adj+N compound), The
>>Philippines, The Ukraine (sorry, there's no transparent English
>>translation of borderness there).
>>Note also that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines requires an internal the.
>>Worth noting, though, that that structure doesn't require a the, since
>>there's a plurality thing, too: *The Norfolk Island is right out. Also,
>>note below that some X Islands names only optionally use a the for me.
>>The following seem to my intuition to have an optional preceding the:
>>(The) Central African Republic
>>(The) Congo (either country by that informal name)
>>(The) Ivory Coast (but no the for Côte d'Ivoire)
>>(The) Marshall Islands
>>(The) Pitcairn Islands
>>(The) Senegal
>>(The) Seychelles
>>(The) Solomon Islands
>>(The) Turks and Caicos Islands
>>(The) United Arab Emirates (though The UAE is obligatory for me)
>>(The) Vatican City
>>(The) Western Sahara
>>I suspect that the optional the in (The) Seychelles is triggered largely
>>by the appearance of plurality, even though i'm not sure that it really
>>is plural.
>>There's also a minimal pair here, where according to my intuition
>>Palestine refers most naturally to the territories being argued about so
>>intensely right now, but The Palestine can only refer to the old British
>>Mandate territory (though undeterminered Palestine can also refer to
>>that for me, leading to potential ambiguity, but only a one-way ambiguity).
>>And then, of course, there's *El* Salvador...
>>David Bowie                               University of Central Florida
>>      Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
>>      house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
>>      chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.
>>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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