Friday, December 19, 2014


Transmission

'Ukraine' vs. 'The Ukraine'

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As every good Slavic studies student knows, it's "Ukraine," without the definite article. But Dick Cheney and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko are reportedly at odds. Slate has more:

"Until approximately 50 years ago, Ukraine, whose name is derived from the Proto-Slavic term for a borderland, was almost always referred to as 'The Ukraine.' Now, according to the Ukrainian government -- and a federal judge who presided over a case in which the U.S. government and a Ukrainian deportee couldn't even agree on how to refer to the country -- the proper name is simply Ukraine. (Dick Cheney, however, begs to differ.)"

The case? Gutnik vs. Gonzales. From the brief:

"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.'"

You might be tempted to think that "the Ukraine," like "the Hague," is a hangover from bygone days.

Not so. The Ukrainian language contains no articles. As Andrew Gregorovich explains in the "FORUM Ukrainian Review," some of the confusion can be attributed to Ukrainian immigrant scholars struggling with English:

"The name Ukraine, which first appeared in the historical chronicles in 1187, has been common in the English language for almost 350 years. In the earliest years it appeared without the definite article 'the' but in this century the definite article increasingly preceded the name Ukraine. ... many Ukrainian immigrant scholars, due to their imperfect knowledge of English, used the form 'the Ukraine' in their books thus helping to perpetuate this usage."

Writing in "The Guardian," columnist Ian Mayes takes a page from "Utopia in Power, A History of the USSR from 1917 to the Present" to argue that "the Ukraine" was deliberately translated by the Soviets for political purposes. He quotes:

"Moscow's goal was to eliminate Ukraine and Ukrainians as political and cultural entities. Soviet translators, who knew the patterns for country names in English, deliberately translated the name of this area with the article 'the' because it then sounds to English-speakers like a part of a country rather than the name of an individual, independent country.

"Ukrainians who understood why Soviets were using the article 'the' complained. In Russian, obviously, the word 'Ukraina' has no article. Since the Soviet Union broke apart, Ukrainians have been pushing very hard to have the article 'the' removed from the English translation, so as to be linguistically correct, ie to show that Ukraine is a separate, independent country, not part of another country."

It's a touchy subject. A "Guardian" reader condemns "the offense expression 'the Ukraine,'" calling it "patronising and colonial."

To follow in Cheney's grammatical footsteps and use "the Ukraine" is, according to Gregorovich, "awkward, incorrect and superfluous."

Well, there you go.

-- Kristin Deasy

Tags: Ukraine

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Comment Sorting
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by: MaGioZal from: São Paulo - Brazil
October 30, 2009 15:46
In fact, for many people and mainly politicians in Russia the very idea of the existence of an independent country called “Ukraine” is outrageous…

by: Michael from: US
October 30, 2009 18:10
Wasn't the post independence change in English from "The Ukraine" to "Ukraine" accompanied by a similar change (and to some exttent controversy) in Russian? In Russian "in Ukraine" was commonly "na (on) Ukraine" before independence and "v (in) Ukraine" after. It sounds like the reasons are similar to the change in English. "V" is the common way to refer to in a country, while "na" is commonly used to refer to a part of a country like an island or peninsula. In Ukraine "v" is now used exclusively, In Russia they still continue to say "na Ukraine".

by: Kolja from: US
October 30, 2009 18:17
Thank you, дуже дякую and even a спасибо.

I would also posit that another reason so many Americans and Anglophones are prone to using the definite article is that, in English, there are numerous geographic examples that begin with the "U" sound which are preceded by "the" (the United States, the United Kingdom, the Yukon, the Yucatan, etc...though I've never heard "the Uganda").

It also makes sense that Soviets translated "the Ukraine" to diminish Ukraine's sovereignty, just as Russians (even politicians) today do in Russian when they say "на Украине" as opposed to the correct "в Украине" when stating that someone or something is "in Ukraine." The former indicates that Ukraine is a region, rather than an independent state.

by: Dick Cheney from: New York, NY
October 30, 2009 18:51
Who cares?

by: Valter from: Serbia
October 30, 2009 19:52
It's Ukraine, not the Ukraine. Adding "the" is not some Soviet conspiracy, but a result of imperfections in the English language. Slavic languages (Ukranian and Russian) don't have articles and have been a perfect medium for communication for thousands of years without them.

by: Steve from: USA
October 30, 2009 22:21
Why comment about Dick Cheney who is long gone and was the VEEP. Barack "may he live forever" Obama referred to Ukraine as "THE UKRAINE" during the presidential debates. Lets not forget Joe Biden's "beautiful women" of Ukraine comment!

by: Ivo
October 30, 2009 22:21
It's late here and I certainly can't be bothered checking the 'bygone days' link, HOWEVER, the comparison is complete rubbish since in Dutch it's den Haag id est the Hague.

by: Timo Haapanen from: Suomi
November 01, 2009 07:40
Thanks Kolja, now I finally understand the difference between "на Украине" and "в Украине". It has been unclear to me because I have seen a lot of both, also in current texts, дякую and спасибо :-)

by: TD from: Azerbaijan
November 02, 2009 00:23
Russian politicians still deliberately use this offensive language against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, by manipulating the adverbs (saying "na Ukraine" -- "in [the] Ukraine", as if it is a province, instead of saying "v Ukraine" -- "in Ukraine", in a sense that it is a distinct nation). But apart from big politics, it is also a natural feeling among many Russians, who perceive Ukrainians as brothers and thus, try to underplay their separate identity.

by: Righteous Advocate
November 02, 2009 19:32
As someone noted in contrast to the modern day anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist spin::

It is hogwash to call U-Kraina a Proto-Slavic term, it was in constant use, and Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century wrote in one of his documents "And all of our Ukraines" - meaning borderlands. Ukraina (the name of the "country" in Russian and Ukrainian TODAY) is still borderland; and Okraina - is the current proper word in Russian for suburb, difference of ONE LETTER.

And people still say "na Ukraine" (meaning in the Ukraine) just as "na Pskovschine" (meaning on the land of the city of Pskov, a former city-state), etc.
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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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