LINGUIST List 3.838

Tue 27 Oct 1992

Disc: Place-Names and Articles

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  1. , The Bronx

Message 1: The Bronx

Date: Tue, 27 Oct 92 09:14 CST
From: <TB0EXC1NIU.bitnet>
Subject: The Bronx

Re: 'the'

The situation regarding the use and nonuse of the
definite article in place names turns out to be
quite complicated indeed, showing areal and language-
specific dimensions that are not immediate apparent.

One of the few discussions in print of which I am aware
is an article by Steven Hess, 'From the Hague to the Bronx:
Definite Articles in Place Names,' which appeared in the Fall,
1987 issue of the Journal of the North Central Name Society.
Hess dispenses quickly of 'the Hague' (Den Haag) by noting that
it is an abbreviation of the full (apparently legal) name
"s' Gravenhage" (a name which will live forever in
the history of linguistics), meaning 'the Count's
enclosure, or hedge.' The definite article was also
loan-translated into French and Spanish as well as

Of more general interest are Hess's findings regarding
the distribution of the definite article in languages and
societies of the world. Article usage varies considerably
from country to country and from one language group to another.
The greatest use is in Spain (but not in other Romance-
speaking countries) and the least is in Germany (and also in
other Germanic-speaking countries). There is an apparent
abundance of place names with the article thruout the Spanish-
speaking world: in Aragon La Fresnada (grove of ashes), La
Ginebrosa (the Junipers), etc. The article even makes its way
into the official names of several Latin American countries:
El Salvador, officially Republica de El Salvador, noteworthy
because de does not contract as would be expected.

Hess suggests that the unusually large number of place names with
articles in Spain/Spanish can be attributed to the pervasice
influence of Arabic in Spain, an influence affecting both place
names and the language in general. The Arabic practice
of definite article plus name (usually deleted in English
transliterations, Algiers from Al Juza' Ir (the sands), but
not in El Alamein) was followed in Moorish Spain (Alcala,
Almaden) and then became superimposed onto more general
naming patterns in Spain, into Spanish and into areas with
little Arabic influence.

Historically, Spanish placenames in the US follow this practice
and stand in sharp contrast to the British pattern (Las Vegas,
El Paso,...). But this contrast is today of historical interest only
since it plays little if any role in contemporary naming, where
at least non-Spanish Americans, even those who 'know' Spanish are
inclined to interpret article plus noun as a single, though not
indivisible name, which itself may take the English article, and
we find such double article names as The El Commodore Cafe' and
The Los Angeles Hilton, a continuation of the practice which has
given us The Rio Grande River.

And how about the Bronx? Just as The Hague is shortened from
s' Gravenhage, The Bronx is abbreviated from 'Borough of the
Bronx River,' an older term designating the surrounding area.
Jonas Bronck, from whom The Bronx takes its name, would love
the attention.
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