LINGUIST List 3.904

Tue 17 Nov 1992

Disc: Names, Spanish

Editor for this issue: <>


  • John E. Koontz, Re: 3.892 Articles in Geographical Names
  • Ian MacKay, Articles in place-names
  • Michael Newman, Re: 3.894 Queries: Fillmore; Spanish; Chinese TeX Fonts; NLP

    Message 1: Re: 3.892 Articles in Geographical Names

    Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1992 11:23:56 Re: 3.892 Articles in Geographical Names
    From: John E. Koontz <>
    Subject: Re: 3.892 Articles in Geographical Names

    In regard to 'The La Brea Tar Pits' meaning 'the the tar tar pits', this reminds me of some Colorado forms I've seen: Table Mesa, i.e. `table table'; Casa del El Dorado (about the best one can do with this is "sic"); and The El Rancho Ranch, i.e., `the the ranch ranch', the last with the same embedding observed in The La Brea Tar Pits.

    Somewhat comparable to the `hill ...' examples are the various rivers in the central US called things like (the) Niobrara (Neosho, Minnesota, etc.) River, in which Ni (Ne, Minne, etc.) represents the term in the local Siouan language for `water'. Major rivers are general named `the (something) water' in Siouan languages (though there is generally a perfectly good term for river in each language). Similar things occur with river names borrowed from Native American languages, and, of course, (sometimes) from Spanish, cf. "the Rio Grande River," though not, apparently with river names borrowed from French, cf. the Platte River, the Cache-la-Poudre [River? Creek?], etc.

    Message 2: Articles in place-names

    Date: Mon, 16 Nov 92 12:32:33 ESArticles in place-names
    From: Ian MacKay <>
    Subject: Articles in place-names

    Having missed the early part of this discussion, I may be going over familiar territory; if so I hope the editor will delete this message. Having noticed a while ago that suddenly news readers were talking about "Ukraine" where I had always previously heard "the Ukraine", I asked a question show on a local radio show about the change. While the answer (from an expatriot democratic nationalist) was linguistically inexpert, it is perhaps revealing of how the article in place names is perceived by the non-specialist. This person ignored the issue of what the name is in Ukrainian [I assume that there is no definite article in that language], but concentrated on the "fact" that the article "the" made it sound that Ukraine was a part of something else, and that by dropping the article, the country seemed more independent. I know of no evidence for this viewpoint, but there is a parallel in the Canadian territory formerly known as the Yukon. Recently, news readers have been referring to it as "Yukon" rather than "the Yukon". This parallels recent movements and stirrings in the direction of provincial rather than territorial status. This might be supported by the contention that "the Yukon" is *really* short for "the Yukon territory". In both cases, the popular interpretation seems to be that in the names of states (either nation-states or states as in American states or Canadian provinces), the definite article diminishes the status or independence of the political entity so named.

    Message 3: Re: 3.894 Queries: Fillmore; Spanish; Chinese TeX Fonts; NLP

    Date: Sat, 14 Nov 92 09:55:51 ESRe: 3.894 Queries: Fillmore; Spanish; Chinese TeX Fonts; NLP
    From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
    Subject: Re: 3.894 Queries: Fillmore; Spanish; Chinese TeX Fonts; NLP

    Regarding Ron Corio's query on the state of epicene masculines in Spanish, os/as does appear on occasion, but rather infrequently. In Spain, at least, which is the area I'm most familiar with, I noticed it occasionally, along with the singular -o/a. Curiously, the article does not change so a generic student could be something like "EL ALUMNO/A," but I don't remember any EL/LA ALUMNO/A, or EL ALUMNO O LA ALUMNA. (ALUMNO is somewhere between pupil and student in meaning) Additionally, I don't remember seeing EL/LA ESTUDIANTE.(ESTUDIANTE, or STUDENT, being either male or female)

    The problem is evidently similar to the case of s/he, he/she, she/he, he or she etc. Once is not too bad, it quickly becomes tedious. I was once doing a translation together with an Argentine lesbian. At one point she decided we should translate some of the explicitly bigender terms in the English original to explicitly bigender ones in Spanish becuase, as she put it, it was not a a bad idea to explicitly include women. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that it wasn't going to work: too many slashes and that strange inconsistency of maintaining the masculine article. Since almost every element in the NP is going to have to agree with the bigender head to be consistent, it really is going to be a mess. By the way when I JOKINGINGLY suggested to her and others that the solution would be a massive prescriptive reform in which any gender marked reference item be given a neutral ending like -e or -u, the reaction was always one of horror. They could not even believe I could make a joke like that.

    I think in the end, the Spanish -o/os, unlike their English equivalents, can be interpreted neutrally. There is ample experimental and observational evidence that the so-called generic HE is not really interpreted neutrally. Some of this literature is interpreted and critiqued in my article, "Pronominal Disagreements" in the current issue of LANGUAGE IN SOCIETY, if you can forgive my shameless self-promotion. (Also send me a message if you'd like more ref- erences or a more complete review) It would be interesting if someone would run the same sort of experiments or did the same sort of corpus analysis I did, on Spanish, French or any other language with an unmarked masculine. Michael Newman