LINGUIST List 3.914

Fri 20 Nov 1992

Disc: Articles and Placenames

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Dan Slobin, Re: 3.908 Placenames
  • Thomas E Payne, "The" and colonial status
  • , Re: 3.904 Names, Spanish
  • Larry Horn, Re: 3.908 Placenames
  • Gregory Ward, LA freeway nomenclature
  • "Don W.", 'The' 5
  • Melody Sutton, Re: 3.908 Placenames
  • Robert Beard, Ukraina
  • "Michael A. Erickson", Re: 3.908 Placenames
  • , Articles in place names:

    Message 1: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 17:40:01 +0Re: 3.908 Placenames
    From: Dan Slobin <>
    Subject: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    Paul Chapin notes a recent change in Southern California freeways ("the 101"). The same freeway runs through San Francisco, but I've never heard "the 101" up North (though we also have models with names and articles, such as "the Nimitz Freeway," (or "the Nimitz"), and also street names with articles ("the Arlington," "the Alameda"--in Berkeley). It will be interesting to see if the pattern spreads (has spread?) north.

    Dan Slobin

    Message 2: "The" and colonial status

    Date: 18 Nov 1992 09:27:36 -0800"The" and colonial status
    Subject: "The" and colonial status

    I don't know if there is an either\or answer to the question of why "the" is associated with colonial places, at least in my mind. It may be, as you suggest, just coincidence that so many places that were once colonies (such as "the" United States of America) happened to be referred to in the plural and therefore tend to take the article. But even if this is a coincidence, its frequency has, I believe, led to an "association" (i.e. a form-meaning relationship) between place names that take the article and colonial status. My native speaker intuitions attest to this, at least for my own idiolect, but if that's not sufficient there certainly are examples of nations that have dropped "the" from their English names when they became independent countries, whereas I don't think there are any that *added* "the". Certainly there are some that kept "the", but these neither support nor refute the claim. As for "the" being inherently associated with colonialism, I wouldn't make that strong a claim. However, there may be something to it. Plural nouns are less individuated than singular nouns, so there may be a tendency for "the colonies", being less individually significant to the people who remain at home in the colonizing nations, tend to be referred to in the plural, quite apart from the obvious tendency to treat groups of islands, etc., as plural. (Sorry about the bad syntax in the previous sentence). Some possible examples of this tendency are expressions like "the ends of the earth", "the far reaches" "the nations", "the arctic wastes", etc. Treating these places in the plural reflects their lack of individual definition, something that could conceiv- ably haveen transferred to colonies and other relatively undifferentiated places "out there somewhere". This is just speculation, not a claim. I would claim, though, that whatever its etymology there is a contemporary form- meaning relationship ("association") between "the" plus place name, and colonial status.

    Tom Payne

    Message 3: Re: 3.904 Names, Spanish

    Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1992 20:38 GMTRe: 3.904 Names, Spanish
    From: <>
    Subject: Re: 3.904 Names, Spanish

    Just to point out that el/la estudiante is so common as to be pretty close to the norm in politically correct Spanish circles

    Message 4: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 14:58:55 ESRe: 3.908 Placenames
    From: Larry Horn <LHORNYaleVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
    Subject: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    Re Paul Chapin's observation about a diachronic shift in referring practice vis-a-vis Southern California freeways: I don't know what the current situation is (I guess we can all, or many, check it out in early January!), but my memory of past practice is somewhat different. As I recall, "the 605 Freeway", or "the 605" for short, which at the time didn't have a non-numeric label (or at least not one that was ever used), always was so designated, while the ones with names AND numbers never got an article when you used the numeric type of reference. That is, the San Diego Freeway and the Hollywood Freeway were generally so-called, and if you HAD to use their numbers, they were just 5 (or I-5) and 101, never 'the 5', etc. Essentially, then, the standard names were always "the X Freeway".

    Larry Horn

    Message 5: LA freeway nomenclature

    Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 14:38:54 CSLA freeway nomenclature
    From: Gregory Ward <>
    Subject: LA freeway nomenclature

    As a native Los Angeleno, I can attest to the change in freeway nomenclature that Paul Chapin referred to in a recent posting. In the late sixties and early seventies at least, most people in LA referred to freeways by their names and virtually never by their numbers. (I remember finding it odd when I moved to Philadelphia and no one could tell me what I-95's `name' was.) In fact, I distinctly remember the first exception to this pattern: when I-605 opened (early seventies?) it was referred to as "The 605 Freeway", which sounded quite odd to me at the time (and still does). Later, I learned its `real' name was "The San Gabriel River Valley Freeway" or something equally prolix. Now, every time I visit LA and listen to traffic reports while stuck in it (#), I'm always amazed at how widespread this pattern has become.

    Gregory Ward (

    Message 6: 'The' 5

    Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1992 15:07:18 'The' 5
    From: "Don W." <webbdCCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
    Subject: 'The' 5

    Re Paul Chapin's observation about "the" 5, "the" 101: it sounds like a trendy Los Angelesism to me. Here in Sacramento, I'd say "If you want to bypass the rush-hour traffic, take 50 to I-5 north and then take I-80 east." I've yet to hear "the 50," but then maybe it's already on its way up "the 5."

    Or perhaps it's the influence of our French classes, where one would say "la 50," "la 80." More likely, it's the first step in completing the trade I've arranged with Canada: Southern California in exchange for Quebec, with an additional state or province to be named later.

    Don W. (DonWebbCSUS.EDU)

    Message 7: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    Date: Wed, 18 Nov 92 16:37 PST
    From: Melody Sutton <IZZYHA2MVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
    Subject: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    It is certainly true that Southern Californians use the definite article when referring to freeways ("the 405"). This doesn't seem to be the case in Northern California, however - at least with my relatives in the San Jose area. They think it is strange to use the definite article, as I think it is strange not to. My husband, a recent "immigrant" from N. to S. California actually seems to use "the" for S. Cal. freeways but not for the ones up north.

    Melody Sutton UCLA

    Message 8: Ukraina

    Date: 18 Nov 1992 20:31:10 EST
    From: Robert Beard <>
    Subject: Ukraina

    A point of clarification on the name _Ukraine_. The Russian name for Ukraine is _Malorossija_, Maloros(s), or Malorus "Little Russia" or "Russia Minor". The Ukrainian term _Ukraina_ apparently comes from the phrase _u kraj_ "to the periphery/edge/border". The term seems to have originated with the cossacks, Russian peasants who fled serfdom in the 14th-15th centuries "to the periphery" of the country, the safest place for peasants who wished to maintain their freedom. The territory at this time was owned first by the Lithuanians, then by the Poles, who simply filled the vacuum left by the retreating hordes of Genghis Khan. The point is that at the time the term arose, there was no Ukraine; the territory had been illegally taken from the nation Rus', whose capital was perforce removed from Kiev to Moscow. I don't see how the facts helps in understanding the use or nonuse of "the" in the English rendition. --RBeard

    Robert Beard,

    Message 9: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    Date: Thu, 19 Nov 92 08:22:01 -0Re: 3.908 Placenames
    From: "Michael A. Erickson" <>
    Subject: Re: 3.908 Placenames

    In reference to's note about articles and freeways:

    Northern and Southern California are different in this respect (as far as I know). In Northern CA, 280, 580, and 17, are all article-less. 101 can be either 101 or The 101 or The Bayshore. 880 can be The Nimitz, but it cannot be The 880 (though I heard a colleague of mine from LA call it that).

    By the way, in the Bay Area, San Francisco is referred to as "The City". Is this the case in other metropolitan areas?


    Michael A. Erickson

    Message 10: Articles in place names:

    Date: Fri, 20 Nov 92 07:30:29 ESArticles in place names:
    From: <JDINGLEYVM1.YorkU.CA>
    Subject: Articles in place names:

    I grew up in England saying exclusively: THE Lebanon, THE Gambia, THE Argentine, THE Sudan, THE Ukraine, and others. In no way did I perceive these countries as anything other than fully-fledged countries. Indeed just the opposite. To me they gained in stature by having the article in front. However, for whatever reason (possibly by moving to N America) I have now lost the article in all of these place names, save for THE Ukraine -- but even here "Ukraine" no longer jars on the ear. (For THE Argentine, I now say Argentina.)

    By the way, Jespersen in his monumental MODERN ENGLISH GRAMMAR (v.7, pp. 549-550) suggests the following reasons for the occurrence of the article: 1) foreign influence, e.g. the Caucasus, the Crimea, the Punjab, 2) ellipsis, e.g. the Argentine (republic), the Transvaal (republic), and 3) from river names, e.g. the Congo, the Klondike.

    A similar phenomenon is observable in German. Formerly, im Libanon, im Sudan, im Irak were the norm, whereas today in Libanon, in Sudan, in Irak can also be heard. (See DUDEN 9, l972, pp.291-292 for further details.)

    John Dingley