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Nationality or ethnicity with the definite article.
- Subject: Nationality or ethnicity with the definite article.
- From: "Michael Edwards" mje@xxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 09:38:08 +1000
An interesting discussion, this.
[Patricia M. Godfrey:]
>During my lifetime, native English
>speakers have become increasingly uncertain about the use of the
>definite article. Some naive speakers find something insulting and
>derogatory in its use; I was once practically accused of anti-Semitism
>for prefixing "the" to the word "Jews" where I felt idiom demanded it.
I'm surprised they didn't also require you to say "Jewish people" instead
of "Jews" (without or without the article). I don't know why this nuance
exists; but I have certainly noticed it myself.
I have also seen apparently serious advice on non-offensive (that is,
politically correct) language which suggests that it is all right to use certain
descriptions as an adjective, but not as a noun. I seem to recall reading an
Australian Government official style guide which made quite a point of this.
That is: "disabled people" but not "the disabled" - "people with a
is better still. And "the blind" is taboo; but "a blind person" marginally
better but not really acceptable, "a person with blindness" better still, "a
vision-impaired person" and "a person with a vision impairment" successively
even better still.
It seems to have something to do with referring to something unpleasant or
distasteful or impairing as indirectly as possible. In more extreme cases, the
language seems to imply that the distasteful thing almost doesn't exist, but is
transmuted into "different abilities" or something similar. For example,
"people with special needs" - although I think that's been used in educational
contexts to refer to talented or genius students, as well as mentally disabled
ones. And even, I think with a tinge of irony or derision (at
politically-correct usage, not at disabled people), "differently-abled people".
>And of course there is the famous instance of Ukraine demanding that it
>not be called "the Ukraine" in English, because the Ukrainians thought
>that denoted less than sovereign status. (It doesn't of course; use or
>omission of the definite article before the name of a geopolitical
>entity has nothing to do with the rank of the entity and everything to
>do with the morphology of its name.)
I hadn't heard about the Ukraine incident. But this does bring to a mind a
question I've puzzled over for many years, but never read a satisfactory answer
(or any answer at all) to: namely, why do so many people say "the Ukraine", "the
Argentine", "the Lebanon", "the Gambia", "the Congo", and
"the Sudan" (and
possibly a few others I can't think of at the moment). No-one ever says "the
France" or "the Libya", and so on for most countries. (They *do* say "the
or "the United States"; but I imagine that the reason for this is that this name
sounds a little generic: more like a description or title of a country (albeit a
formal one) rather than a real name - sort of like saying "the President"
instead of "Mr. Bush", or "the Prime Minister" instead of "Mr. Howard"
Does anyone know about this prefixing of "the" to the names of just a few
And why is "the Philippines" plural? (I supppose being in the plural form
here will almost guarantee that it will be prefixed with the definite article.)
And (going off at a bit of a tangent) why do so many people say "the
subcontinent" when referring to India, Pakistan, and nearby countries? I
understand that "subcontinent" is actually a geological term, referring to the
geological characteristics that the region has; and the people who use the term
are almost always referring to the countries politically, socially, or maybe
geographically, and are almost never in any way alluding to the geological
properties of the region.
I find it faintly annoying, somehow, because it seems illogical. In using
"the subcontinent", they may in fact be alluding to real properties the area
has - but ones which are totally irrelevant to the context of what they are
Am I overlooking something that does in fact justify the name in that