LINGUIST List 3.940

Sun 29 Nov 1992

Sum: River-Names, other names

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  1. Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy, placenames and 'the': summary

Message 1: placenames and 'the': summary

Date: 27 Nov 1992 14:39:21+1300 placenames and 'the': summary
From: Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy <>
Subject: placenames and 'the': summary

Since I originally suggested a dichotomy between river names
(requiring 'the') and mountain and lake names (eschewing it), I've
had a deluge of replies, but no startling new insights. Several
people pointed out that mountain *ranges* regularly do take 'the'
(the Rockies, the Himalayas etc.), and there are a few anomalous
individual mountains (e.g. the Matterhorn). I'm not qualified to get
into the question of US freeway names, but, apart from that, a few
subregularities emerge:
(1) Descriptive phrases used as proper names usually take 'the'
(e.g. the Great Salt Lake, the South Island (of New Zealand)).
Especially common are ones of the form 'the X of Y' (the Bay of
Biscay, the Mount of Olives, the Lake of Menteith etc.).
(2) 'The' may be a mark of in-group language, as in mountaineers'
names for particular peaks.
(3) Abbreviated placenames with 'the' are a particular feature of
Australian English (e.g. the Alice = Alice Springs, the 'Gong =
Wollongong) (thanks to David Nash for this).
(3) 'The' with country and province names (the Ukraine, the Yukon,
the Lebanon) may be a mark of remoteness, frontier status, colonial
status or whatever. The only generalisation which seems to emerge
is that the more the place is talked about, the more likely the
article is to drop.

Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy
Department of Linguistics, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800,
Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone +64-3-364 2211; home phone +64-3-355 5108
Fax +64-3-364
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