Hon­est His­tory. Episode 11 – War of Words Say­ing ‘the Ukraine’ is more than mis­take

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLENA GONCHAROVA [email protected]

Editor’s Note: This is the 11th story in the Kyiv Post’s Hon­est His­tory se­ries, which aims to de­bunk myths about Ukrainian his­tory of­ten ex­ploited by state pro­pa­ganda. The se­ries is sup­ported by the Black Sea Trust, a project of the Ger­man Marshall Fund of the United States. Opin­ions ex­pressed do not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent those of the Black Sea Trust, the Ger­man Marshall Fund or its part­ners.

ED­MON­TON, Canada – Which is cor­rect, “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine”?

For Ukraini­ans, as speak­ers of a lan­guage that lacks the in­def­i­nite ar­ti­cle (“a/an” in English) and def­i­nite ar­ti­cle (“the” in English), it can be tough to know when to use ar­ti­cles — or when not to use one at all.

But there’s one case of ar­ti­cle use that Ukraini­ans never get wrong, while na­tive speak­ers of English of­ten do: it’s “Ukraine” and not “the Ukraine.”

The er­ro­neous “the Ukraine” can be read in the for­eign press, and heard on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio. U. S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump even made the er­ror dur­ing his meet­ing with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko in 2017. And as re­cently as on July 2, the White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said U.S. sanc­tions “will re­main in place un­til Rus­sia re­turns Crimea to the Ukraine.”

In fact, say­ing “the Ukraine” is more than a gram­mat­i­cal mis­take — it is in­ap­pro­pri­ate and dis­re­spect­ful for Ukraine and Ukraini­ans. This lin­guis­tic bad habit has its roots in both pol­i­tics and his­tory.

Gram­mar les­son

In English, coun­tries, with few ex­cep­tions, never take an ar­ti­cle. Ex­cep­tions oc­cur usu­ally when a coun­try is con­sid­ered to be made up of dis­tinct parts, such as the United States, the Nether­lands, or the United King­dom — they are plu­ral in gram­mat­i­cal form or sense.

Most coun­ties, like Ger­many, France, Canada, Spain, Rus­sia and China, don’t take an ar­ti­cle, as they are gram­mat­i­cally sin­gu­lar.

The def­i­nite ar­ti­cle is used when re­fer­ring to a sub-part or re­gion of a coun­try, how­ever. Thus we have the Fens in Eng­land, the Al­garve in Por­tu­gal, and the High­lands in Scot­land. The use of the ar­ti­cle in this case car­ries in­for­ma­tion about the po­lit­i­cal na­ture of the area of land that is be­ing talked about.

The use can thus change as po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions change over time. For in­stance, the part of South Amer­ica where the coun­try of Ar­gentina is now lo­cated used to be known as “the Ar­gen­tine,” mean­ing, “the place (re­gion) where the sil­ver comes from.” Af­ter the re­gion be­came a fully-fledged coun­try, the cor­rect way to re­fer to that part of the globe be­came “Ar­gentina.”

Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence

For the same rea­son, it is in­cor­rect to say “the Ukraine.” Ukraine is no longer a part of an­other coun­try or em­pire. Af­ter many hard bat­tles, it has be­come an in­de­pen­dent, uni­tary state.

In Fe­bru­ary 1917, Ukraine made its first at­tempt in mod­ern times to be­come in­de­pen­dent, set­ting up a pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment within Rus­sia fol­low­ing the over­throw of the Tsar. This move brought Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists one step closer to pro­claim­ing in­de­pen­dence, in Jan­uary 1918.

How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion in Eu­rope wasn’t fa­vor­able for the nascent coun­try. As World War I raged, Ukraine was seen as an ideal food source for the starv­ing cit­i­zens of Ger­many and Aus­tria. Seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity, Ger­many and Aus­tria brought in troops to Ukraine and forced the de­par­ture of oc­cu­py­ing Rus­sian troops.

With the sign­ing of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Li­tovsk, this re­sulted in Ger­many and Aus­tria vir­tu­ally an­nex­ing the re­gion while sup­pos­edly rec­og­niz­ing Ukrainian in­de­pen­dence. How­ever, the de­feat of the Cen­tral Pow­ers and the sign­ing of the armistice in Novem­ber 1918 forced Ger­many and Aus­tria to with­draw from Ukraine.

That next pe­riod of in­de­pen- dence was short-lived though: The Ukrainian gov­ern­ment briefly al­lied it­self with Poland, but could not with­stand the sub­se­quent Soviet as­sault. In 1922, Ukraine be­came one of the first re­publics of the Union of Soviet So­cial­ist Re­publics.

It did not re­gain its in­de­pen­dence un­til the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

War of words

The Rus­sian war against Ukraine, which started with the an­nex­a­tion of the Crimean penin­sula in 2014, made the is­sue of the “the Ukraine” gram­mat­i­cal er­ror par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive.

“The Ukrainian peo­ple were de­nied their un­alien­able right to state­hood for cen­turies and ‘the Ukraine’ was used as a name for a re­gion of the em­pires that sub­ju­gated Ukraine,” Paul Grod, the pres­i­dent of the Ukrainian Cana­dian Congress and vice-pres­i­dent of the Ukrainian World Congress, told the Kyiv Post.

"In the case of Ukraine, a uni­tary state, us­ing ‘the’ is in­ap­pro­pri­ate and in­cor­rect. The con­tin­ued use of the def­i­nite ar­ti­cle in front of the name of an in­de­pen­dent state — Ukraine — is there­fore an in­di­rect (although of­ten un­in­ten­tional) de­nial of state­hood,” Grod said.

The English us­age of the def­i­nite ar­ti­cle in re­la­tion to Ukraine oc­curred mainly be­cause of the coun­try's his­tory as a part of the Rus­sian Em­pire, and then as part of the Rus­sian-dom­i­nated Soviet Union.

Peter Dick­in­son, a non­res­i­dent fel­low of the At­lantic Coun­cil ex­plains that the term “the Ukraine” first en­tered pop­u­lar us­age dur­ing the Soviet era, at a time when the Krem­lin was par­tic­u­larly ea­ger to counter per­cep­tions of Ukraine as be­ing a sep­a­rate and dis­tinct na­tion. Be­tween 1922 and 1991, Ukraine was of­fi­cially known in English as the Ukrainian Soviet So­cial­ist Repub­lic.

Ukraine in Rus­sian lan­guage

This use of lan­guage by Rus­sia to di­min­ish Ukrainian state­hood con­tin­ued af­ter Ukraine gained in­de­pen­dence, and in the Rus­sian lan­guage as well — specif­i­cally in the use of the Rus­sian prepo­si­tions “na” (on) and “v” (in).

Dur­ing the Soviet era, Rus­sians used the con­struc­tion "na Ukraine," roughly trans­lated as "in the Ukraine." Although it was gen­er­ally ac­cepted as a norm, this wasn’t tech­ni­cally cor­rect even at that time. Ukraine was the only repub­lic in the Soviet Union that this prepo­si­tion was used with.

One rea­son why the Rus­sian prepo­si­tion that means “in the” might have stuck to Ukraine lies in the et­y­mol­ogy of the word “Ukraine,” which is be­lieved by many schol­ars to come from the Old Slavic word “okraina,” which means “the bor­der­land.” This trans­la­tion of­ten prompted the use of the ar­ti­cle.

How­ever, even this is de­bat­able, as dif­fer­ent his­toric schools trace the name “Ukraine” to the same root word, but with a dif­fer­ent mean­ing. It has var­i­ously been in­ter­preted to trans­late as “home­land,” “coun­try,” “land,” “sep­a­rated piece of land” or “sep­a­rated part of the tribe.”

Af­ter in­de­pen­dence in 1991, Ukraine asked Rus­sia to stop re­fer­ring to it as "na Ukraine" and in­stead switch to "v Ukraine," which means "in Ukraine" as op­posed to "in the Ukraine." Rus­sian of­fi­cials and me­dia — even the lib­eral ones — nev­er­the­less con­tinue to use the “na Ukraine” con­struc­tion.

Pos­i­tive changes

Grod be­lieves that the best way to deal with those who say and write “the Ukraine” is “to cor­rect them and ex­plain why it is both in­ap­pro­pri­ate and dis­re­spect­ful to Ukraini­ans and Ukraine.”

Old bad habits might be tough to break, but since Ukraine gained in­de­pen­dence from the Soviet Union, us­age of the ar­ti­cle has de­clined steadily. The Ukrainian gov­ern­ment has also ex­pressed their pref­er­ence for drop­ping it.

The As­so­ci­ated Press style guides (which the Kyiv Post fol­lows) and the UK news­pa­per the Guardian clearly state that the def­i­nite ar­ti­cle should not be in­cluded when ref­er­enc­ing Ukraine.

The is­sue of whether to place "the" in front of "Ukraine" may ap­pear to be an ob­scure gram­mat­i­cal point, but it ac­tu­ally car­ries a lot of mean­ing, con­nected to the long and painful his­tory of Ukraine’s strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence.

(Volodymyr Petrov)

A cou­ple draped in Ukrainian flags dance on Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti Square on Aug. 24, 2017, dur­ing Ukraine's In­de­pen­dence Day cel­e­bra­tion.

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