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Sometimes, I come across this weird usage of the definite article with the word 'Ukraine'. Keep in mind, it's a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Is it grammatical, and what is the origin of this unusual practice?

As this paper will show, states such as Georgia, the Ukraine and the Baltic States have been punished with supply interruptions and higher prices after their governments turned toward the West.

(from here)

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  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The – Lambie Aug 28 '20 at 17:20
  • @Lambie "Certain countries and regions the names of which derive from mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, etc. [...]" There's no such mountain, or river, or anything. Why then? – Sergey Zolotarev Aug 28 '20 at 17:34
  • Instead of being incensed, you should be happy. The something means there is only one. – Lambie Aug 28 '20 at 17:41
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    As a kid we learned to use 'the' with Congo, Gambia, Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, Netherlands, Philippines and Bahamas. – Michael Harvey Aug 28 '20 at 17:56
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    Dropping 'the' is linguistic independence, the BBC says, to show they aren't some province of Russia. – Michael Harvey Aug 28 '20 at 18:00
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It's not ungrammatical, it's just outdated.

Historically there were certain countries that were usually referred to using a definite article. For example, "the Ukraine", "the Sudan", and "the Gambia".

Nowadays, it's preferred to only use "the" with country names that are plural (like "the Netherlands") or that include the form of government in their name (like "the Czech Republic"), but some speakers still use the historic forms for places like Ukraine and Sudan.

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    My wife had to call the police in Lincoln, Nebraska from Britain, a relative over there had had an accident. She said "I'm calling from the UK" and the cop said "I didn't know he's from the Ukraine, he speaks really good English". I guess the line was poor. – Michael Harvey Aug 28 '20 at 17:54
  • @MichaelHarvey This cracked me up. What did she say back to the cop? – Eddie Kal Aug 28 '20 at 17:55
  • She said THE YEW KAY and the guy still didn't understand. She tried "Britain", and finally when she said "England" the penny (or cent) dropped. – Michael Harvey Aug 28 '20 at 17:57
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Etymologically, "Ukraine" means "borderland", and "the borderland" is a typical usage for a region known by a descriptive name ("the west coast", "the United Kingdom", etc.).

As I understand it, Ukrainians found this to be Russian-centric¹, and preferred "Ukraine" to be treated like a proper noun, not a description. So just "Ukraine" became the standard usage at some point—upon independence from the Soviet Union, says this BBC Magazine article. But many people learned to use "the" growing up, and old habits die hard.


¹ Which makes me wonder, was the definite article meant to reflect some Russian usage, or did it just seem "right" to speakers of other languages? As I understand it, Russian doesn't have definite articles, but is there some structure or connotation in Russian that was best translated by inserting "the"?

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