Thursday, September 3, 2009

Name and claim

Over at Tumeke! the redoubtable Tim Selwyn has taken
issue with my theory about the colonial use of ‘the’ to
prefix Maori placenames. From his observations, he says,
the prefix usually denotes a significant geographical
feature after which an area is named. He cites the Gambia,
the Congo and the Waikato as names representing areas
along a river and also its basin/catchment. Perhaps, Tim
selwynizes, ‘a unique, singular, geographical identifying
feature is what is being said of a place needing a "the".’

Unlike the catchments referred to, this argument doesn’t
hold water. Since independence from Euro-imperialism,
both ‘the’ Gambia and ‘the’ Congo have become, simply,
Gambia and Congo, just as we here in New Zealand are
now more likely to say ‘Manawatu’ and ‘Waikato’ without
the prefix. Sure, there are English exceptions, as I
acknowledged ('the' Coromandel) and as another
commentator on my blog points out, but Tim himself
admits to some uncertainty about the way it works and I
have yet to hear a convincing case against the idea that
even grammar can be a colonizing force. Next question:
who put the colon in colonialism?

3 comments:

Giovanni said...

Reminds me of Ukraine, or "the" Ukraine.

Giovanni said...

I'll also note that English speakers put the article in front of some foreign regional names (the Mancha, the Camargue) but not others (Lombardy, Piedmont), in spite of the fact that all of these are prefixed by articles in the respective native language.

Does te reo use the article in front of Otago, Manawatu, etc?

Sanctuary said...

Hmmmm.... I greew up in Hawke's Bay, as did my parents and their parents and their parents... You get the picture. And it wasn't until the evil gnome of Newstalk ZB made the place fashionable with city people who fancy they look good in tweed that in suddenly became THE Hawke's bay.