Articles tagged with: toponyms
I am often asked by my students why countries receive masculine or feminine names in languages that make a grammatical gender distinction. For example, why is Portugal masculine in French but feminine in Russian? Conversely, why is China feminine in French but masculine in Russian? Is there a geographical pattern to the gender assignment? The answer is “not really”. On first glance, it does seem that Russian and French, at least, place many countries in the same categories. As can be seen on the maps posted here, countries in in central and western Asia and northern Africa tend to be coded as masculine in both Russian and French, while most European nations fall in the feminine category. The pattern, however, is deceptive.
If a city or a country has changed its name, what is the best way to refer to it in the past: the contemporary name or the one that is historically correct?
Reading place names on a map can reveal who used to inhabit the land in earlier times. Take, for example, the map of Scotland. The toponyms here shed light on its earlier inhabitants: Picts, Scots, Anglo-Saxons, and Vikings.
In the two earlier GeoNotes, I mentioned several place names that contain the word for ‘city’ or ‘town’. The etymologies of these words are interesting in their own right, especially where related languages use non-cognate words, highlighting different aspects of what it means to be a city.
For example, the toponym Carthage contains the Phoenician root for ‘city’, qart. A cognate …
Several additional toponyms meaning ‘new city’ have been suggested by our readers, including Nieuwstadt (the Netherlands), Nyborg (Denmark), Uusikaupunki (Finland), Naples (originally Neapolis, which means ‘new city’ in Greek).
But the answer I had in mind is both more ancient and more historically significant than those cities: Carthage. It is known in Latin as Carthago or Karthago, in Greek as Καρχηδών …
The meanings of many toponyms are rather uncreative, describing features of the physical or social landscape. Perhaps one of the most common among those “dull” place names are those that mean “new city” or “new town”.
Google as a whole can hardly be accused of geographical illiteracy, as Google Maps and Google Earth have become standard tools for numerous professional geographers and amateur travelers alike. But there does not seem to be a good information flow between Google’s geographical departments and its linguistic tool, Google Translate. Or perhaps too much information is also a bad thing.