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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

The Definite Article 'The' in U. S. Place Names

Author(s):
T J Gasque
Univ. of South Dakota Emeritus, United States


U.S. placenames in English, unlike those in, for example, Spanish, rarely appear with definite articles in their official forms. 'The,' when it does appear, has several functions. It may appear in some natural feature names, especially rivers, such as 'The' Mississippi or 'The' Hudson, when the generic may or may not be expressed. It would almost always appear when the feature is a group as in a mountain range ('The' Rockies, 'The' Cascades), but not for a single mountain (Pikes Peak, Mount Hood). In some cases the definite article functions within a prepositional phrase (Lake of 'the' Woods). It may be part of official names, such as 'The' Dalles in Oregon or 'The' Bronx in New York. Significantly, the definite article is being used more and more in the naming of subdivisions ('The' Villages, 'The' Summit). Because the definite article most often appears in names in which no generic is used, 'the' may be thought of as a pronominal replacement for the generic, the meaning of which is dependent on context. In some cases no generic is implied. 'The Castle', a castle-like peak seems to suggest that Castle, a descriptive term, is the specific and 'The' is the generic.

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