I am often asked by my students why countries receive mrs or feminine names in languages the make a grammatical sex distinction. For example, why is Portugal woman in French yet feminine in Russian? vice versa, why is China feminine in French yet masculine in Russian? Is over there a geographical sample to the gender assignment? The price is “not really”. On an initial glance, it does seem the Russian and also French, at least, place countless countries in the same categories. As have the right to be watched on the maps posted here, nations in in main and west Asia and also northern Africa often tend to it is in coded together masculine in both Russian and also French, while most European nations fall in the feminine category. The pattern, however, is deceptive.

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Let’s think about how gender assignment indigenous in various European languages. Words the refer to people (and periodically animals) are usually assigned to gender categories based on the sex of the referent: French homme and also Russian muščina ‘man’ are both masculine, French femme and Russian ženščina ‘woman’ space both feminine, and also so on. Native that describe entities without sex—whether countries or objects—tend to obtain their sex assignment just by the phonological form of the word. Sometimes, the sex is established seemingly by the orthographic form of the word, which reflects its earlier pronunciation. As a result, sex assignment (particularly, in a international language) “makes no sense”. For example, in German “a tree is male, that is buds room female, that leaves room neuter”, as mark Twain when put it. Moreover, semantic counterparts (translations) between languages are regularly not assigned come the exact same gender: words for ‘letter’ is mrs in German, feminine in French, and also neuter in Russian; the word for ‘book’ is woman in French, feminine in Russian, and also neuter in German. In the very same vein, ‘sun’ is masculine in French, neuter in Russian, and feminine in German, vice versa, ‘moon’ is feminine in French and Russian, however masculine in German. Comparable examples abound.

As for country names, French classifies part as masculine and also others as feminine. The Wikipedia map reproduced ~ above the left purports to display the circulation of “masculine” and also “feminine” countries, presented in green and also purple, respectively. Unfortunately, a variety of errors mar this map: for example, La Grande-Bretagne (Great Britain) is feminine, no masculine. The general preeminence is that country names that finish in quiet “e” space feminine. Hence, the feminine country names la France (France), la Belgique (Belgium), l’Allemagne (Germany), l’Algérie (Algeria), la Chine (China), la Guyane (Guiana), la Russie (Russia), la Corée (Korea). Notable exceptions include the masculine country names that finish in a silent “e”, such together le Belize (Belize), le Mexique (Mexico), le Mozambique (Republic of Mozambique), le Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe), le Zaïre (Republic of Zaire), le Cambodge (Cambodia).


This map disregards, however, the fact that some country names are grammatically plural. The matter is further complex by the truth that the gender affects both the selection of the article and the commitment on various other facets in the sentence. A much more detailed map is reproduced top top the left. As have the right to be seen, the sex assignment of nation names is revealed by the selection of the post only in the case of place names that begin from a consonant, are grammatically singular, and also appear through an article in the very first place. A couple of country surname in French do not call for an article (this case is much rarer in French 보다 in English or German). Madagascar, because that example, appears without an article and is feminine, possibly, due to the fact that the native la republique, i beg your pardon constitutes part of its complete name, is feminine. Oman also appears there is no an write-up but is masculine, possibly because the native le sultanat is masculine. The sex of plural nation names, such together Les États-Unis (United States) and also Les Philippines (the Philippines) is identified by the singular: the previous is masculine and also the last is feminine. The short article used with plural state is the same in both genders, but predicative participles do show gender commitment with together terms in the form of one extra silent “e”. Because that example, Les États-Unis sont divisés… yet Les Philippines sont divisées. Like various other nouns, geographical state that start with the vowel appear with the short article l’, regardless of your gender, but the gender again becomes necessary for covenant purposes. L’Égypte (Egypt) is feminine, whereas L’Uruguay (Uruguay) is masculine. Once again, the commitment on the jet is expressed with a silent “e”, only noticeable in spelling: L’Égypte est divisée… however L’Uruguay est divisé…


As with other nouns, no direct correspondence exists in between the gender of a given country name in French, in German, in Russian, or in any kind of other gendered language. As most country names in German appear without one article, i will focus on the sex assignment in Russian toponyms. Articles do no exist in Russian, however the gender is reflect in miscellaneous other elements: demonstratives (‘this’, ‘that’), adjectives, verbs, and so on; gender may also affect how a details term is declined. As have the right to be watched from the map reproduced on the left, country names in Russian deserve to be masculine, feminine, or neuter. A few country names, such as Soedinënnye Štaty (United States) and Filippiny (the Philippines), room grammatically plural. Most of those plural names are grammatically masculine, consisting of Soedinënnye Štaty (United States), Ob”edinënnye Arabskie Èmiraty (United Arab Emirates), Komory (Comoros), Mal’divy (Maldives), Sejčel’skie Ostrova (Seychelles), Solomonovy Ostrova (Solomon Islands), and Maršallovy Ostrova (Marshall Islands). Filippiny (the Philippines) can be construed as one of two people feminine or neuter. Unequal in French, however, whereby plural noun still cause gender agreement on predicative participles, in Russian genders in the plural room not pertinent for agreement. The only distinction that gender assignment makes for plural country names is in the form of the slate case: compare the mrs s Maldiv-ov (from the Maldives) and s Filippin (from the Philippines). The null slate plural ending is properties of some feminine and also neuter, yet not masculine, nouns (for a an ext detailed conversation of the genitive plural endings in Russian, check out Bailyn and also Nevins “Russian genitive Plurals together Impostors”).

In part rare but instructive cases, a nation name can have a mixed or ambiguous gender assignment. Together in French, the assignment of specific country surname to gender categories relies on phonological form rather than on meaning. The meaninglessness of gender assignment becomes specifically clear in the instances where the same nation can it is in referred by a official or informal name, which different in their gender assignment. For example, while Soedinënnye Štaty (United States) and Niderlandy (the Netherlands) space both plural and also masculine, the informal names for these countries—Amerika (America) and Gollandija (Holland) room both feminine. Similarly, Velikobritanija (Great Britain) is feminine, as is Anglija (England), a term often used informally because that the whole UK. In contrast, Soedinënnoe korolevstvo (United Kingdom) is grammatically neuter. Through the way, Šotlandija (Scotland) and also Irlandija (Ireland) are both feminine, but Uèl’s (Wales) and Kornuol (Cornwall) space masculine. Other examples of formal and informal nation names belong to various genders encompass Turkmenistan and also Kirgizstan (Kyrgyzstan), which room masculine by their official names, but also have feminine unshened designations, Turkmenia and also Kirgizija, the are an ext commonly used. Likewise, the formal nation names Demokratičeskaja Respublika Kongo (DRC) and also Respublika Kongo (Republic the Congo) space both feminine since the native respublika is feminine. But their informal designation, Kongo (Congo), is neuter.

Some other nation designations space even more tricky. Peru and also Čili (Chile) are generally neuter as soon as talking around the politics entity, however feminine when talking about the physics country. Somali seems to be in anarchy even in the Russian language: the nation name varies in between masculine, feminine, and also neuter. Another problematic collection of cases involves Tonga and also other similar country name of Pacific Islands: regardless of ending in -a, i m sorry usually places nouns in the feminine category, castle are frequently masculine, due to the fact that the Russian indigenous ostrov for ‘island’ is masculine. Izrail’ (Israel) has been erroneously colored ~ above this map; words is absolutely masculine in Russian. Both Palestina (Palestine) and Iudeja (Judea) are feminine.

In general, gender assignment in Russian follows a facility algorithm that takes right into account the herbal sex (for people and also sometimes animals), even if it is the noun is declinable, its phonological shape, and more. As far as nation names room concerned, the ending is of the utmost importance in identify its gender. Surname of large historical countries frequently end in -ija, nevertheless of their type in English or in the language of the nation itself. Following the general sex assignment rules in Russian, this names room feminine: Francija (France), Čexija (Czech Republic), Indija (India). There room a few exception to this pattern, such as the masculine names of Kitaj (China), Livan (Lebanon), and Alžir (Algeria). Newer or smaller sized countries frequently have names the are merely transliterated. If they occur to end in -a or –ija, castle will normally be feminine (e.g. Kosta Rika); otherwise, they are mainly masculine. Also in line through general gender assignment rules, country names finishing in -o room neuter: Marokko (Morocco), Monako (Monaco), and also San Marino.

But once it pertains to foreign toponyms in Russian in general, consisting of names the cities, towns, lakes, mountains, rivers, and so on, the most crucial factor in determining sex is whether a offered term is declined or not (that is, whether it changes its ending based upon its place in the sentence). Declinable toponyms are assigned to a gender category in accordance through their declension pattern (which is, in turn, based upon the ending): nouns finishing in a difficult consonant are generally masculine, those finishing in -o or -e are neuter, those finishing in -a space feminine, as are most of those ending in a soft consonant. In contrast, indeclinable toponyms room assigned come a gender category based upon their “umbrella word”: surname for urban in this classification are masculine because the native gorod ‘city’ is masculine; river names space feminine, as is reka ‘river’; if lakes space neuter, together is ozero ‘lake’. International toponyms are virtually twice as likely as their native Russian counterparts to be offered in appositive building and construction without declension, wherein the actual toponym go not get the relevant instance ending: a building such together v gorode Vellington (literally ‘in city Wellington’, with no prepositional instance ending top top the toponym) is virtually twice as typical as one such as v gorode Moskva (‘in city Moscow’). Moreover, a expression such together v gorode Vellington (without case ending ~ above the toponym) is an ext than four times as common as one such as v gorode Vellingtone (with a case ending ~ above the toponym). (These figures are based upon the statistics in Graudina et al. 1976.)

The issue of even if it is a given international toponym is declined, is much more complicated. (In what follows, us shall see the develops of the locative case, i m sorry is normally the most common situation to be supplied with place names.) The deciding determinants here space the phonological form of the toponym, and its origin. A good deal of sport is also found among speakers the Russian as to which toponyms they decline. On one finish of the spectrum us have foreign toponyms that finishing in a consonant; together a rule, such words room declined, as in v Vellingtone (in Wellington), v Vašingtone (in Washington), v Pariže (in Paris). Exceptions encompass some Latin American place names that end in -os, as in v Fuèntos (in Fuentos), not v Fuèntose. Eastern foreign toponyms, including country names, also tend no to be declined: v Bangladeš (in Bangladesh) is an ext common 보다 v Bangladeše. Moreover, compound toponyms tend not to be declined (although occasionally they are, specifically in colloquial speech): na Pèr-Lašez (at Père Lachaise), but rarely na Pèr-Lašeze. Finally, compound toponym who last part is one “umbrella term”, such together strit (street), skver (square), park (park), and the like, carry out not decrease regardless of their frequency: na Bejker-strit (on Baker Street), however never na Bejker-strite.

On the other finish of the spectrum we have toponyms that never ever decline: these incorporate names that end in -u (e.g. V Katmandu, in Kathmandu), and also those that end in -i. The case of i-final toponyms is interesting because both -i and also –y in Russian space plural endings: compare knigi ‘books’ vs. žurnaly ‘magazines’ (the choice depends top top the hardness/softness the the stem-final consonant). Yet once it concerns foreign toponyms ending in -i and –y, they pattern differently: those finishing in -i space virtually never declined (e.g. V Tbilisi, v Nagasaki, v Tripoli), while those finishing in –y virtually constantly decline, instead of the -y by the proper case endings (e.g. V Afinax, in Athens; v Tatrax, in Tatra Mountains; v Kannax, in Cannes).

Also close to the “indeclinable” end of the spectrum are foreign toponyms finishing in -o  or -e. Together toponyms mainly remain unchanged, as in v Oslo (in Oslo), v Bordo (in Bordeaux), v Sorrento (in Sorrento), v Kale (in Calais). Historically, however, Russian did decrease such toponyms, hence the location of a quick story by Turgenev (mid-19th century): Večer v Sorrente (“Evening in Sorrento”). Interestingly, toponyms in -o/ -e the Ukrainian and also Belarusian origin, which decline in those languages, perform not decrease in Russian: v Kovno (in Kovno), v Grodno (in Grodno). Moreover, also Russian indigenous toponyms ending in -o/ -e are apparently shifting towards being indeclinable: the older form v Birjulëve (in Biryulevo), for example is being slowly replaced by v Birjulëvo.

The final and the most facility class of international toponyms in Russian involves those that finish in ‑a. In Russian, favor in Italian or Spanish, a last “a” is a salient mite of feminine gender; because that example, tiny children mistakenly treat superior masculine a-final words prefer deduška ‘grandpa’ and plural words choose myšata ‘baby mice’ as feminine. Yet, not all foreign toponyms finishing in -a space not regularly declined or assigned come the feminine gender. Here, the origin of the ar name and also its frequency of use in Russian play necessary roles. Popular names of huge cities execute decline: v Buxare (in Bukhara), v Siene (in Siena), v Ankare (in Ankara). Compound Italian‑ or Spanish-derived ar names generally do not decline: v Santjago-de-Kompostela (in Santiago-de-Compostella), v Pal’ma-de-Mal’orka (in Palma-de-Majorca). But compound terms through La‑ or Santa– together the very first part occasionally do: both v La-Plata and v La-Plate (in La Plata), v Santa‑Klara and v Santa-Klare (in Santa Clara) space acceptable. Together for French-derived ar names in ‑a, those that have actually the (stressed) -a in French execute not decline in Russian (v Spa), vice versa, those that finish in a quiet “e” in French and also acquired one (unstressed) –a in Russian carry out decline: v Ženeve (in Geneva, in French: Genève), v Lozanne (in Lozanne), v Tuluze (in Toulouse). Japanese ar names in -a carry out not decline in Russian, except “Hiroshima”: this toponym was so commonly used throughout the Cold battle that it became totally Russified and also therefore declinable: v Osaka (in Osaka), v Sunagava (in Sunagawa), but v Xirosime (in Hiroshima). Finnish and Estonian toponyms vary so that both declined and non-declined forms—v Kuokkale and v Kuokkala (in Kuokkala)—are found; the general tendency is for more frequently provided or better known place names come decline, when lesser known toponyms do not. Abkhaz and also Georgian ar names in -a typically do not decline, through the exception of well-known resort town: in Adzjubža (in Adzyubzha), but in v Picunde (in Pitsunda).


Bailyn, john Frederick and Andrew Nevins (2008) Russian slate Plurals room Impostors. In Andrew Nevins & Asaf Bachrach (eds.) muco Identity. Oxford: Oxford university Press. Pp. 237–270.

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Graudina, Ljudmila Karlovna, Viktor Aleksandrovich Ickovich, and Lia Pavlovna Katlinskaja (1976) Grammatičeskaja pravil’nost’ russkoj reči. Opyt častotno-stilističeskogo slovarja variantov . Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Nauka.