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I am endlessly perplexed why the country Sudan has a the in the name: "I am from the Sudan". Why not "I am from the Kansas" or "the China"?

I understand the the in "the United States" because a non-personal noun "states" is part of the name. But why "the Sudan"?

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I find "I am from Sudan" unexceptionable. –  RegDwigнt Dec 14 '13 at 23:18
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@RegDwigнt When you see the likes of the Guardian Style Guide having to specifically qualify which name should be used to their writers, it seems like a reasonable question, regardless of what is technically correct. (theguardian.com/styleguide/s#id-3036063). –  anotherdave Dec 14 '13 at 23:32
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Don't forget The Gambia. –  Double AA Dec 15 '13 at 4:37
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Or The Hague and The Netherlands. –  Rebecca Dec 15 '13 at 6:03
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New York City in the US has one borough called The Bronx. The other Boroughs making up the city have no The, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island. I often asked this same question. –  JoeTaxpayer Dec 15 '13 at 12:40
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4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

This is a nice explanation from a professor of etymology, via the BBC:

Professor Liberman says the habit of putting "the" in front of place names is heard throughout the English-speaking world and is common to Germanic and Romance languages.

"In general, use of the definite article is unpredictable. Why should it be London but The Thames? There is no logic for it yet this is the way it is.

"Sometimes country names go back to river names. As late as the mid-20th Century, everyone said The Congo because Congo is the river and named after the river, but no-one says it any more."

He suspects that people once preferred to add the article if the place name related to a geographical feature like a group of islands (Bahamas) a river (Congo), a desert (Sudan) or mountain range (Lebanon).

"Later the phrases were shortened, but the article survived. Hence the arbitrary rule that river names, the names of deserts and mountain ranges need 'the'.

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There is a general tendency to drop the definite article, eventually. We used to have the Argentine, the Congo, the Gambia, the Yemen, the Lebanon, the Sudan, the Ukraine ... of these only "the Gambia" remains in official use, I understand. –  Ingmar Dec 14 '13 at 23:26
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It's interesting alright. The linked article is originally about Ukraine & mentions a geopolitical angle, in that they might have dropped the 'The' to ensure that the newly formed country wasn't taken for a region. They also mention that 'The Bahamas' also use 'the' officially in the short name of their country. –  anotherdave Dec 14 '13 at 23:35
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"The Bahamas" also has the unusual distinction of being plural, since it is a group of islands. Presumably, any one of those islands taken individually would be "a Bahama", but I don't think this usage is generally seen. –  Darrel Hoffman Dec 15 '13 at 15:51
    
IMHO, and taken as an addition to what the Professor Liberman said, in some cases it is said because the country is a Republic, like The French Republic (La France), The Argentine Republic (La Argentina) –  user59823 Dec 15 '13 at 20:30
    
Articles don’t get caps. It’s the French Republic, et hoc genus omne. –  tchrist Dec 16 '13 at 0:35
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Technically today, it seems Sudan is not the same thing as the Sudan.

Sudan is the region:

Sudan is the name given to a geographic region to the south of the Sahara, stretching from Western to Eastern Africa. The name derives from the Arabic bilād as-sūdān (بلاد السودان) or "land of the Blacks" (an expression denoting West and Northern-Central Africa). emphasis mine.]

The Sudan is the country:

The phrase "The Sudan" is also used to refer specifically to the modern-day country of Sudan, the western part of which forms part of the larger region, and from which South Sudan gained its independence in 2011.
(The) Sudan (Arabic: السودان‎ as-Sūdān Listeni/suːˈdæn/ or /suːˈdɑːn/;[9]), officially the Republic of the Sudan (Arabic: جمهورية السودان‎ Jumhūrīyat as-Sūdān) and sometimes called North Sudan, is a country in North Africa, … [emphasis mine.]

'Sudan' without the definite article can also mean various other interesting things, including (a nickname for) Dallas, Texas, in the United States!

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A nickname for Dallas used only by one particular cult. I wouldn't consider that a proper or generally understood use of the term. –  Kevin Dec 15 '13 at 14:37
    
@Kevin WP does not say that is 'a proper or generally understood use of the term.' Nor do I. It's among 'various other interesting' meanings. It's still a 'meaning'. –  Kris Dec 16 '13 at 6:00
    
Another hitherto unmentioned example is the Yucatan versus Yucatan, the first to refer to the peninsula in which the Mexican state of Yucatan is located. Cancun is in the Yucatan but in the state of Quintana Roo. –  H Stephen Straight Dec 17 '13 at 21:48
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Interesting. I would have thought, from similar cases, it was the other way round: Sudan is a country, situated in the Sudan (belt). Does anyone else have a view? –  TimLymington Dec 20 '13 at 15:40
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"The" in "The Sudan" is used simply because it transliterates from the Arabic "As-soudaan".

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I don't think "transliterates" is the right word here. –  user18036 Dec 26 '13 at 22:19
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"the- unaccented before a consonant, as in "the man",... before a vowel as in "the egg"...(as usually called) definite article" [or a definitive-to define]."3). Indicating uniqueness or pre-eminence, specif. a) Designating an individual or thing that has no fellow: as, the moon; the ground; the Lord;- including geographical names as, the Hudson; the Andes; the East."

"Pre-eminence- Quality or state of being pre-eminent; superiority in rank, position, excellence, etc. precedence, distinction above others in quality, rank, etc. as pre-eminence in honor." SOURCE: Webster's New International Dictionary, 2nd Edition, G&C Merriam Co., Publishers, Springfield, Mass. 1947

OPINION: Old linguistic rules can be forgotten or discarded from one scholar to another or from one historian to another creating confusion within the rank and file out in the world. In the case of "the Sudan" I would suggest to the person who originated the question to study the history of this country to discover if there was an outstanding reason for a pre-eminent designation setting it apart as it once was, whether it be geographical-terrain; political; racial; or religious, etc. I would be interested to know myself.

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