Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WaPo says "Luhansk" is now "Lugansk"

Not too long ago I wondered about who makes the decisions regarding which spelling is to be used in US media for cities for which there are competing spellings in the Latin alphabet whose names are not spelled using that alphabet originally, in some cases this debate involving actual differences in the names or their pronunciation.  I noted in particular four cities in Ukraine, one of which at that time was being spelled in the Russian way ("Kiev" rather than "Kyiv")) versus three that were being spelled in the Ukrainian way ("Lviv" rather than "Lvov," "Kharkiv" rather than "Kharkov," and "Luhansk" rather than "Lugansk").  Well, now the balance seems to be two to two. This morning in the Washington Post I saw that last one being spelled in the Russian way, "Lugansk."  Whassup?

It may be that this is a judgment about political-military conditions on the ground.  Lviv is firmly in western Ukraine, the very heart of Ukrainian nationalism.  While Kiev is firmly in Ukrainian territory, it may simply be that too many people are used to spelling it that way, including as our sometimes commentator on these matters, Bruce Webb, noted, it may just come down to "Chicken Kiev."  But the situation regarding the other two is very dicey and somewhat similar, but not quite.

So, both Kharkiv/Kharkov and Lugansk/Luhansk are in contested eastern Ukraine. Both of them had masked men seize control of a major public building downtown.   But neither is in the Donetsk oblast where both the capital, Donetsk, and a large number of other towns, have had public buildings seized and where violence leading to deaths has occurred.  A major difference between these other two, is that, while they are both much nearer the Russian border than anything in Donetsk oblast, the Ukrainians were able almost immediately to get the masked men out of the building in Kharkiv and regain control of it, whereas they have failed to do so in Lugansk, where today's WaPo story reported on how they are hunkered down and piling up all sorts of arms to resist an expulsion.  Furthermore, although I suspect this is beyond anybody at WaPo, the former was never a part of the odd "New Russia" (Novorossyia) that Putin has rattled on about recently as a vague claim for much of southern and eastern Ukraine, Kharkiv being in the Northeast.  But Lugansk was in that odd territory, and now it increasingly looks like it may revert to Russia in the longer term, along with (maybe) Donetsk oblast, with Russians and Ukrainians having no disagreement about Donetsk's name.

I also note that we have seen no name changes in Crimea (Krim), as none of the towns and cities there were founded by Slavs of either Russian or Ukrainian or mixed extraction.  The names all predate the arrival of the Slavs in the neighborhood, in some cases by more than 2,000 years, and are all of either Tatar or Greek origin, the older ones the latter.  So, reportedly the place is in complete chaos and a lot of people who voted to join Russia are now regretting having done so, having gotten a an especially stinky pig in a poke, but at least none of the chaos there has anything to do with how to spell the names of the conurbations there.

Barkley Rosser

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