Two Ways to Be United.

Bathrobe sent me this Stack Exchange thread set off by the simple but excellent question about Russian: Why are United Nations and United Arab Emirates translated as Объединённые, but United States as Соединённые? The first answer is by Nikolay Ershov:

Соединённые is historical, used AFAIK only with the US and the UK (Соединённое Королевство, which loses overwhelmingly to Великобритания in frequency of usage. The English term “United Kingdom” dates back to 1707.) As a translation of “united”, it would sound “off” nowadays because the word in its current usage properly means “connected”, which isn’t quite the same thing.

The second is by Quassnoi:

Объединять and its derivatives were not used in Russian before about 1850.

Kostomarov did use it time to time in his works, however, he mostly used соединить wherever a modern Russian speaker would have used объединить:

Итак, вместо того чтобы идти соединенными силами на половцев, Владимиру приходилось идти войною на своих.

Рязанские и муромские князья уже прежде были с Андреем заодно, соединенные войною против болгар

So yes, объединять is just a more modern word.

My own response, before he found that thread, was “I’m pretty sure соединить implies a closer union, a melding into one thing, whereas объединить is more ‘joining forces,’ and thus more appropriate for the UN (which, unlike the US, is not a consolidated polity, just a group effort).” I’m curious what my readership has to say about it.

Bathrobe wanted the information for his own post Mongolian-Language Names for International Organisations as used in China; if the topic sounds at all interesting to you, I highly recommend it — it’s very thorough (and has lots of Russian).

Comments

  1. More than two, I suppose. “United Russia” is Единая

  2. (There is also совместный ~~ joint, and wholly special meanings in soccer and in math)

  3. The word соединить in contemporary Russian, when not used (somewhat awkwardly, to my taste) in recipes, means more or less connect. Объединить is more like combine, unite. In other words, I think your intuition is wrong (read: different from mine). And recipes employ a somewhat dated meaning of the word; hence awkwardness. There are probably other examples of historic use of соединить. The one that jumps to my mind is соединение used for a joint military unit, but more modern Joint Chiefs of Staff is Объединенный комитет начальников штабов.

  4. It’s purely historical, like those answers state. You are wrong with your “degrees of closeness” reasoning: it might be true nowadays, but nonetheless has nothing to do with why the word “united” is translated differently here.

  5. I would also add Соединенные провинции Нидерландов, a pretty old term as well.

    Единый is an adjective corresponding to “one,” similar to “single.” Not a participle, although “united” works as OK as a translation.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    Such changes in the meanings of prefixed deverbal nouns seem to be pretty common. German has undergone several in the last 100 years: back then, many scientific society journals had Verhandlungen in their names, which today means exclusively “negotiations”, where I’d perhaps expect Abhandlungen, “treatises”. Or maybe they wanted to convey “discussions”…

  7. @David Marjanović

    Or maybe Transactions?

  8. You are wrong with your “degrees of closeness” reasoning: it might be true nowadays, but nonetheless has nothing to do with why the word “united” is translated differently here.

    Yeah, as I said, it was my guess before seeing the more informed Stack Exchange thread.

  9. David Marjanović says:

    Transactions – exactly, but outside of journal names this word has retreated to business dealings in English, so I forgot about it.

    Thanks to your blog post, though, I noticed that German, too, has two ways to be united: vereint as in Vereinte Nationen and vereinigt as in Vereinigte Staaten. I suspect the distinction between these is actually geographic: einigen, vereinigen are more familiar to me, einen, vereinen strike me as more literary, which means there’s a good chance people from elsewhere in the German-speaking area will feel the opposite way.

  10. Charles Perry says:

    In Uzbek, the UN is (or at least was in the Soviet era) Birlashgan Millatlar Tashkilati, but the US was Amerika Qoshma Shtatlari, using different words for “united.” I always wondered whether there was some derogatory implication, because birlashgan literally means “made one” (<bir), while qoshma is derived from qosh, "harness."

  11. Jim (another one) says:

    ” I always wondered whether there was some derogatory implication, because birlashgan literally means “made one” (<bir), while qoshma is derived from qosh, "harness."'

    This sounds like the distinction between 'union" and "confederation"; not necessarily derogatory. Maybe there are Southern Sympathizers in Uzbekistan.

  12. English itself has both united and unified, though the latter has no political usage. In the novel-in-progress Unsong, which is about what happens after Apollo 8 breaks through the firmament and lets Heaven and Hell loose, the intense variations of natural law (now maintained by hand by the Archangel Uriel) cause the U.S. to reformulate itself as a looser entity known as the Untied States of America.

  13. Well, there are Unified School Districts, but they’re not political (though lots of politics is involved in them).

  14. There were also Poor Law Unions, which in England were unions of parishes but in Ireland were not unions of anything.

  15. Which reminds me of US soccer clubs with idiotic names like “D.C. United” that aren’t united anything.

  16. To add ignorance to idiocy, one of the four fan clubs is called La Norte, although norte is masculine.

  17. @John Cowan: Hmmm, you are right that norte *as a noun* in Spanish takes the article and is masculine. But in the case of this club, there is perhaps an omitted head noun and norte is an adjective.

    ‘Nord’ in Danish (my native language) does not take the article and does not have a gender outside special usages like ‘norden’ referring to Scandinavia.

  18. soccer clubs with idiotic names like “D.C. United”
    that’s why instantly discovered in Russian, that a (lesser) meaning of “United” was “football club”

  19. @David Marjanović

    I was curious about the German names but didn’t know what to make of it.

    @Charles Perry

    I don’t know enough about the languages of the Soviet Union, but it looks like a systematic attempt was made to distinguish the US and the UN. But the name of the US would have been much older. How does Uzbek describe other united entities? There are several ‘United States’ (Mexico, Brazil, Colombia); does it treat them all the same?

  20. I wonder in how many languages the United States are plural. Surely that’s pretty unnatural and confusing way to call a country.

    In Mongolian, for example, the name literally translates as “American United Country”.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Unified is different, it refers to introducing a single standard for something, like German vereinheitlicht… where Einheit, however, means “unit” and to some degree “unity”.

    Which reminds me of US soccer clubs with idiotic names like “D.C. United” that aren’t united anything.

    They could (though I doubt it) refer to peace among the founding members following a period of quarrels. At least one German football club is called Eintracht, a rather obsolete word for the state of being in agreement (everyone having the same intention).

    Further curiosity about Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika: why von? Why not Amerikas in the genitive instead? Someone has successfully bypassed Standard German grammar here.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder in how many languages the United States are plural.

    German, mercilessly so, always agreeing with plural verbs, even when replaced by USA. The Netherlands, too, are treated as plural in the rare cases that they aren’t replaced by Holland.

  23. They could (though I doubt it) refer to peace among the founding members following a period of quarrels.

    Ha, you wildly overestimate the historical grounding of US soccer. The US clubs are named in explicit homage to famous UK clubs like Manchester United.

  24. I notice that the Russian difference is found in Slavic languages that use Cyrillic, but not in those that don’t (presuming I’ve got the languages right):

    Bulgarian: Съединени американски щати : Организация на обединените нации

    Macedonian: Соединети Американски Држави : Обединети нации

    Polish: Stany Zjednoczone : Organizacja Narodów Zjednoczonyc

    Czech: Spojené státy americké : Organizace spojených národů

    Slovak: Spojených národov : Spojené štáty Organizácia

    Slovenian: Združene države Amerike : Organizacija združenih narodov

    Any possible reason for this?

  25. Although Croatian is an exception:

    Serbian: Сједињене Америчке Државе : Организација уједињених нација

    Croatian: Sjedinjene Američke Države : Ujedinjeni narodi

  26. Bulgarian literary language was coined in 19th century and borrowed all their modern terminology from literary Russian. The process didn’t stop and accelerated even further after 1945.

    Same goes for Serbo-Croatian, but on somewhat lesser scale.

  27. I love the counterintuitiveness (as with month names) of Serbian being the Latinizing one and Crotian being the Slavicizing one.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    I wonder in how many languages the United States are plural.

    I always find it strange to see “The United States is …”.

    In French, it is officially Les Etats-Unis d’Amérique, but normally Les Etats-Unis, also Les USA (spelled out: U, S, A, of course with French pronunciation), but in any case always with plural agreement.

    Similarly The Netherlands are Les Pays-Bas (= ‘the Low Countries’), but usually la Hollande.

  29. I was playing my homemade Argentine himno video for the patriotic crowd at the Dia del Tango celebration over the weekend, and was surprised to notice that their anthem referred to their country in plural, as United Provinces of the South (but to their populace, as Argentine people).

  30. Danish:

    De Forenede Stater is a plural definite noun phrase, and it does need plural agreement of adjective predicates — but with a bit of disconfort since it is felt as a singular entity, so people are more likely to say De Forenede Stater er et stort land (‘is/are a big country’, no verb agreement so you can’t tell) instead of De Forenede Stater er store.

    It is very close to being a fixed collocation, but in my idiolect I can both insert an adjective De nye Forenede Stater — or make it the head in a new singular(!) noun phrase det nye De Forenede Stater.

    On the other hand it can only be det nye USA and det nye Nederlandene (both singular). Even though the head of the latter is a plural definite noun phrase too, it would have to become de nye Nederlande and that doesn’t sound like it refers to the nation state in question. It might have worked in the fifties or so.

  31. per incuriam says:

    But in the case of this club, there is perhaps an omitted head noun and norte is an adjective
    Curva.

    The US clubs are named in explicit homage to famous UK clubs like Manchester United
    Or just because it’s a typical football club name in English. Even in the UK this is the typical case. The very oldest Uniteds were the result of club amalgamations.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    That’s interesting about Danish.

    The US clubs are named in explicit homage to famous UK clubs like Manchester United.

    I thought so; that’s why I wrote “(though I doubt it)”.

    Crotian being the Slavicizing one

    Most of that is post-1991 (though not the month names).

  33. Actually, the place where Croatian is Slavicising (narodi) and Serbian is Latinising (нација) is shared across the whole range. Languages using the Latin alphabet all use narodi or cognates; those using the Cyrillic alphabet all use нации or something similar.

  34. Even in the UK this is the typical case. The very oldest Uniteds were the result of club amalgamations.

    Huh, I’ve learned something. I just assumed the UK ones were all the result of club amalgamations. OK, then I retract a portion of my snark regarding D.C. United. Real Salt Lake is still a piece of idiocy, though.

  35. Indeed, Manchester United, which is probably the best-known soccer club with “United” in its name (at least in Leftpondia), assumed that name in 1902 and had only one predecessor. United Glasgow F.C. (an amateur organization in existence only since 2011) is apparently about having a united city rather than a united club.

  36. Jim (another one) says:

    SF,
    “I wonder in how many languages the United States are plural. Surely that’s pretty unnatural and confusing way to call a country.”

    Well, there’s Mexico. for historical reasons it pretty well cannot be just plain “Mexico” because that refers to an earlier polity that the others in the rest of the country were at perpetual war with. I can’t think of any others.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Real Salt Lake

    Oh wow.

  38. There is a split of Manchester United called FC United of Manchester

    Speaking of US teams, I had assumed “New York Cosmos” was named like “LA Galaxy” but discovered it was actually like “New York Mets” (or really the “Nashville Metros”). I should have paid more attention to the final sibilant — or are they homonymous for some people? Beckenbauer at least, if not Pele.

  39. @mollymooly: My normal pronunciation distinguishes the two words spelled “cosmos.” However, I would consider the womens’ magazine pronunciation acceptable for the universe meaning, and I think I sometimes say it that way myself (although not in careful speech).

  40. here is a split of Manchester United called FC United of Manchester

    What a missed chance — it should have been Manchester Disunited, obviously.

  41. How is Real Salt Lake any worse than Utah Jazz? It’s all mergers and acquisitions.

  42. Utah Jazz used to be in New Orleans, where the name made perfect sense. There is no way Real Salt Lake makes any sense whatever.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    So naturally I’m now reading Unsong. One spoiler I have to share, from a comparison of America, ancient Israel, and everything else:

    It took all the way until the turn of the millennium before America listened to a bush and then got stuck wandering in a desert without an exit strategy.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    I had discovered the key to the royal road. No, don’t mock me. This is worth mixing metaphors for.

    Glorious.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    It had taken a kabbalistic rearrangement of the Midwest’s spatial coordinate system that rendered roads there useless, plus a collapse of technology so profound that airplanes were only able to fly if Uriel was having a really good day, plus the transformation of the Panama Canal into some sort of conduit for mystical energies that drove anyone in its vicinity mad – but America had finally gotten its act together and created a decent rail system.

    I promise I’ll stop now.

  46. In Croatian, USA is “sjedinjene”, while the UK, UN, UAE, UAR are all “ujedinjeni.” The U in USSSR stands for “savez”. So we have 3 terms for the “U” in all these names.

    The Croatian translation of USA varied throughout the 19th century. One of the earliest references is to the združene Kraljevine od Amerike (Kraglski dalmatin No 52, 25 Dec 1807, p 414) which means something like the Amalgamated Kingdoms of America in current Croatian.

    Other terms used in 19th Croatian were:
    – združene američke države,
    – zadružne države sjeverne Amerike,
    – savezne države sjeverne Amerike,
    – sjedinjene države sjeverne Amerike,
    – države Unije Amerikanske.

    The reference to North America (sjeverna Amerika) in these names, I believe originates from German, where the terminology also varied in the 19th century.

    One of the earliest uses of the phrase Sjedinjene Američke Države (literally United American States) was from 1850, by Bogoslav Šulek (Austrianski dàržavni ustav: Konštitucia). This phrase is still used in Croatian at present.

  47. Thanks, that’s a great rundown!

  48. -ujedinjeni

    in Russian, “uedinenny” means “lonely, solitary”

    so I suppose “ujedinjeno kraljevstvo” would be understood by Russian speaker as “The Lonely Kingdom”

  49. “The Lonely Kingdom” sounds ideal for the post-Brexit name.

  50. As opposed to the United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  51. For the Latin version of USA, refer to this gem: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=9YtQAAAAcAAJ.

    It is a shipping convention between the Emperor Francis I of Austria and the USA from 1829. The preface and the closing statements are in Latin, and the text is in English and German – written in fraktur. Here is an excerpt:

    “Posteaquam a Nostro et a potentissimi Praesidis unitorum Statuum Americae Septemtrionalis Plenipotentiario …”

  52. The Wikipedians favor Civitates Foederatae Americae, but I tend to be more sympathetic to the cognate approach.

  53. Looking at Georgian Wikipedia, I find that the UN, UK, UAE &c. are გაერთიანებული gaertianebuli, while the US is შეერთებული sheertebuli. My knowledge of Georgian is not really up to providing any kind of analysis, beyond guessing that the ert in both is “one”.

    The online dictionary at translate.ge glosses gaertianebuli as “united, amalgamated, unified”, and offers it as a gloss for “conjunct”, “coupled”, “joint”, “melded” and “combined”. Sheertebuli is glossed as “united” and glosses “connected”, “joined”, “conjugated”, “conjunct”, “joint”, “conjoined”, “allied”, “interlocked”, “jointed”, “mergered”[sic], “affiliated”, “congregated”, “duplicate”, “aggregative” and “conjoint”. (I don’t get much sense of a semantic distinction from any of that, but the ability to see where the word shows up in both the Georgian-English and English-Georgian dictionaries struck me as a neat feature.)

  54. -Civitates Foederatae Americae

    Foederatae sort of implies that the American tribes are vassals of the Roman empire, no?

  55. When I was a boy, the Great Seal on my lunch money was labeled (puzzlingly but fascinatingly) THESAUR. AMER. SEPTEN. SIGIL. Now it just says THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES.

  56. Trond Engen says:

    The Great Seal is an eagle.

  57. Trond Engen says:

    The Great Auk of the United States.

  58. I believe (because I googled the phrase) that you’re thinking not of the Great Seal, but the Seal of the Department of the Treasury, which formerly said “THESAUR. AMER. SEPTENT. SIGIL.” (abbreviating Thesauri Americae Septentrionalis Sigillum, “Seal of the Treasury of North America”) and now reads “THE DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY 1789”.

  59. Right. Thanks.

  60. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve never thought of the etymological connection of ‘treasury’ and ‘thesaurus’.

  61. Yeah, that’s a new one on me. In hindsight, though, Spanish tesoro should have made the relation clear.

  62. 19th century Hebrew works referred to the United States as המדינות המאוחדות hamedinot hame’ukhadot, a literal translation. Mendele Mocher Sforim coined the current usage, ארצות הברית artsot habrit ‘lands of the treaty’, in 1868. I don’t know what the Confederacy was called in earlier Hebrew sources (or in other languages). Currently, at least in Wikipedia, it’s referred to as קונפדרציית המדינות של אמריקה konfederatsyat hamedinot shel amerika ‘The Confederation of States of America’.

  63. gwenllian says:

    Crotian being the Slavicizing one

    Most of that is post-1991 (though not the month names).

    Could you give some examples of what you mean? Changes to the Croatian standard in the ’90s were actually few and pretty minor. Its relative purism dates back to the 19th century.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    Various ultranationalists tried to replace all loanwords (“mathematics”, “computer”, you name it). Probably not much of this ever caught on.

  65. gwenllian says:

    Yep, pretty marginal for the most part, not much more than fodder for jokes. Those ultranationalist efforts were to a great extent rooted in a much bigger and longer tradition of purism, though (as were the ridiculous language reforms and policies of the Ustaše regime back in WW2). For some reason, all the way back in the 19th century purism was determined to be one of standardization’s highest priorities. The Czech dictionary was pillaged in the enthusiasm to slavicize (though, interestingly,all those slavicizing efforts weren’t quite enthusiastic enough to favor non-Shtokavian Slavic words over Shtokavian non-Slavic ones).

    (Računalo for computer wasn’t one of the strange new sugesstions, though. And in this particular case Serbian actually also uses a Slavic word (računar),one people actually use in conversation. In Croatia in informal situations it’s almost always just kompjuter. Or kompjutor, as dictionaries would have it.)

    There was definitely, to a lesser extent, also a mainstream return to purism. In addition to excising Serbian words and forms from standard usage (some, of course, then took it upon themselves to police people’s conversations), it manifested itself in a change in whether and how strongly Slavic words are preferred. But mostly those words were ones that were already in some way established or didn’t seem too out there to people. Most of these have stuck around noncontroversially, but see very little use in informal situations, with some (e.g. much of the preferred technical vocabulary) seeing very little use across the board.

    The actual heated and painfully prolongued battles have revolved around much less exciting issues – e. g. neću vs. ne ću or strelica vs. strjelica. Seeing nationalists support that last one always amused me seeing that not only are ijekavian forms no more Croatian than Serbian, more Croats were ekavian than ijekavian before post-WW2 urbanization.

    (Not to cruelly leave this on such a dramatic cliffhanger, I believe neću/ne ću and strelica/strjelica are nowadays all allowed. Smart move, avoiding anything more intense than slight annoyance in any segment of the population, but probably still getting to print yet more superfluous textbooks.)

  66. David Marjanović says:

    And in this particular case Serbian actually also uses a Slavic word (računar),one people actually use in conversation.

    I wonder if that’s calqued on German Rechner, literally “calculator”, a word that some people (perhaps especially older programmers?) actually use in conversation.

    more Croats were ekavian than ijekavian before post-WW2 urbanization

    Now that’s a surprise! I had no idea.

  67. gwenllian says:

    Now that’s a surprise! I had no idea.

    Well, those ekavians were overwhelmelmingly Chakavians and Kajkavians. I should mention Kajkavian realizations of yat are not really simply ekavian in the same sense, although that’s how they usually get referred to, at least colloquially.

    Pre-WW2 most Shtokavian Croats were ikavian. Post-WW2 population movements changed things, with varieties based on the Shtokavian ijekavian standard emerging in previously non-ijekavian urban areas. Places like Split and Zadar were the exception (though in other ways the language of both places changed profoundly) because the vast majority of newcomers to those cities were ikavian, same as the existing population.

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