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Friday, 7 March 2014

Kiev vs Kyiv | beyondbrics

Kiev vs Kyiv | beyondbrics:


By Ben Aris of bne in Moscow
Get used to it: from now on you will have to order ‘Chicken Kyiv’ rather than ‘Kiev’ after the US slapped sanctions on Russia.

Ukrainians have long been irked by the international media’s insistence on spelling the name of their capital ‘Kiev’, which is a transliteration from the Cyrillic of the Russian spelling of the name.
While Ukrainian and Russian are very similar, they are two distinct languages (think Spanish vs Italian). To make matters more confusing, Ukraine has its own version of Cyrillic with a few extra letters, one of which appears in the capital’s name (an i with an umlaut, as in the English word naïve) that doesn’t exist in the Russian version of Cyrillic.

Since independence in 1991, Ukraine has naturally enough reverted to Ukrainian as its official language (although Russian is still widely spoken by almost everyone), at the same time changing the Latin versions of proper names to the transliteration of their Ukrainian rather than Russian versions.

On the whole, western journalists have not had a problem with this. For example, after some initial confusion, most of the press have adopted “Tymoshenko” and “Yanukovych” for the surnames of the former prime minister and now former president. The Russian transliterations of their names are “Timoshenko” and “Yanukovich”.

But almost no one has made the change for the spelling of the capital. It irritates the hell out of many Ukrainians, who see it as insulting to continue to read about their capital using a spelling left over from the period of Soviet domination that they are trying to so hard to put behind them.

The reason? This correspondent has on many occasions pointed out the political incorrectness of using ‘Kiev’ but editors come back with the same excuse before running a search & replace on your copy: “It’s the chicken thing.” The Russian spelling of Ukraine’s most famous dish is so deeply ingrained in the reading public’s mind (believe editors) that almost no newspaper is willing to foist the alien looking ‘Kyiv’ on its punters.

That could change now. In its press release of March 6 announcing the imposition of limited sanctions on Russia, the White House used the ‘Kyiv’ spelling of the capital’s name:
In addition, the President has signed an Executive Order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine; threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; contributing to the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine; or purporting to assert governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without authorization from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.
For close watchers of eastern European politics this was a watershed and says very clearly that the US State Department is aligning itself with the Ukrainian nationalists that mostly live in the western part of the country (and have been doing most of the complaining over the years about the spelling mistakes, as well as much of the demonstrating on Independence Square, known as Maidan). Naturally enough the Russophile eastern regions never had much of a problem with the ‘Kiev’ version of the name as they speak Russian and use the Russian version of Cyrillic.

Obviously someone has been boning up on their Ukrainian etiquette – and very recently too. Only last week the US government came in for a roasting by Maidan, after Congress announced it was holding an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in “the Ukraine.”

This is another PC gaffe. The use of the definite article in front of the country’s name is another throw back to the Soviet era as “the” appears in front of regions of a country, as Ukraine used to be in the Soviet era, but sovereign nations almost never use the definite article in front of their name. Ukraine abandoned its “the” in 1991. While “the Ukraine” became “Ukraine” in the European press years ago, the US press, and even the White House, continued to goof on this one regularly.

Now the Rubicon has been crossed sub-editors around the world must be throwing up their hands in despair as there is a plethora of funny-looking Ukrainian names headed their way: Boris becomes Borys, Sergei becomes Serhiy, Alexander becomes Olexandr, and so on…

Still, if you are hungry for that chicken swimming in herb butter you will probably still be able to order Chicken Kiev for a while longer as few sub-editors become restaurateurs and the hospitality industry is not famous for proof reading its menus before printing.


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