The French They Never Taught You 15: Countries and Their Leaders

March 2, 2015

There are so many countries whose names can be translated from English to French by changing the IA ending to IE that it would be reasonable to assume that they all work this way:

 

Albania = l'Albanie

Algeria = l'Algérie

Armenia = l'Arménie

Australia = l'Australie

Bolivia = la Bolivie

Colombia = la Colombie

Croatia = la Croatie

Estonia = l'Estonie

Ethiopia = l'Éthiopie

Georgia = la Géorgie

Indonesia = l'Indonésie

Malaysia = la Malaisie

Mauritania = la Mauritanie

Mongolia = la Mongolie

Namibia = la Namibie

Romania = la Roumanie

Russia = la Russie

Serbia = la Serbie

Slovakia = la Slovaquie

Slovenia = la Slovénie

Somalia = la Somalie

Syria = la Syrie

Tanzania = la Tanzanie

Tunisia = la Tunisie

 

Even the names of American states appear to follow this pattern:

California = la Californie

Georgia = la Géorgie

Virginia = la Virginie

 

But assumptions are a dangerous thing when it comes to something as illogical as languages. Consider the following examples:

 

Austria = l'Autriche

Cambodia = le Cambodge

India  = l'Inde

Macedonia = la Macédoine

Nigeria = le Nigeria

Prussia = la Prusse

 

Perhaps no country exemplifies the irrational nature of terminology as Russia, which Winston Churchill famously referred to as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

 

Russia (la Russie) is partly made up of the area formerly known as East Prussia (la Prusse orientale - not "la Prussie" as you might expect). Its official name is now the Russian Federation, which in French is la Fédération de Russie (not the expected "la Fédération russe").

 

There are traces of Marxist-Leninist thought and Stalinist architecture in Russia -- but these names translate into French as marxiste, léniniste and stalinien (not staliniste, as you might expect).

 

Apparently there is no way to predict the adjective form of leaders' surnames in French: Gorbatchev becomes gorbatchévien and Poutine becomes poutinien, while Mitterand becomes mitterandiste and Le Pen becomes lepéniste.  But the rule is not that the names of Russian leaders take the "ien" suffix while French ones take "iste." As we saw above, Lénine becomes léniniste, while Pompidou becomes pompidolien and Chirac becomes chiraquien. And Napoléon becomes napoléonien, which is sometimes translated Napoleonesque in English.

 

It can be useful to be aware of these adjective forms when reading the French press; otherwise, you may initially stumble over an odd-looking word like lepéniste (referring to Le Pen and the Front National).

 


 

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