(Traduction : Fiona Simpkins, MCF Civilisation britannique,
Speaker : Jean-Charles Pochard, UMR 5191 ICAR, university of Lyon, University Lumière, UMR 5191 ICAR
jean-charles.pochard [at] univ-lyon2.fr
The place names under scrutiny here are names of states. This onomastic sub-category refers to (a) toponymy and more particularly to choronymy (term designating the name of a large geographical or administrative unit), and (b) geopolitical onomastics and international relations. State names are for the most part derived from names of countries. If State names are lexical components of the French language, they constitute a linguistically mixed category (loan translation, naturalization, borrowings, transliterations...). Besides, this category is constrained by diplomatic contingencies. The appellations of states are the result of careful negotiations on the part of authorities at both national and international levels.
Whatever the degree of “Frenchification” of these words, they enter into syntaxic constructions as is the case for any other word, notably with locative prepositions. The discussion here is confined to the use of à and en. A study of utterances in which these elements are used reveals a certain amount of variability. A close analysis of the data suggests that these variations reflect the mental map which the speaker has of the state concerned : island-states are often perceived as points (smallness, remoteness) involving the use of à with or without a feminine article la. Names of countries considered to be close or important are preceded by en or au depending on their gender and vocal initial according to the general rule in French. For a state such as Barbados (la Barbade), several constructions are found such as : à Barbade, à la Barbade, en Barbade (formerly aux Barbades). An explanation of these variations is proposed.
Keywords : choronymy, use of the prepositions à and en, state names, political onomastics, mental representations.