Lemberg again

In most media accounts of the current crisis in the Ukraine, the chief city of western Ukraine — the heartland of the anti-Yanukovich protest movement — is called Lviv. But yesterday, in a report on NPR’s Morning Edition, Emily Harris referred to it by the Russian name, Lvov.

Why? Because the report was about the political differences within a married couple living in Kharkiv (called by that name, the Ukrainian one, rather than the Russian Kharkov). The husband is an ethnic Russian and the wife a western Ukrainian, but their common language is Russian, and so, when telling Emily Harris their story, they called the place where they met (at university) Lvov. And the reporter didn’t bother mentioning that this is the same place that elsewhere is being called Lviv.

I will repeat my advice of a a couple of years ago: stop mispronouncing Lviv, Lvov or Lwów (the combination of palatal /l/ with /v/, with no intervening vowel, is nearly impossible for anglophones) and stick to the time-honored Lemberg. So what if it’s the German form? Danes don’t mind that we call their capital Copenhagen (as long as the a is that of mate, not of father — they didn’t like the way Danny Kaye sang it in Hans Christian Andersen) and not København. Russians don’t mind our calling their capital Moscow (a respelling of the German Moskau) and not Moskva. So, once again: Lemberg!

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3 Responses to “Lemberg again”

  1. milloum Says:

    Coby,
    as your previous post shows,”Lemberg” seems last attested in the press in 1929. Why are you suggesting we return to an 80-year old toponym which – if I understand correctly – is not used by the modern inhabitants?

    Also why does it matter that the actual Russian pronunciation is impossible to achieve for English speakers? Let it be pronounced some approximation of /lvov/ or /lviv/, with the wrong vowel and maybe a schwa before or after the /l/: it still distinguishably sounds the way it is written to EN-speakers, not many of whom know the correct spelling, and still less care.

    • milloum Says:

      typo: the last line should read “not many of whom know the correct *pronunciation*, and still less care.” you’re welcome to edit original comment and delete this one

  2. rbw Says:

    It seems to me that years ago a non-Ukrainian writer in the Washington Post had the best Idea. He suggested that “Le View” –spoken rapidly as 1 word–came the closest to approximating the Ukrainian pronunciation of Lviv, since the pronunciation of “v” is variable.

    Depending on its position in a word or a sentence, the Ukrainian “v” sounds like the English V or W or an intermediate phoneme.

    Lemberg and even Leopolis are good too, and the former was used by Pope JP2 on occasion.

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