“The” or No “The”?

In 2003, the Yukon Territory became officially just Yukon.  Dropping the “territory” doesn’t seem to have occasioned much fuss, but interestingly, dropping the “the” has been a different matter!  Residents apparently mostly still say “the Yukon,” whereas government documents say just “Yukon.”

Bearing this in mind, check out these covers of some old Labrador books (and one more recent one).  How is it that “Labrador” was once called “the Labrador,” by some?  Why?  And what’s the difference?

Some book cover images from around the web.
Some book cover images from around the web.

Despite the diversity of origins among these authors, in actual day-to-day usage, “the Labrador” seems to have been mostly a Newfoundland thing.

The online version of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English notes only that “Labrador” is “freq preceded by the,” but a couple of cards in the DNE’s underlying word form database give more details.  One card notes that the earliest instance of “the Labrador” is 1787, which means that the version without “the” is centuries older—see the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, page 203.  Another card says that in some areas, “Labrador was nearly always referred to as ‘the Labrador,’” and goes on to speculate that it must mean “the Labrador shore” or “the Labrador coast.”

So, just as “the Yukon” seems to come from “the … territory,” so “the Labrador” seems to come from “the … shore” or “the … coast.”  It’s as if “Labrador” emphasizes the placename in its own right, whereas “the Labrador” uses “Labrador” more to specify which coast one is talking about.  No wonder it was used most often to refer to Labrador primarily as a fishing ground.

Most likely, “the Labrador” was seldom a preferred form, outside of a Newfoundland fishery context—but then again, in this province, that context was the dominant one for many decades!  So it shouldn’t be discounted, either.

Languages and names are such complicated things!

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