Motherland vs Fatherland?

November 7, 2018 10:00 am

 

Ever wondered why different countries use the terms ‘motherland’ whilst others refer to theirs as the ‘fatherland’ ? Can a country ever be both? We’ve decided to take a look, as well as which countries use this terminology.

Can a country be both?

Generally speaking, it is quite unusual for it to be possible for a country  to be referred to as both a motherland and fatherland. However, due to the grammatical genders that exist in certain languages, when one refers to their native country it is possible for it to have both feminine and masculine roots.

As a starting point, albeit in a language that lacks grammatical genders, lets look at the English term for someone who is passionate about his or her country, a ‘patriot’, in order to explain the aforementioned. ‘Patriot’ is a word that originates from the Greek patrios, meaning ‘of one’s fathers’. A number of different Romance languages share this Greek root for terms in their own languages referring to their ‘homeland’;.

French: la patrie

Spanish: la patria

Italian: la patria

Portuguese: a pátria

Nevertheless, despite the masculine origins of these words, all of the aforementioned terms are feminine nouns in their respective language, and it is possible, depending on the context, to translate any of them as ‘fatherland’, ‘motherland’ or ‘homeland’ .

 

Who uses motherland?

mother-russia

‘Mother Russia’ in Volgograd (Stalingrad)

The term refers to a mother country i.e. the place of one’s birth, or ancestors, or the origins of ones ethnic group. Typically, it is common for Russian speakers to refer to ‘Mother Russia’ as opposed to using the term ‘fatherland’ . This personification relates closely to the word that Russian speakers commonly used to mean ‘homeland’ : rodina (родина), which is typically translated as ‘motherland’

Whilst in the movement for Indian independence of the late 1800s, the emergence of Mother India ‘Bharat Mata‘ came to fruition.

 

Who uses fatherland?

Meaning the nation of one’s ‘fathers’ or ‘forefathers’ the term tends to be used across German -speaking Europe, as well as Germany itself, where their national anthem has a line that translates into English as ‘unity and justice and freedom for the German fatherland’. Furthermore, Scandinavian countries as well as the Netherlands also use similar terms referring to the fatherland.

 

 

References:

  • Homeland,  [online: here], retrieved on 06/11/2018.
  • James, C. 2015. Identity crisis? Motherland and Fatherland. [online: here], retrieved on 06/11/2018.
  • Motherland vs Fatherland,  [online: here], retrieved on 06/11/2018.

Written by Mairead Finlay – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She has studied Translation at the University of Geneva and holds a BA in Politics and French from the University of Bristol.

 

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