The simplest question in Ukraine’s crisis: How do you pronounce Crimea?


The Euromaidan protests and the subsequent escalation of tensions between Ukraine and Russia have led to a whole lot of questions that are really hard to answer: Is Crimea truly a part of Ukraine? What would happen in a war between Ukraine and Russia? How much should the U.S. support the new government in Kiev? And has Vladimir Putin gone mad?

There is one question about the conflict, however, to which the answer is relatively simple: How do you pronounce Crimea?

In English, Crimea is most commonly pronounced "kri-MEE-ah," and not, as some have called it in recent days, "KRIHM-ee-ah" (NB: We're using the Voice of America style here). If you're not sure how that works, think of the chorus-line from "Cry Me A River" by Justin Timberlake, and remove the "river" part:

This doesn't mean that's how it's pronounced in Ukraine, of course – remember, we don't call Germany "Deutschland." Hear below how Crimea is pronounced in Ukrainian and Russian, according to the pronunciation website Forvo (in the Turkic language of the Crimean Tatars, it is pronounced more like this).

As everyone knows by now, Ukraine is a linguistically divided place. Four of every six people in Ukraine are ethnic Ukrainian and speak the Ukrainian language, but one in six is ethnic Ukrainian and speaks Russian, and the other one in six is ethnic Russian and speaks Russian. This linguistic edge to the conflict has resulted in some strange battles over geographical names: Heaven help you if you refer to Ukraine as "the Ukraine," for example, and the jury is still out on whether the English transliteration for the city should be Kiev or Kyiv

The mispronunciation of Crimea doesn't have the same level of geopolitical importance. It is, however, a reminder that sometimes a place little known or understood by Americans can suddenly become a very important place.

UPDATE: Following some newsroom debate, we decided that there should be an emphasis should be on the second syllable of Crimea. The post has been updated to reflect that.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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