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The question is about the use of the Chinese city name Wuhan, specifically, whether it should be declined as masculine or feminine:

Ухан - в Ухане - из Ухана OR Ухань - в Ухани - из Ухани

The feminine form is suggested by many official and/or authoritive Russian language sources, such as, e.g., Wikipedia in Russian

In the same time, as the name of the city became popularized due to the new coronavirus outbreak, it is frequently used as masculine, e.g., Deutsche Welle, Interfax, Izvestia. This is likely due to the fact that much of information about the coronavirus comes through non-Russian language channels, where the name of the city is pronounced with hard "н", so Russian speakers tend to perceive is as masculine.

Although prescriptivism would suggest using the standard feminine form, modern western approaches to language tend to base the standard forms on those actually in use, rather than the other way around. In Russian there are many recent examples of such non-standard forms becoming standard (or at least generally acceptable), particularly after the collapse of the USSR: e.g., франчайзинг/франшиза. One may thus prefer the form that is actually in use to the one that is considered correct by the purists, but unknown/unnatural to most interlocutors.

I am looking for the opinions and recommendations on the use of the name Wuhan in Russian.

I kindly ask the moderators not to close this question prematurely: the issue seems to be far from being resolved and is of urgent interest to the broad community of Russian speakers, not merely the language specialists.

  • I would ask you not to create a new question each time but rather edit existing closed one. I assure you that the question would be immediately reopened. This way it way be less confusing to the users (who still can see all closed ones). – shabunc Feb 3 at 16:36
  • I deleted the closed ones. – Vadim Feb 4 at 9:14
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Most sources I could find consider Ухань (sic) a masculine word: от Уханя, к Уханю etc.:

, but there are some that consider it feminine:

I should notice that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source: anyone can edit it and put any nonsense they like into the articles.

At the time of this writing, Russian Wikipedia's article reads:

Топоним Ухань в русском языке мужского рода и склоняется по второму типу, как и все без исключения китайские топонимы. Примеры: Тайвань, Шаолинь, Шеньчжэнь и т.д.

This is a debatable statement, as names like (провинция) Юньнань and (площадь) Тяньаньмэнь are more often than not used as feminine. I'm only citing it here as an example why Wikipedia should not be relied upon.

That said, let me quote a 1964's article on the matter:

Широкое использование китайских слов в связном русском тексте и, следовательно, употребление их в формах косвенных падежей имело своим следствием, в частности, и то, что выявилось не привлекавшее к себе до этого внимания различие в склонении китайских имен собственных, оканчивающихся в русском транскрипционном написании на -нь. Естественно было при этом задуматься над тем, нужно ли унифицировать склонение подобных слов и какую из двух форм (женский род, III склонение и мужской род, I склонение) следует принять за единую и стандартную.

Так, в 1959 г. в журнале «Дружба» (Q: published in China) транскрибируемые китайские слова, оканчивающиеся на -нь, систематически стали писать в формах косвенных падежей III склонения, т. е. как имена существительные женского рода. Примеры: Дорогами Цзинганьшани (№ 21); Зимы на Дабашани морозные (№ 29); От города Жуйцзини (№ 26); Вся Аньшань залита розовым светом зари (№ 43) и т. п.

Выбор формы женского рода в качестве стандартной, единой определялся, надо полагать, тем, что в русском языке к женскому роду (III склонение) принадлежит значительное число географических названий, оканчивающихся на -нь, например, названия городов (Рязань, Казань, Астрахань, Любань), рек (Кубань, Аргунь, Тюмень). Характерно, что название столицы Армении, относимое прежде (Эривань) к женскому роду, перешло после ее переименования (Ереван) в разряд существительных мужского рода.

Очевидно, что унификация правописания подобных слов невозможна и что правило, определяющее грамматический род и правописание китайских географических названий с конечным -нь, должно быть не универсальным для этих слов, а дифференцированным в зависимости от грамматического рода административного или географического объекта, имеющего данное китайское название. Так, названия городов, уездов, островов, горных хребтов, проливов следует склонять как имена существительные мужского рода, а названия провинций, деревень, рек — как слова женского рода.

This is the closest thing to an expert opinion on the matter I could find online.

As you can see, your question is not new.


Now let's forget all this for a moment and think about how do the usage patterns emerge in real life:

  • There is a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan

  • Wuhan gets mentioned in the media hundreds and thousands times as often as before the outbreak

  • Most of the journalists have probably never even heard the name before. They have never had a chance to think about its declension. But now they have a practical need to use the name in a text.

  • They have a deadline to meet. Most of them have more pressing issues to deal with than doing the grammar research. They just rely on their sense of the language and the yield of the search engines.

  • At first, some of them use the word in masculine, others in feminine.

  • The form which has the most Google hits, becomes prevalent in the media, because of the positive feedback.

  • Years later, a grammarian does their research. Most mentions of Wuhan are about the coronavirus outbreak, and they use the form which had become prevalent during the outbreak. They mark it as an "established norm". It might even contradict the general advice, because the less infamous cities would not have an "established norm" by then.

  • Yet some time later, something notorious happens in Xian (Сиань) or Xiamen (Сямынь) or another boring place in -нь none had ever written about before. Rinse, repeat.

This means that even if there is some kind of obscure reference document out there, it would have no effect on real world usage if the word in question suddenly became a celebrity.

There is a tipping point, mostly random, after which all the logic and prescriptions just don't work anymore.

As far as I can judge, we're past this tipping point, and Ухань is now effectively masculine in Russian.

  • Thank you very much for this well researched answer! – Vadim Feb 3 at 16:53

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