20 December 2011

Kim Jong-il and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

In the news today, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, is dead after ruling the country for 17 years. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted South Korea’s Yonhap News in their characterisation of him:

Kim Jong Il, the second-generation North Korean dictator who defied global condemnation to build nuclear weapons while his people starved, has died, Yonhap News reported.

North Korea’s official name is the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, which prompted one of my colleagues to remark how inappropriate the name is. Brendan O’Connor has done the research we were all curious about:

Sometimes it seems bad countries come with long names. North Korea is “People’s Democratic Republic of Korea”, Libya is “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, and the like. But on the other hand, there’s plenty of counter-examples — it’s the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” and “Republic of Cuba”, after all. Do long names with good-sounding adjectives correspond with non-democratic governments?

Fortunately, this can be tested. First, what words are out there? From the CIA Factbook’s data on long form names, here are some of the most popular words used by today’s countries, listed with the number of occurrences across all 194 names. I limited to tokens that appear >= 3 times. A majority of countries are Republics, while there are some Kingdoms, and even a few Democracies.

Link: It’s all in a name: “Kingdom of Norway” vs. “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.