I'm Chinese / I'm a Chinese [Nationality: adjective vs noun]

Cat Glass

Member
Asia - English
In the two sentences, I understand that the word "Chinese" functions differently (adjective and noun, respectively).

I'm not sure, though, if the meaning (or the emphasis or the feeling) of the sentence changes with the addition and removal of the article 'a' -- does it?
 
  • Seelix

    Member
    English (Canadian)
    I agree with Bluegiraffe, however the word "Chinese" (as well as other adjectives referring to nationality) can be used as a noun as well.

    The Chinese typically have dark hair, while the Finns typically have fair hair.
    The two skiers finished the race at almost the same time; however, the American was half a second behind the Canadian.

    Both of the sentences in your post, Cat, do have the same meaning. "I am a Chinese" does sound a little awkward, but it is not incorrect.
     

    bluegiraffe

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I have to completely disagree. There is nothing correct about "I'm a Chinese". I would correct this mistake if I heard it. I certainly wouldn't describe myself as "an English".
     
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    Seelix

    Member
    English (Canadian)
    I suppose it depends on the adjective being used. You're right, Bluegiraffe, that "I'm an English" sounds very awkward. However, "I'm a Canadian" or "I'm an African" sound correct to me. Would you describe yourself as "a Brit" or is that an Americanization?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    This has come up before, but it must have been in a thread about a different nationality, as I can't find it. 'Chinese' used to be usable as a noun for a person, but it basically no longer is. Likewise Japanese, Portuguese. The apparent plural 'the Chinese are' is a use of the adjective: compare 'the French are', another adjective, and contrast with 'the Germans are', which is a plural noun.

    Some nationalities have person nouns (Swede, Serb, Finn), usually identical in form with the adjective (American, German, Russian); others have no person noun, only an adjective (English, French, Chinese, Portuguese). For these the adjective can be used on its own (the French are). Otherwise it can't :)cross:the American are). Hmm, some like Swede/Swedish allows both: the Swedish are; Swedes are. The -ese words used to be person nouns also.
     
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    Cat Glass

    Member
    Asia - English
    Thanks, everyone. :)

    "I'm a Chinese" or "I'm a Japanese" does sound awkward and I would advise someone to drop the 'a' altogether for the sake of sounding more natural.

    However, I'd always thought that the 'a' version was acceptable, at least when the word can also mean "a person from so-and-so country/region" in addition to being an adjective that refers to national/racial origin. (Some examples: I'm an American. I'm an Asian.) Am I mistaken in thinking so?
     

    bluegiraffe

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It is possible for some nationalities:
    an American
    a Canadian
    an Australian
    But not for others:
    English - an Englishman/woman
    French - a Frenchman/womanS
    panish - a Spaniard.

    There is no rule, they just have to be learnt.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    And of course there's 'I'm a Chinaman', which is now derogatory and has restricted use, but I have always been intrigued with the form <name of country> + man which is not used for any other people group, as far as I'm aware.

    Just to answer this question - no I wouldn't. I'd describe myself as English, not British. If I were to say I was British, I'd say just that but wouldn't use "Brit".
    And you wouldn't say 'I'm a Briton' either. Although Americans might say, 'You're a Britisher'.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I think the point is that certain speakers would not consider using this form (and not only those from Portland), but others consider it idiomatic. The usage appears to be acceptable to certain so-called "speech communities" and not to others, and I have no idea whether "a Chinese" is acceptable in the way that I have learned that "a Japanese" is acceptable (cf. my comments on the thread linked by Panjandrum).
     

    Sikaranista

    Senior Member
    American English
    And you wouldn't say 'I'm a Briton' either. Although Americans might say, 'You're a Britisher'.
    We'd say "You're British" or "You're from the U.K.". (Or, you're from across the pond...but that's probably more common in NEW England ;))

    I don't know any AE speakers that say "Britisher"...at least not here.

    The first time I heard the word "Britisher" was when folks from the Indian subcontinent used the term. It sounds odd to my ears.
     
    We'd say "You're British" or "You're from the U.K.". (Or, you're from across the pond...but that's probably more common in NEW England ;))

    I don't know any AE speakers that say "Britisher"...at least not here.

    The first time I heard the word "Britisher" was when folks from the Indian subcontinent used the term. It sounds odd to my ears.
    I agree 100%.

    Britisher
    sounds like someone who britishes. Don't know if one can say that about the people from the UK.

    However, if I heard it, I would understand it right away to mean 'from Great Britain'.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    bluegiraffe said:
    How about:
    Englishman
    Frenchman
    Dutchman
    No, that's not the same. You can't say Englandman, Franceman or Hollandman. It's Chinaman, not Chineseman.
    The word "China" was originally an ethnonym:

    The Persian word and the Sanskrit word cīnāḥ, "Chinese people," which gave us the English name for the country, go back to the Chinese word Qín, the name of the dynasty that ruled China from 221 to 206 B.C.

    American Heritage Dictionary
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    And of course there's 'I'm a Chinaman', which is now derogatory and has restricted use, but I have always been intrigued with the form <name of country> + man which is not used for any other people group, as far as I'm aware.



    And you wouldn't say 'I'm a Briton' either. Although Americans might say, 'You're a Britisher'.
    Interesting thread. I am astonished to hear that Chinaman is considered derogatory. It was the very word I thought of as thecorrect solution as soon as I read the opener.

    As for Brit, I first heard it used 15-20 years ago in the context of GB sports teams (competing as one team, as opposed to England, Scotland, Wales etc). I noticed it was quickly adopted when talking about holiday-makers abroad, especially behaving badly. Two decades on I now use it to describe myself and all my compatriots (in the true sense of nationality i.e. UK).
    Which doesn't mean I wouldn't call myself English frequently as well.
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Spira's post "Interesting thread. I am astonished to hear that Chinaman is considered derogatory."

    It certainly is politically incorrect in the US, and has been so since long before politically-correct language became trendy. I have no clue as to why.
    I was wondering about his point... Who are these dictators who decree/dictate words to be politically incorrect? Are there similar hangups in the UK? What about The Comonwealth citizens?

    GF..
     

    George French

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    In my previous post I asked "Who are these dictators who decree/dictate words to be politically incorrect?"

    Perhaps I should have phrased this less stridently.. :tick:

    An interesting article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_speech may help us to understand what a difficult subject this is.

    I hope I have not offended. If I have, that was not my intention. But I do worry about our freedoms.

    GF..
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Moderator thing: Just a teeny reminder that the subject of Brit / Briton / Britisher has been discussed almost to extinction in this thread. Please use that thread if you'd like to discuss it ... erm ... totally into extinction.
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    According to Longman English Grammar (G. Alexander), 2.27 Nouns with the same singular and plural forms, Some nouns do not change in form. These include:
    - certain nouns describing nationalities e.g., a Chinese, a Swiss, a Vietnamese
    He is a Vietnamese


    This grammar book introduces an example: Nakamurasan is (a) Japanese.
    I took this that "a" is optional.

    Does it mean it is grammatically okay to put "a," but it sounds unnatural to native speakers these days?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    According to Longman English Grammar (G. Alexander), 2.27 Nouns with the same singular and plural forms, Some nouns do not change in form. These include:
    - certain nouns describing nationalities e.g., a Chinese, a Swiss, a Vietnamese
    He is a Vietnamese


    This grammar book introduces an example: Nakamurasan is (a) Japanese.
    I took this that "a" is optional.

    Does it mean it is grammatically okay to put "a," but it sounds unnatural to native speakers these days?
    It does mean that "a" is optional, but there is no implication that "a Japanese" used here would be found odd by native speakers.

    Nevertheless, I think native speakers might indeed find Nakamurasan is a Japanese to be a bit odd, while, for example, Nakamurasan is a Japanese businessman would be fine.
     

    jiamajia

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    You look like a Chinese.
    You look like Chinese.
    -----------------------------

    Someone says 'You look like a Chinese' is not as politically sound as the other. Please confirm. Thank you.
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Hi, jiamajia. :)

    In my experience, "laypeople" don't use "Chinese" as a noun meaning, "a native or national of China, or a person of Chinese descent." Most people would say, "X looks Chinese."

    I won't call "a Chinese" derogatory, but I would not be comfortable using it.
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Hi, TokyoSkyTree. :)

    X looks Japanese. :tick:
    X looks American. :tick:
    X looks like an American. :tick:
    X looks French. :tick:
    X looks German. :tick:


    ("X looks like a Japanese," and, "X looks like a German," are both correct, but neither sounds common to me. "X looks like a French," is definitely incorrect.)
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    The question is whether the word can be used only as an adjective, or also as a singular noun.

    "French" cannot be used as a singular noun (at best we can use the generic plural "the French") and hence it is ungrammatical to say "he looks like a French". I would have said that the same was true of "Japanese"; I am surprised that "X looks like a Japanese" sounds fine to Ribran's ear.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Yes. Both follow the same rules as "American". They can be either an adjective or a singular noun. The "-an" ending is a clue.

    I am Mexican.
    I am a Mexican.
     

    hoan965

    Senior Member
    vietnamese
    According to Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary: American /əˈmer.ɪ.kən/ noun [ C ]:someone from the US He said he was proud to be an American.
    So, I think that we can say: " He is an American" ( It means he is a person coming from The USA )
    And according to Oxford advanced Genie Dictionary: American: (adjective) : of or connected with N or S America, especially the US:
    Ex: I'm American.

    So I think that : "He is an American" or "He is American " is ok. But they are different form meaning. The first one is about a person and the second is about nationality.
    Are both the examples right? Would you help me.
    Thanks in advance.


     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    According to Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary: American /əˈmer.ɪ.kən/ noun [ C ]:someone from the US He said he was proud to be an American.
    So, I think that we can say: " He is an American" ( It means he is a person coming from The USA )
    And according to Oxford advanced Genie Dictionary: American: (adjective) : of or connected with N or S America, especially the US:
    Ex: I'm American.

    So I think that : "He is an American" :tick: or "He is American " :tick: is ok. But they are different form meaning. The first one is about a person and the second is about nationality.
    Are both the examples right? Would you help me.
    Thanks in advance.


    Hi, hoan965. :)

    As you say, "X is an American" can only be used of people (This computer is an American :cross:), but I consider your two sentences basically identical in meaning.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Moderator note: Today's thread has been merged with a previous one on the same subject, so there's a lot more opinion above.

    Opinion is very divided on this whole subject:(
     

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    I won't call "a Chinese" derogatory, but I would not be comfortable using it.
    This is a wrong diagnosis and, inadvertantly, introduces the idea that the word "Chinese" itself may be derogatory (which some people may be quite happy to pick up in default of a better explanation).

    I think we're not comfortable in saying "He's a Chinese"/ "I'm a Chinese" not because the word "Chinese" is derogatory but because "Chinese" is often used as an adjective, so when we hear "He's a Chinese", we customarily expect something else to follow it; and if nothing else is forthcoming, it feels as if something is missing.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    It doesn't :D, but every dictionary I have checked recognizes the use of "Japanese" as a noun meaning, "a native or inhabitant of Japan, or a person of Japanese descent."
    Thank you. The OED concurs, as do a number of contributors to this extended thread, although I wonder if the usage is obsolescent.

    Perhaps the use of "Japanese" as a singular noun (in addition to adjective and plural noun) actually stems from the Japanese themselves. A number of Asian languages do not have an indefinite article, and so English-learners often pepper their speech with inappropriate articles, e.g.:
    Believe me, it's not easy to be a pregnant.
    Would you like a bread?


    For that matter I also hear imputed singulars:
    Where is the scissor?
    ... which might explain the origin of "Japanee" and "Chinee".

    Speculation aside, I am also uneasy at calling someone "a Japanese" or "a Chinese" because it sounds as though I am mocking his muddled articles.
     

    jiamajia

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    It was suggested in this thread by some that there is a difference when people tend to use a+ -nese (Chinese)and a+ -n (Mexican) to denote a person's nationality. I want to know if 'a Korean' is more likely than 'a Lebanese' too. Thank you.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    It was suggested in this thread by some that there is a difference when people tend to use a+ -nese (Chinese)and a+ -n (Mexican) to dennote a person's nationality. I want to know if 'a Korean' is more likely than 'a Lebanese' too. Thank you.
    Yes, that is true for me; I prefer to talk about a Lebanese {lady/woman/gentleman/etc.}
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    For me, any of the ones that end in "ese" sound odd with "a/an" in front of them. So does "Swiss", for that matter. I think if I were talking about ancestry or citizenship I would usually use the adjective: "He's Japanese / Swiss / French". If the issue is specifically citizenship, I would still use the adjective with "citizen" after it... "He's a Japanese / Swiss / French citizen." If I had a situation where ancestry and citizenship didn't correspond and that was the point of the remark, I would probably say "He's a Chinese citizen but his ancestors were French."

    In other words, I think I avoid the nouns in most cases. :)
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Xiaolijie, I would say that both "a Chinese" and "a Chinaman" are derogatory - today. It has nothing to do with the word "Chinese," but only that those forms are archaic and so linked to a time in which they were used to make derogatory or otherwise ignorant comments about the Chinese in general and specific Chinese people in particular. (I would say the same think happened to the adjective/noun "oriental" - several of my friends and I have had interventions with our parents during which we had to explain to them that they could never again describe a person as "oriental" or "an oriental." You could also compare this uncomfortable usage to the taboo on the word "negro," which is itself innocent but is linked to a context that is fraught with tension and racist baggage.) So when I hear those words being used, I grimace because of their close association with a much less pleasant age.

    I'm also reminded of the way the word "Chinese" can be racist-sounding if you pronounce it with an "s" sound instead of a "z" sound.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    After reading this thread from top to bottom, I was wondering if 'the/this/that etc. Japanese (with the singular noun meaning)' with no noun following it was idiomatic, if it had been already mentioned once, or more, before. I think it is. Could anyone please help me with this?

    Jessica Boulder met with a businessman from Sendai; this Japanese was so rude he left the meeting only thirty minutes after it started without saying good-by.
    (Yet, I know 'this Japanese gentleman' would be better ... nonetheless, the simple, terse 'this Japanese' carries the speaker's angry overtone, I believe)
     
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