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

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papakapp

Senior Member
English - NW US
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?
I attribute this to the ambiguity of the word "English".

You can have Canadian nationals but you cannot have Canadian speakers.
You can have African nationals but you cannot have African speakers.
You can have English nationals and you also can have English speakers.

So I will be throwing my hat in with the
it depends on the adjective being used
crowd
 
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    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)
    Unfortunately there's simply no one single definitive answer to this, Hiro: some people (e.g. me, post #18) would find it perfectly acceptable; others would find it totally weird:(
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Unfortunately there's simply no one single definitive answer to this, Hiro: some people (e.g. me, post #18) would find it perfectly acceptable; others would find it totally weird:(
    Hi, ewie. I thought ' -ese (with the singular noun meaning) ' with the definite article, or demonstrative adjectives may be different. But it should be looked upon in the same manner nonetheless ... okay. I'll be careful placing a fitting noun after it. Thanks, ewie.:)
     

    squeaky69

    New Member
    Spanish
    The course book I'm using (New English File Upper- Intermediate) says:

    To talk about one person from a country you can't use a/an + adjective alone:
    1) a Japanese man/woman/ person, an Englishman/ Englishwoman/ English person, NOT a Japanese, an English, etc. (nationality adjectives which end in -sh, ch, ss, or ese).
    2) an Italian, a Greek, etc (Nationality words which end in -
    an,and a few others, e.g. Greek and Thai, are both adjectives and nouns: The Italians, The Greeks.
    3)
    Some nationalities have a special noun: a Turk, a Pole, etc.

    But the Cambridge Grammar of English lists on its Appendix on nationalities, under the heading person, the following examples: a Chinese, a Portuguese, a Swiss, a Japanese.I have no idea why, as I've never heard these used as nouns.
     
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    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello squeaky - and welcome to WordReference :)

    As you will see from the discussion earlier in the thread, and in the linked threads, the terms listed have been used as singular nouns - and many of us find them strange.

    I think what you are seeing here is the Cambridge Grammar of English listing nouns that have been used, and your course book reflecting current preferred usage.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    There appears to be a consensus in this and some other threads that you don't use "Japanese", "Chinese" or "Portuguese" as a singular noun--at least not in modern English.

    Notwithstanding the consensus, however, the following online dictionaries say that you can use them as a singular noun:
    (1) Our own Word Ref. Dictionary
    (2) Merriam-Webster
    (3) Oxford Dictionaries
    (4) Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
    (5) Cambridge Dictionaries Online
    (6) Dictionary.com

    The only two exceptions that I found agree with the consensus are:
    (1) Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary
    (2) Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

    Any thoughts??
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I think you've see our thoughts in the posts above. :)

    The dictionaries report what may be acceptable to some people. Contributors to this thread report their actual use and preferences, which probably reflect the uses and preferences of most native speakers, though of course they may not.

    Which forms you want to use is always up to you.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I think you've see our thoughts in the posts above. :)

    The dictionaries report what may be acceptable to some people. Contributors to this thread report their actual use and preferences, which probably reflect the uses and preferences of most native speakers, though of course they may not.

    Which forms you want to use is always up to you.
    Actually, I made the mistake of reading only the first page of this thread before writing my post, although I have read some other related threads as well. But I did read the rest of the posts in this thread before reading yours. :D

    Now, the funny thing is that the original Merriam-Webster disagrees with the Learner's version.
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    What a fascinating thread!

    In my experience in the UK, I have heard "a Chinese" being used but mostly in the media and the impression I get is that it's older people who use it or at least a usage that is dying out. It always sounds odd to my ears and I wouldn't use it myself (not because I think it's derogatory, that thought had never occurred to me until I read this thread).

    As for "Chinaman", the only time I have ever really heard that is in reference to a particular type of bowler in cricket (i.e. a left-handed equivalent of a leg-spinner).
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The only one I can think of is Indiaman, but that only relates to a type of ship conducting trade with India, not to people.
    The only one you can think of? What about Englishman and Englishwoman?;)

    I'm an Englishwoman: what are you? ;) An Englishman/woman, a Welshman/woman, a Scotsman/woman, an Irishman/woman?:)
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I think that your linking to the front page of multiple dictionaries requires me repeat all the work you've already done in order to produce a considered opinion.
    The reason that I gave the link to each dictionary, which by itself was quite a lot of work on my part, was simply so that others could know which dictionaries I was referring to. And I don't believe that you would have to actually repeat all the work that I've done in order to comment on the issue, unless of course, for some reason that I don't understand, you simply don't believe my claim about the dictionary listings for the three nationalities. Then, you could simply type any of the three nationalities in any of the dictionary links provided, each of which typing action would only take you a couple seconds.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    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.
    The only one you can think of? What about Englishman and Englishwoman?;)

    I'm an Englishwoman: what are you? ;) An Englishman/woman, a Welshman/woman, a Scotsman/woman, an Irishman/woman?:)
    That's not the same as Chinaman. Chinaman is the name of the country + man. Englishwoman is the adjective + woman,
    See posts 13-15. bluegiraffe was part of that conversation, too. :D
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    There appears to be a consensus in this and some other threads that you don't use "Japanese", "Chinese" or "Portuguese" as a singular noun--at least not in modern English.

    Notwithstanding the consensus, however, the following online dictionaries say that you can use them as a singular noun.

    Any thoughts??
    Here's my thought. If we're dealing with the statement that, roughly paraphrased, runs as follows:

    Today, saying "a Chinese" is derogatory.


    This statement entails, implies, etc. a few other statements:

    - "A Chinese" is used. It has a highly specific usage. You can use it to sound derogatory. For "a Chinese" to have a derogatory meaning or connotation it is necessary that "a Chinese" be sayable and understandable in contemporary English.
    - You might not want to say "a Chinese" for various reasons. For instance, you might not want to sound racist, xenophobic, etc. For that reason, many people do not say "a Chinese," but that does not mean that "a Chinese" is not part of their idiolect. They have to understand what "a Chinese" connotes so as to choose not to say "a Chinese."

    Basically, I think your two observations - people don't use it in practice, but the dictionaries describe it as being a part of language - are not logically contradictory. In fact, I think that they represent two parts of one underlying phenomenon.

    Of course, the various values - I used "derogatory," but you could put in "outdated," or "stilted," or any other kind of value - given to "a Chinese" can change without disturbing the underlying logic that resolves "don't use" and "can't use."
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Here's my thought. If we're dealing with the statement that, roughly paraphrased, runs as follows:

    Today, saying "a Chinese" is derogatory.


    This statement entails, implies, etc. a few other statements:

    - "A Chinese" is used. It has a highly specific usage. You can use it to sound derogatory. For "a Chinese" to have a derogatory meaning or connotation it is necessary that "a Chinese" be sayable and understandable in contemporary English.
    - You might not want to say "a Chinese" for various reasons. For instance, you might not want to sound racist, xenophobic, etc. For that reason, many people do not say "a Chinese," but that does not mean that "a Chinese" is not part of their idiolect. They have to understand what "a Chinese" connotes so as to choose not to say "a Chinese."

    Basically, I think your two observations - people don't use it in practice, but the dictionaries describe it as being a part of language - are not logically contradictory. In fact, I think that they represent two parts of one underlying phenomenon.

    Of course, the various values - I used "derogatory," but you could put in "outdated," or "stilted," or any other kind of value - given to "a Chinese" can change without disturbing the underlying logic that resolves "don't use" and "can't use."
    Is the same derogatory connotation--or whatever you want to call it that make the word awkward at best--also found in the other two nationalities "Japanese" and "Portuguese" mentioned in my post #57?

    And how about "Swiss"?
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    With "a Japanese," yes.

    With "a Portugese" and "a Swiss," well, there isn't that much anti-Swiss racism in English-speaking cultures. So it doesn't sound derogatory as much as just really, really strange.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    With "a Japanese," yes.

    With "a Portugese" and "a Swiss," well, there isn't that much anti-Swiss racism in English-speaking cultures. So it doesn't sound derogatory as much as just really, really strange.
    All the four nationalities--"Chinese", "Japanese", "Portuguese" and "Swiss"--are each listed as a singular noun under the first group of six dictionaries shown in post #57 but not so under the second group of two dictionaries. Apparently, the "derogatory connotation" itself is more attached to a cultural background than to -ese or -s ending. Therefore, I don't think that the derogatory connotation is the right answer to why such nationalities when used as a singular noun as suggested in most dictionaries sound so awkward. Rather, I think it's simply a red herring.

    Furthermore, most dictionaries clearly state "offensive", "derogatory" "taboo" or something like that if an entry word is indeed perceived by most native speakers to carry a derogatory connotation. But no dictionary that I have consulted so far indicate any such heads-up for entries like "Chinese" or "Japanese".
     
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    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Just to add my opinion - a Chinese, a Portuguese, a Swiss, a Japanese all sound really odd to me. None sound derogatory to my ear (including "a Chinese"), they just sound very strange!

    On the other hand (and apparently against the general opinion having read many of the posts above) "a Chinaman" doesn't sound derogatory to me. Old-fashioned, yes - but not derogatory.

    Edit - on reflection, having reread my post, I have to say that "a Swiss" sounds much less odd than the other ones to my ear.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    On the other hand (and apparently against the general opinion having read many of the posts above) "a Chinaman" doesn't sound derogatory to me. Old-fashioned, yes - but not derogatory.
    Could be regional. I still hear it - in a context here where there is an ethnic Chinese majority - and it is derogatory. It's used to refer to a recent immigrant from China, or to a Chinese person who lacks sophistication or is unexposed or has a traditional Chinese cultural outlook or does not speak a lot of English. It's used for internal distinctions within the ethnic Chinese, and of course its use is not to be recommended.
     

    Transfer_02

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I have looked through several online lists such as this one: http://eolf.univ-fcomte.fr/uploads/ressources/grammar/09_nationality_words/natkey.htm

    and they seem unanimous in suggesting that "Chinese", "Portuguese" etc can be used as countable nouns to refer to one or more people of that nationality.

    However, to my ears sentences such as, "There are three Chinese in my class", or "There is a Portuguese waiting for you in your office", just sound completely odd.

    (I have no problems with using these as collective nouns eg: "The Chinese are buying more and more European clothes.")

    I found this topic in the French/English forum which seems to share my angst...
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=496077

    ...but I am surprised to find so many ESL websites and other sources suggesting that these nouns can be used in this way.

    Is this just a "common usage" issue? In other words, do we choose to say "a Chinese person" rather than "a Chinese" even though both are correct?

    <Moderator note: Transfer_02's thread has been merged with this one>
     
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    name my name

    Senior Member
    chinese
    "There are three Chinese in my class", or "There is a Portuguese waiting for you in your office", just sound completely odd.
    This does not sound odd to me at all.
    I think this does not only refer to words like Chinese and Portuguese, the same goes to British, French etc.
    And we seldom say "a Chinese person". We simply say "a Chinese".
     

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    I find it a little odd too but, from what I've read in this forum, it appears to be quite common in some places. It has always puzzled how this only works in certain cases in BE: an Italian, a Greek, four Germans, and a French...:confused:...y.
     

    name my name

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Hey, dadane, I am not native speaker. But by what I have been taught and what I've read, till now I have not found anything odd about that. But we usually say "four German" or "four Chinese". We do not add plural form here.

    Want to listen to more opinions from you guys.
     

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    But we usually say "four German" or "four Chinese". We do not add plural form here.
    In BE this only works in the adjectival sense: four German, four Chinese, and three French students. As a noun, it must be pluralised (... four Germans). The cases where there isn't a noun which corresponds with the adjective are few but problematic: French ... Frenchman; Spanish ... Spaniard; Polish ... ??? (Polack is adopted), Turkish ... Turk. There is no predictable pattern.
     

    mojolicious

    Member
    English English
    In UK English a person from Poland is a 'Pole'. 'Polack', as suggested by dadane, is (to my English ears) slightly derogatory.

    Regarding the original post, I agree that 'there are three Chinese in my class' sounds wrong. Equally, 'there is a Chinese in my class' sounds wrong.

    I think the problem is that the word 'Chinese' can be adjectival and lacks a plural form. This also accounts for 'Portuguese', 'Sudanese', and 'Ceylonese' (if you're old, like me). Other nouns which are also adjectives – Italian, German, Brazilian etc – can be made plural with an 's'. 'There is an Italian in my class' and 'there are two Brazilians in my class' are both perfectly acceptable.

    EDIT: which, having read dadane's post again, is what dadane said.
     
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    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    ...

    Regarding the original post, I agree that 'there are three Chinese in my class' sounds wrong. Equally, 'there is a Chinese in my class' sounds wrong.

    ...
    What are the correct sentences for 'there are three Chinese in my class' and 'there is a Chinese in my class' ?
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    What are the correct sentences for 'there are three Chinese in my class' and 'there is a Chinese in my class' ?
    I invariably use Chinese as a modifier in such cases, so I'd say "There are three Chinese students in my class."

    The only time I use Chinese as a noun is when my meaning is "the people of China" or "the government of China," e.g., "The Chinese are interested in improving their influence in Asia." It's not wrong to say "three Chinese," but it sounds odd and awkward to me, so I avoid it anyway.
     

    kokosz1975

    Member
    polski
    Hello to everybody:)

    Very interesting topic! It was soothing to my heart to learn that the problem that I have in Polish with finding the correct name for a person from a specific country can also pose a problem in English. (Respect to all of you who know that a person from Poland is a Pole:)).
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    newsflash!

    The authors of the BBC news website, those purveyors of dodgy English and in particular crap headlines*, have today inadvertently used the term China man, amongst others:
    The headline reads:
    China man in balloon bound for disputed islands crashes*
    Immediately below it the picture caption reads:
    The man launched the balloon from China's Fujian province in an attempt to land on one of the islands
    And the first line of the article itself reads:
    A Chinese man flying a hot air balloon to a group of disputed islands had to be rescued ...
    Just thought I'd mention it.

    *I had to read it 11 times before I understood it.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I don't know whether there's any influence from this part of the world. :eek: We encounter China man here because 'Chinese man' in Singapore usually means 'ethnic Chinese man' (but not of Chinese nationality), and to emphasise nationality this term is used. Otherwise, I hear PRC man (where PRC is the 'People's Republic of China'). See for example, this news story.
    China man bashed for ‘talking too loudly’ on bus
     

    DBlomgren

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    << Mod note: New question added to previous threads. Please read from the top. >>

    I'm making a list of adjectives and words for people from different countries like this:
    Finland - Finnish - a Finn, the Finnish
    Japan - Japanese - a Japanese person, the Japanese

    I've noticed most ESL speakers make English more regular by saying a Japanese, a Portuguese, a Congolese. I think this is where English is going, but I'd like to know what native English speakers think is correct now.

    A. A Portuguese (Congolese, Taiwanese, etc.) said this.

    B. A Portuguese person (or man or woman,etc. said this.

    So please answer A, B, or it depends. And explain what it depends on!

    Thank you!
     
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    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    I've countered a problem: Doesn't the word Spanish need the indefinite article 'a', when it refers to a person who is Spanish?

    It seems true that many words like Japanese, British, Chinese etc need 'a' when they are used to refer to a person. But what about the word 'Spanish'? and why?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The words ending in '-ish' are always adjectives only and can never be used as nouns:

    :cross:I met a British / a Spanish / a Danish.
    :tick:I met a British person / a Spanish person / a Danish person (woman, doctor, student, etc.).

    There are about three classes of ethnic terms in English. Those ending in '-an' can be used as person nouns and also as adjectives:

    :tick:I met a German / an American / an Asian.
    :tick:I met a German person / an American doctor / an Asian student.

    Finally there are ones where the person noun has a special form: a Spaniard, a Dane, a Swede, a Pole, a Turk; and compounds such as an Englishman, a Frenchwoman. These are different words from the adjective (Danish, Turkish, French), which can only be used as an adjective (a Spanish person).
     
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