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

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entangledbank

Senior Member
English - South-East England
Yes, all the '-ish' and '-ese' adjectives can be used to refer to the whole or majority population (but not to smaller groups):

The Spanish often take a siesta.
The Chinese eat a lot of rice.
:cross:I met three Spanish.
:cross:The Spanish I met were science students.
 
  • kuleshov

    Senior Member
    Spain Spanish
    I'm having a look at the third edition of Michael Swam's Practical English Usage. The book says that we can use a Chinese to refer to a Chinese person.
    I know we can say, "She's married to an American." No problem there. But, I don't know why, I find the sentence, "She's married to a Chinese." weird. I would say, "She's married to a Chinese person."
    We can generalise by using a plural nationality noun: "Americans travel more and more." And then again, if a Chinese is a person from China, I guess we can also generalise using the plural noun. I know we say The Chinese (adjective) to refer to the population; and we say Chinese people to generalise; but I don't know why we can say, "Americans travel more and more"= An American = a person from America. but there is no plural from of A Chinese.
    We have A Swede, and we can say Swedes are used to the cold.
    Obviously we don't say Chineses, Japaneses or Portugueses. Maybe that's the reason...
    Any ideas?
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    I have merged your thread, kuleshov, with one of the earlier threads on this topic. I hope you find the answers here useful, but if not, you're welcome to ask additional questions here. If I can find a few other useful threads, I'll post some links for you.

    JustKate
    English Only moderator
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    In the singular, 'the/this/that etc. Japanese' is considered rude; perhaps mildly offensive.

    Jessica Boulder met with a Japanese businessman from Sendai; he was so rude... :tick:
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    X looks Chinese. :tick:
    X looks like a Chinese :thumbsdown: Unless X is a take-away meal and looks like it came from a Chinese restaurant.
    X looks like Chinese. :cross:
     

    Sun14

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    If I want to refer to two Chinese people as two Chinese I'd rather be clear to say two Chinese people rather than omit people?
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    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.
    [...]
    Just crossed my mind: 'Chinese' in 'the Chinese,' meaning people from China collectively, is it an adjective or a noun? Oxford Dictionaries classify it as a noun (Please unfold the example sentences on the page).
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The use of "Chinese" as a singular noun is pretty well obsolete. I can't see that "the Chinese" and "the French" are anything other than collective nouns with plural agreement. It seems to me to be perverse to describe them as adjectives.
     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi, Andy.

    So you're saying it's not 'the + adjective,' but it's 'the + noun (collective noun)'? I see.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes. Here's the OED definition of "French" as a noun
    With pl. concord, and frequently with the. French people regarded collectively; (also) a particular group of French people; the French-speaking people of Canada.
    The OED definition of Chinese as a noun is
    A native of China. [The plural Chineses was in regular use during 17th cent.: since it became obsolete Chinese has been singular and plural]
    That has not been updated since the Second Edition, and I think it reasonable to say (as others have previously) that the singular form "a Chinese" has dropped out of English. I would expect the future definition to be
    With pl. concord, and frequently with the. Chinese people regarded collectively
    The same should apply to any other word that functions as both an adjective of nationality and a collective noun with an uninflected plural - the Dutch is another example that comes to mind.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Now, a book says that, with all this word about how the noun Japanese is uncommon, it would sound natural if used in a sentence where the speaker emphasized he was NOT a Japanese person, or he did NOT belong with the people. What do you think?

    I made and will place this dialog for your comment:

    A: Why can't he do the same thing. I can't understand!
    B: I'm a Brazilian, and he is a Japanese. Maybe that's why. We are totally different.
    (This conversation does not reflect my belief, by the way. We get along very well:))
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Just crossed my mind: 'Chinese' in 'the Chinese,' meaning people from China collectively, is it an adjective or a noun? Oxford Dictionaries classify it as a noun (Please unfold the example sentences on the page).
    "Chinese" and "the Chinese" can be used as an adjective or as a noun. As an adjective: The Chinese culture is centuries old.

    But if you say "meaning people from China collectively" you are describing a noun. People is a noun. How can an adjective mean a noun? Simple answer: it cannot.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Exactly, Doji. Dictionaries define 'Chinese' in 'In turn, many missionaries came to China to convert the Chinese to Christianity as part of colonization' as an example (Oxford Dictionaries) as a noun. It could be a nominal adjective or noun in the first place.

    Now, what do you think about #115, Doji?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Now, a book says that, with all this word about how the noun Japanese is uncommon, it would sound natural if used in a sentence where the speaker emphasized he was NOT a Japanese person, or he did NOT belong with the people. What do you think?
    If I understand the book it says that C is uncommon but D sounds natural:

    C: Yes, I'm a Japanese. Born there, live there. So what? I still hate tofu!

    D: No, I am absolutely positively not a Japanese! I'm Swedish, by jiminy!

    To me the blue in D isn't more natural than C. I either don't understand the book, or don't agree with it.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    HSS, although "Chinese" and "Japanese" are listed in the dictionary as nouns and adjectives, in current English they are not used as countable nouns, but they are used as plural mass nouns. This may be because the plural and singular forms are the same.
    We say "a Brazilian" and "the Brazilians".
    We say "an American" and "the Americans".

    We don't say "a Chinese" but do say "the Chinese".
    We don't say "a Japanese " but do say "the Japanese".
    We don't say "a Dutch" but do say "the Dutch".

    Like dojibear, I disagree with the book. "I'm not a Japanese" sounds wrong to me too.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Many Japanese go to a hot spring to relax. (no context accompanying this)
    [source: a Japanese junior high textbook]
    Now is this 'Japanese' used idiomatically? This is a plural 'noun,' and looks like going counter to a lot of the discussions on this thread.

    Hiro
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Is this a countable usage? "Many Japanese like hot springs." "Few Japanese like cold showers." But I don't think this would appear in modern English: "25 Japanese bathed in a hot spring".

    It's no different from "There are many fish in the sea", where "fish" appears to be used as a mass noun.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    It sounds entirely normal. "Many Japanese go to a hot spring to relax." But it is possible that the hot spring might be very crowded. :D
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Thanks, Andy. Thanks, James.

    What's confusing me is many posters on this thread have been basically saying 'Japanese' used as a noun, except for 'the Japanese,' sounds unidiomatic. Why is this example an exception?

    Is it 'many' before it that makes it okay-sounding?

    Also, in another textbook here, I saw

    'Many people said, "I've never heard a Japanese joke. Could you tell me one?" [...] 'Yes, They thought Japanese never laughed [...]'
    This is a noun. Is it 'Japanese' meaning people living there in general that makes it different???
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    If I had seen "the Japanese" rather than "Japanese" in that textbook example, it would have looked entirely normal to me. It's certainly normal to say "The Japanese have a culture quite unlike the culture of any other country I've ever been to.", which is something I might say. I did live in Japan for a couple of years as a kid, and I've never forgotten the impressions I picked up about your amazing country way back then.

    I don't regard "Japanese" as an acceptable substitute for "the Japanese" in either sentence.
     

    Jimbob_Disco

    Senior Member
    British English
    No, not at all! You can say ‘the Japanese’, though, but only when referring to the whole Japanese population, for example (apologies for being stereotypical) ‘the Japanese eat sushi’.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi, Owlman. Hi, Jimbob_Disco.

    Thanks. Just to clarify, you said you don't regard 'Japanese' as an acceptable substitute for 'the Japanese.' Are you referring to my first example in post 121 and 126, Owlman?

    Yes, Jimbob, the + -ese ethnicity word describes the entire population of the group.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hi, Hiro. :cool:

    I'm referring only to the sentence you provided in post #126 and the sentence I gave as an example in post #127.

    Having looked at post #121, I can report that the use of "Many Japanese..." in that example looks okay to me.
     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    So maybe the word 'many' is the key. Or other quantifiers, such as 'a few' and 'some' but not 'two' and 'a hundred.'

    Many Japanese went to the U.S. this year.
    A few Japanese went to that school.
    Some Japanese went to that school.
    Two Japanese came to the party.
    About a hundred Japanese signed up for the event.

    I saw many Japanese at the fair.
    I saw a few Japanese at the fair.
    I saw some Japanese at the fair.
    I saw two Japanese at the fair.
    They met about a hundred Japanese to choose one for the role.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Your conclusion and your sentences look entirely normal to me, Hiro. Earlier somebody mentioned some restrictions regarding nouns and adjectives that end in "ese". Perhaps those restrictions apply here. I'd be inclined to use "people" after "Japanese" in some of your sentences, but using "Japanese" as a noun in those sentences doesn't strike me as odd or inappropriate.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'm going to say that I am not keen on Japanese as a noun, and prefer Japanese people or people from Japan.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi, Natkretep.

    You wouldn't say any of my sentences in post #131, either?

    There seems a little difference in tendency to use; ethnicity -ese words can be used more acceptably when coupled with quantifiers such as 'many' and 'a few' but not numbers. I ran from the top to the bottom in this thread, and found not much discussion regarding pluralized -ese forms.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    In reference to people:
    A Japanese - Absolute adjective used as a singular noun - an example of an Japanese person. Not considered politically correct. If singular, "Japanese" should only be used as an attributive adjective.
    Japanese - Absolute adjective used as a plural noun -> (i) examples of Japanese people; (ii) the Japanese people in general. Politically acceptable.
     

    Sun14

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    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.
    Do you mean She is a Chinese is derogatory to describe a person's nationality? How about I am Chinese?
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    A: Did you meet any Japanese(1) at the meeting?
    B: No, I didn't meet any Japanese(2). I met no Japanese(3).
    To my ear, (1) is acceptable, but (2) and (3) are not. I wonder just why they are so.
     

    Jimbob_Disco

    Senior Member
    British English
    For some it works, but others it changes, for example:
    • England - English - Englishman
    • Spain - Spanish - Spaniard
    • France - French - Frenchman/Francophone
    • Holland - Dutch - Dutchman
    • Poland - Polish - Pole
    However, it stays the same for:
    • American
    • German
    • Russian
    • Korean
    • Australian
    • Mexican
    :idea:I think we could summarise this to:
    Adjective ending ‘-an’ stays the same, others change.:idea:
     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I'm beginning to feel if the word -ese denoted a larger number of people, people are inclined to accept it.

    (1) They met many Vietnamese.
    (2) They met millions of Vietnamese.

    But I suspect even if the -ese word is quantified with an adjective meaning a large number, it would not be well-accepted if the adjective was a clear number.

    (3) They met 3,789,112 Vietnamese.

    What do you think?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The OED explains the suffix -ese: "[Used for] Forming adjectives., < Old French -eis (modern French -ois, -ais):—Common Romanic -ese (Italian -ese, Provençal, Spanish -es, Portuguese -ez):—Latin ēnsem. The Latin suffix had the sense ‘belonging to, originating in (a place)’,
    [...]
    These adjectives may usually be employed as nouns, either as names of languages, or as designations of persons; in the latter use they formerly had plurals in -s, but the plural has now the same form as the singular, the words being taken rather as adjectives used absolutely than as proper nouns."
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I just thought up a context so it would be easier to answer. Do they sound idiomatic or odd?
    (2) The Association conducted group interviews over the years. Some 20,000 interviewers participated, and they met millions of Vietnamese.
    (3) The Association conducted group interviews over the years. Some 20,000 interviewers participated, and they met 3,789,112 Vietnamese.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I haven't changed my position. I don't like Japanese as a noun; I don't like Vietnamese as a noun.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Suppose an American man has lived in China for a very long time, during which period he got married to a Chinese woman and had sons and daughters. He loves China so much and has started to hate America so much for some reason that he renounced his American nationality and acquired the Chinese nationality. What would he call himself? I am Chinese? Chinese to me sounds like an ethnicity, not a nationality, while American like a nationality. I doubt he can say 'I'm American' or 'I'm an American' anymore. But then Chinese? You can't change your ethnicity.

    (The above is mere a supposition with no specific intention)
     
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    Erebos12345

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Suppose an American man has lived in China for a very long time, during which period he got married to a Chinese woman and had sons and daughters. He loves China so much and has started to hate America so much for some reason that he renounced his American nationality and acquired the Chinese nationality. What would he call himself? I am Chinese? Chinese to me sounds like an ethnicity, not a nationality, while American like a nationality. I doubt he can say 'I'm American' or 'I'm an American' anymore. But then Chinese? You can't change your ethnicity.

    (The above is mere a supposition with no specific intention)
    Well, I think he would elaborate on his situation a bit more.

    What he responds depends on what he's asked as well.

    "Where are you from?"
    "I'm originally from [Y] but I've been living here in [X] for # years already. I'm a permanent resident of [X]. I have [X] citizenship."
    "I was born here in [X], but my (grand)parents are from [Y]."
     
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