Nationalities: from adjective to noun

Discussion in 'English Only' started by davidl243, Mar 2, 2006.

  1. davidl243

    davidl243 Senior Member

    London, England
    English, Scotland
    Hi all,
    When talking about people and their nationalities, there are various ways of turning the adjective into a noun:
    1. Adding -n or -ian, e.g. an American, an Australian, a Brazilian etc
    2. Adding -man, e.g. a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Frenchman
    3. Changing the word altogether e.g. a Dane, a Swede, a Finn, a Turk

    My question is: What do we do with adjectives for nationality ending in -ese, e.g. Japanese, Portuguese, Sudanese etc? Is there a way, or do we just avoid it and use an alternative? (e.g. At the party there were 4 Americans, 2 Scotsmen, 3 Swedes and 5 Portuguese people)

    Also, are there any other nationalities that can't be made into a noun? I just thought of the -ese group but it could be there are others.
    Thanks, David
  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I checked my dictionary and Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese are all listes as singular/plural nouns meaning a person from ....

    So your sentence would read:
    At the party there were four Americans, two Scotsmen, three Swedes, five Portuguese , an Irishman, six Chinese and a Japanese.

    I seem to have brought along a few friends - I hope you don't mind:)
  3. nmuscatine Senior Member

    English, USA
    davidl234, I understand what you are saying. To me it feels much more natural to say "Chinese people" than just "Chinese" in this situation. Yet I wouldn't necessarily think that saying just "Chinese" is a mistake. It has a more formal sound to me.
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I agree with nmuscatine about the sense of formality of these words - I could feel the stiffness when I wrote the sentence earlier. Strangely, I was more comfortable with using xxx-ese plural than singular. I suppose that means I was happier with "five Portuguese" and"six Chinese" than with "a Japanese":p
  5. nmuscatine Senior Member

    English, USA
    Yes, in the plural it seems less odd. It sounds even better as a collective term, i.e. "the Japanese." For example, "The Japanese are kind to people who visit their country" sounds like a perfectly natural usage to me. But this is sort of different from what you were talking about, since here the Japanese are not countable.
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Good point - I expect that explains my sense that plural xxx-ese sounds better.
    There's also something about the ...s sound at the end. The OED includes examples of the use of Chinee, Japanee and Portuguee as back-formations to refer to a singular person. These sound very old-fashioned, and rather derogatory, to me.
  7. davidl243

    davidl243 Senior Member

    London, England
    English, Scotland
    Thanks guys, i agree with you entirely that the plural sounds less strange than the singular, and i know i would never use '3 Americans and a Japanese', i would always add 'guy' or 'girl' afterwards, assuming i knew the gender.
    I know that for Chinese there exists the alternative 'Chinaman', but is that un-PC? I say that because when i hear the former, i think of someone from China, but when i think of the latter, i think of the stereotype (robe, pointy hat etc).
  8. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I agree with your impression about Chinaman. I don't think I'd use it.
  9. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I thought you used the word 'Portugueseman'... :confused:
  10. davidl243

    davidl243 Senior Member

    London, England
    English, Scotland
    Perhaps some people do, but I would certainly never use it and I expect most people to agree with me...Problem is I still don't really know what I would say - 'a Portuguese' also sounds strange to me...:confused:
  11. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I would never say "a Japanese" I would say "a Japanese person". Is this usage correct? Surely Japanese is an adjective and should be followed by a noun? a Japanese person, a Japanese dog, Japanese food, a Japanese restaurant, a Japanese vase, etc.
    I'm not "an English", I'm an Englishman or an English person.
    A Spaniard is not "a Spanish".
    On the other hand "an American" or "an Australian" sounds fine. I've just thought of "Argentinian" too - I see a pattern emerging, with words ending in "-an" it's OK.
    Anyway, my point was that "a Japanese" sounds wrong to me, it should read "a Japanese person".
  12. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    In English, Japanese people frequently refer to themselves as "a Japanese" and many non-Japanese also use the phrase, particularly those in the area of Japanese studies, etc. I agree it sounds odd, but it is accepted usage, I study Japanese language and culture and hear it constantly.
  13. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I, too, find "a Japanese" odd-sounding. I would say "a Japanese person", not "a Japanese", as Lilliput would. The same goes for "a Chinese", "a Vietnamese", or "a Sudanese." Maybe lilliput's on to something with the "-an" sounding correct, but not "-ese". I have no trouble with "a Korean."

    If we were talking about "the Japanese", that would be different. "A Japanese" sounds very strange.
  14. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    "A Japanese" does not sound strange to me, but dated. Most of the BE and AE dictionaries I use have something similar to this:

    That said, I think that fashion has changed, and the use of the expression has been fading for the past four or five decades. It was more common when Somerset Maugham was writing his travel stories.
  15. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Today's posts on this topic have been cut from the end of another thread and sewn to the end of this one. It would be worthwhile for today's posters to have a look at the earlier discussion.
  16. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    "A Japanese" doesn't sound dated to me as I had not noticed its usage until recently (since I started studying Japanese language and culture 2 or 3 years ago) and it is certain current amongst Japanese referring to themselves, for example in textbooks (recently published) on language usage, etc. but also in speech (teachers for example). As I said, I found it awkward at first, as I agree with others that it sounds as if it may not be very polite. Nevertheless, I come across the usage so often, that I have accepted it as usual.
  17. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    In my view the potential awkwardness of "a Japanese", "a Chinese" is a matter of tradition. One of my friends in France insists on talking about "a French", "an English", and "an Irish". :)

    I don't like "a Japanese", for instance, but having to say "a Japanese man/woman" seems equally awkward. I think this reflects an awkwardness in English itself. We prefer to add "n" to a country/state/city to form an adjective or noun reflecting the people in the country/state/city.

    America, American
    California, Californian
    Texas, Texan

    When countries end in "n", it makes it much more difficult:

    London, (Londoner ?)
    Iran, (?)

    When the ending is "land", this is also harder:


    And this, I suspect, is only the start of our "name" problems. ;)

  18. cheshire

    cheshire Senior Member

    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    Hi dear The Wonder of the Jungle, could you tell me which version of OED? The one with many volumes?
    I for the love of mice want to know more about this back-formation stuff...Thank you!
  19. cheshire

    cheshire Senior Member

    Catholic (Cat-holic, not Catholic)
    Which is the reason for the awkwardness you nativespeakers feel about saying "a Japanese"?

    (1) Because "Japanese" is an adjective.
    (2) Because the pronunciation "-z" makes it similar to that of the plural marker "-s".
  20. Elwintee Senior Member

    London England
    England English
    For what it is worth, this is my BE view. Best wishes to everyone, of whatever nationality. :)
  21. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think, looking back on the comments, that it is a combination of reasons.
    Japanese as mostly an adjective, not a noun, so using it as a noun seems unusual.
    The -z at the end obviously brings plural to mind. That is why the "back-formation" has taken place.
    Two Japanese sounds like two Japanees, prompting the apparently logical one Japanee.

    << See also The Japanese or Japanese >>
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2010
  22. JungKim Senior Member

    I was searching for the nationality noun/adjective usage and ended up in this thread.
    For whatever it's worth, here's my take on this issue and I'd like some feedback.

    I think that the reason native speakers feel awkward about "He's a Japanese/Chinese/Portuguese" is not because of any tradition/usage particular to any nationality but because of the pronunciation of their suffix, "-ese". These words in their origin are adjectives. Although conversions from adjectives to nouns are not uncommon in English, as in "He's a criminal", these "-ese" nationalities have the 'z' sound to them so that their plural inflection is difficult at best. Hence, the inclination against treating these nationalities as "authentic" nouns.

    The usage of "the Japanese/Chinese/Portuguese" to refer to their respective whole group is not necessarily endorsing "Japanese/Chinese/Portuguese" as nouns. These are more like such phrases as "the poor/rich/underprivileged" where "poor/rich/underprivileged" are still treated as adjectives.

    The above pronunciation-based understanding also applies, more strictly, to ungrammatical "I'm a British/English/Scottish".
  23. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    :eek: No, don't. Many people find it offensive.
  24. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    A word like Portuguese is both adjective and noun, whereas British, French etc. are adjectives only.

    The WordRef dictionary entry shows this:

    2.( pl -guese) a native, citizen, or inhabitant of Portugal

    This means that Portuguese (singular) means a person from Portugal, and the plural of Portuguese is Portuguese.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2013
  25. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    In the singular, true. But in the plural they can all be nouns.
  26. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
  27. JungKim Senior Member

    Well, in fact, the WordRef dictionary treats Portuguese/Chinese/Japanese the same way. According to the dictionary, they can all be nouns in either the singular or the plural. So the dictionary doesn't say much about all this talk about the awkwardness of "a Japanese/Chinese/Portuguese".

    Is the awkwardness unfounded then?
  28. JungKim Senior Member

    Well, I'm not sure if you can make a general statement that "British" can be a noun in the plural, when no other plural noun form thereof is allowed than "the British".
  29. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Try "Britisher" ;)

    From the OED (on-line edition)

  30. JungKim Senior Member

    The existence of "Britisher" is proof positive that "British" in "the British" is closer in syntax to "rich" in "the rich" than to "Americans" in "the Americans".
  31. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Why would that be? I think the only difference is the length of the words. American has more syllables than British, this is why you cannot say: Americaner, but rather more American. Added. I see, Britisher as a noun -- you would have to check the etymology to say exactly why Britisher is possible whereas Americanisher is not. It may have to do with an influence of another language (German, for example).
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2013
  32. JungKim Senior Member

    It's not about the etymology or the number of syllables. The reason why you don't say "Americaner" is because "American" has converted itself into a noun, thereby obviating the need for the additional suffix "-er". On the contrary, "British" has not been able to do the same, leaving the door open for "Britisher".

    And when you realize that "the British" is analogous to "the rich/poor", it all falls into place.
  33. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    I am not so sure about that. I personally do not see any difference between the British and the Portuguese: they are both adjectives acting as nouns. As for American, the Americans. are you claiming that the plural form ending indicates that American is also a noun?
  34. JungKim Senior Member

    It's the other way around. It's not really the '-s' suffix that makes it a noun. It's already a normal count noun, which requires the suffix when it's in the plural, and which doesn't when it's in the singular.
    "I'm not an American."

    Also note that, unlike "the British", you don't always need "the" in front of "Americans".
    "Americans would agree.":tick:
    "Most Americans would agree.":tick:
    "British would agree.":cross:
    "Most British would agree.":cross:
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013

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