Nationalities as nouns?

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Alexius
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Nationalities as nouns?

Postby Alexius » Thu Oct 07, 2010 10:56 pm UTC

In English, nationalities are adjectives- e.g. "French".
Some of those adjectives are never used as nouns to refer to a person of that nationality- you would never say that someone is "a French".
In other cases, the use of the adjective as a noun is considered archaic and possibly offensive, such as "a Chinese".
In many cases, though, we can use the adjective as a noun to refer to a person of that nationality, such as "an American".

Some nationalities also have separate noun forms such as "Frenchman" or "Spaniard". In some cases, this separate noun form is also archaic/offensive, such as "Chinaman". So there are some nationalities (such as Chinese) which, in modern polite English, can only be adjectives and are never nouns.

Can people notice any patterns as to which nationalities are used as nouns/ which have noun forms?
Also, how does it work in foreign languages? From the ones I know:
In French, using the indefinite article with any nationality adjective turns it into a noun- such as "un Anglais" or "un Français".
In Greek, as far as I know all nationalities have separate noun forms. You only ever use the noun form to refer to people- the adjective form of the word for say Chinese could refer to Chinese food or the Chinese army but never to a Chinese person.
Most interestingly, in Russian all nationalities are nouns when used of people, except for Russian. You would say "Это немецкий автомобиль" ("It is a German car"), but "Он немец" ("he is a German"). On the other hand, you would say both "Это русский абтомобиль" ("It is a Russian car") and "Он русский" ("He is Russian).

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Lazar
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Re: Nationalities as nouns?

Postby Lazar » Thu Oct 07, 2010 10:59 pm UTC

Alexius wrote:So there are some nationalities (such as Chinese) which, in modern polite English, can only be adjectives and are never nouns.

I'm not quite sure about that - I can see "Chinese" being used as a plural noun. Take this article from Reuters: "The Taiwanese Central News Agency identified the vessel as the Feng-guo 168 and said it had a crew of eight Vietnamese, two Indonesians and three Chinese, and a Taiwanese captain."
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Iulus Cofield
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Re: Nationalities as nouns?

Postby Iulus Cofield » Fri Oct 08, 2010 12:19 am UTC

In my dialectic region, I've only heard a nationality ending -ese used as a noun a handful of times, and I cringe when I do, because I don't consider it grammatical. "-ese people" or "-ese person" is definitely the correct way. Although, phrases like "the Chinese" are acceptable, probably analogous to "the French" or "the Spanish."
Mark Liberman wrote a not particularly inspired piece on adjectives derived from national names recently.

Makri
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Re: Nationalities as nouns?

Postby Makri » Fri Oct 08, 2010 7:51 am UTC

German has nouns for all nationalities, too. The question of whether there are morphological (micro-)regularities is an interesting one about them.
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Alexius
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Re: Nationalities as nouns?

Postby Alexius » Fri Oct 08, 2010 11:37 am UTC

Lazar wrote:
Alexius wrote:So there are some nationalities (such as Chinese) which, in modern polite English, can only be adjectives and are never nouns.

I'm not quite sure about that - I can see "Chinese" being used as a plural noun. Take this article from Reuters: "The Taiwanese Central News Agency identified the vessel as the Feng-guo 168 and said it had a crew of eight Vietnamese, two Indonesians and three Chinese, and a Taiwanese captain."

Fair enough. It's interesting that AFAIK all "-ese" nationalities can be used as nouns in that sense, but some are considered outmoded when used as a singular noun ("a Japanese").
Do all those words (the "-ese" ones) come from Portuguese?

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speakinggerman
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Re: Nationalities as nouns?

Postby speakinggerman » Mon Oct 11, 2010 8:59 pm UTC

Alexius wrote:Some nationalities also have separate noun forms such as "Frenchman" or "Spaniard". In some cases, this separate noun form is also archaic/offensive, such as "Chinaman".


I once heard that all of these nationality nouns which are different from the adjective (essentially those above and "Swede") had a flavor of being subjective, prejudice-loaded, potentially offensive. So you say that's only partially true?
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