Monday, October 24, 2011

Where Ya From?

People from England are English, people from China are Chinese, people from India are Indians, people from New Zealand are New Zealanders, people from Ecuador are Ecuadoreans, and people from Pakistan are Pakistanis.

Why not Englese, Chinans, Indish, New Zealandi, Pakistaneans, and Ecuadorers?

Thomas Tsoi, who teaches English to Hong Kongers at Holy Trinity College, has the answer, sort of. He has identified eight basic suffixes that indicate nationality in English (plus a few irregular ones). The basic eight are:
            -ian (Italian, Norwegian, Egyptian, Brazilian)
            -ean (Chilean, Korean)
            -an (American, Mexican, German)
            -ese (Japanese, Vietnamese, Portuguese)
            -er (Virgin Islander)
            -ic (Icelandic)
            -ish (Irish, Turkish, Swedish, Spanish)
            -i (Iraqi, Israeli, Yemeni)

The nonconformist ones include the endings of French, Argentine, Cypriot, Greek, Swiss, Dutch, Thai, Manx, Monegasque, and Seychellois, among others.

Some of these words can function as both adjective and singular noun (e.g., an American or Japanese person is an American or a Japanese); others do not (an English or Spanish person is not an English or a Spanish). 

Tsoi points out that the endings –ian, -ean, and –an are all variants of a Latin root meaning "pertaining to" and are the most commonly found suffixes in English. Which one is used depends primarily on how the name of the country is spelled.

The –ese ending comes from Italian (in which English, for example is inglese). Marco Polo and other Italian traders were the first Europeans to reach the Far East, and, as a result, the –ese ending is commonly used for Asian countries.  Why –ese is also used for some countries in Europe (Portuguese) and Africa (Senegalese) is the result of those countries’ colonial histories.

The endings –er and –ic are Germanic in origin are used in English for national endings mainly after the words land and island.  The –er typically refers to a person (Icelander), while the –ic is adjectival (Icelandic). (The –er is much more commonly used for residents of cities: New Yorkers, Londoners, Berliners, etc.)

The suffix -ish is also Germanic and means “belonging to.” In German, the –isch ending is very common: Italienisch, Französisch, Amerikanisch, etc.  English, which is basically a Germanic language, held on to a few of these endings. The
–ch in French and Dutch also stem from this German suffix.

Finally, the suffix –i comes from Arabic and is generally used only for Islamic countries (with the notable exception of Israel).

The Bard, who is proudly Buffalo Bayouish, is also a man of the world, as you can see.

            When The French
            Want to quench
            A really fierce thirst,
            They always turn first
            To a vin rouge or blanc--
            And who cares if it’s plonc?

            But the British,
            Who are skittish,
            Take their grub
            In a pub
            With a pint of good bitter,
            Than which nothing is fitter.
            Alas, the poor Irish,
            Whose troubles are dire-ish,
            Prefer a strong stout,
            But they’ll throw it out
            And shout, “Finis!”           
            If it isn’t Guinness.
            Now the Germans
            Will preach sermons,
            Or long, boring sagas
            About their great lagers.           
            It’s bier for those fellas,
            Both dunkles and helles.

            I hear that a Mexican
            Is so complex he can
            Dance a bolero,
            Around his sombrero,
            To prove that he’d feel a
            José Cuervo tequila.
            Of course, an American,
            Disdaining sherry, can
            Jump in his pool,
            Get nice and cool
            At his villa suburban,
            And sip Coke and bourbon.
            And as for the Bard,
            When he’s worked long and hard,
            Pushed himself to the max,
            Then he likes to relax
            With a teeny-weeny
            Dry gin Martini.

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