Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Demonyms and Adjectives
Question: The demonym of Britain is British or Briton. The demonym of England is English or Englander. What would be the demonym of Albion, an old name of Britain? Would it be Albionian, Albionese, Albionish, etc.? How can we determine which is the right one, when it's rarely used? A lot of U.S. states use its name as an adjective (ex. ''California government'' instead of ''Californian government''), even when an adjective could be easily formed. Why is this usage commonplace?
Reply: Hi, Peter, As usual, my colleagues have given insightful answers to your question. One point no one has mentioned so far is that the variety of such adjectival suffixes for 'demonyms' (a new term for me) is in fact to a large extent governed by the form of the base, as was shown several decades ago in an article in (if memory serves) the Chicago Linguistic Society Proceedings. Thus we find from Oaxaca (in English), Oaxacan; but China gives Chin- ese. *Chinan, at least for me, is totally incorrect, nearly impossible. I can no longer remember why that article (possibly by Arnold Zwicky) showed that -ese is the only possibility for China, but that certainly seems to be the 'case. In other cases, there are different variants with different meanings. In Spanish, for example, we see from Mexico the adjective mexicano, with perhaps the most generic such suffix in Spanish, for a citizen of the country; for the state of the same name, the adjective is usually mexiquense (suffix -ense instead of -ano); while the adjective for Mexico City is chilango, popularly. This shows that there is some regularity with respect to which suffix is used in particular cases, but that there may be in some cases variation in the suffix, and occasionally even suppletion (the use of a different base altogether), as in 'chilango' (many Mexicans, btw, find this term pejorative). Similarly to what Dr. Sampson says, I find that 'California government' can only refer to something relating to the governance *of* the state, while 'Californian government' rather means something like 'Californian-like government'. Jim James L. Fidelholtz Graduate Program in Language Sciences Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
Date: 18-Dec-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Demonyms and Adjectives    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (17-Dec-2012)
  2. Re: Demonyms and Adjectives    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (17-Dec-2012)
  3. Re: Demonyms and Adjectives    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (17-Dec-2012)

Back to Most Recent Questions