Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||Demonyms and Adjectives|
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?
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'.
James L. Fidelholtz
Graduate Program in Language Sciences
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO
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