LINGUIST List 7.403

Sun Mar 17 1996

Sum: Ethnocentrism

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. "M. Lynne Murphy", sum:ethnocentrism--last post

Message 1: sum:ethnocentrism--last post

Date: Sat, 16 Mar 1996 18:39:59 GMT
From: "M. Lynne Murphy" <>
Subject: sum:ethnocentrism--last post

a while ago, i posted a query looking for examples of ethnic
differences being lexicalized or (preferably) grammatized as following
a human/non-human divide. the response (though not always keeping to
the subject of the query!) was quite whelming and this is the 3rd
summary of responses.

i am more than finished with the project that this query was related
to, so please do not send me any more information. i thank all those
who generously shared their time and knowledge by responding, and
acknowledge the most recent group here:

glenn bingham <>
david costa <> (Jim Baldwin)
Hiroaki KITANO <>
Stuart Luppescu <>
Ann Lindvall <>
Stavros Macrakis <>
Peter Szigetv\'ari <>
norvinMIT.EDU (norvin richards)
Oesten Dahl <>
Torsten Leuschner <>
Chris Miller <>

i have checked none of these responses for accuracy. they are
presented below by geographic area. not every person thanked above is
quoted here, because many people gave essentially identical

M. Lynne Murphy
Department of Linguistics phone: 27(11)716-2340
University of the Witwatersrand fax: 27(11)716-8030
Johannesburg 2050


 From: Ann Lindvall <>

The word Berber used for the Tamazights in North Africa means

 From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>

First thing I thought was:by what definition of "human" could it be
said that speakers categorise people into "more and less human"
classes. This was particularly interesting for Bantu, since classes
1/2 in most Bantu languages are so loaded toward human reference.

The Venda observations were particularly interesting for grammatical
expression. all the classes, including 1/2 can be seen as derivational
elements because of their behavior with verbs. So Swahili:

kw-enda (Inf-go)
class 1/2 mw/wa-enda-ji (1/2-go-"er") "traveller/s"
class 3/4 mw/w-end-o (3/4-go-nom) "journey/s"

and so on.

Such derivation not only applies to verbal nouns, but also to various
basic nouns. as you noted for Venda, productive augmentativisation is
generally a class 5/6 affair. So Swahili:

(ma-)ji-tu ((6-)5-person) "giant/big-shot(-s)"

Yes,often with the implications of English "big-shot", so you get to
appreciate the nuances of the augmentative. (Big-shot as deprecative
is actually *jitu* kali "sharp=fierce *giant*"). Similarly, 7/8(-5)
for diminutives:

ki/vi-ji-ti (7/8-5-wood) "stick/s"

as you know,people with physiscal deformities are also in whatever
class construction is used for diminutives, e.g., Swahili

 ki/vi-pofu (7/8-blind < "blindperson/s").

These may actually be old verb roots since their final vowels can be
recognised as older verb-nouners. The precise formation does not
really interest us, only that whatever form is used is productive.
The interesting question here is the connection to the use of the
diminutive. For example,it seems more plausible to me that the
diminutives were used here originally as an expression of sympathy,
since they are also used for "en-dear-ment" as in English
"(little-)old", rather than as "be-little-ment". However,that happened
a long time ago historically and such infirmities is a closed
class. There is no further productivity, e.g., to *diseases, visible
or not: *ki-kimwi, no, mwenye kimwi (haver-of aids) for "aids-victim".

Ethnicity, like *human referents* in general, allows productivity of
classes 1/2, 5/6. 7/8 and various other classes in various Bantu
languages. In ethnicity the roots are generally unanalysable as far as
the speakers are concerned, thus are basic nouns, that, as in
English,can also be used as adjectives. Swahili:

m/wa-zungu (1/2-"white-person") "white-person/s"
y-a ki-zungu (it-of 7-"white-person") ""

This last is the grammatical equivalent to using nouns as adjectives
(attributively) in English, e.g."white racism".

It looks like Venda, but not Swahili, reflects further uses of classes
5/6 in the past.It is not clear, as you note, just what the connection
is with other uses of 5/6, especially the prototypical augmentative,
cf.the problem of the diminutive and people with physical
deformities. But it seems that initially some comment was being made
about them by choice of class. That probably has culture- specific
aspects, e.g.,"distance-in-geography/customs"? and, if so, is the
augmentative applying as an extension of the concept
"(big=long)distance"? Well, that's the kind of parameter you would
look at cross- linguistically. The thing is that it may be more a
historical than a synchronic question if in Venda 5/6 has become the
productive class for ethnicities. Then the 1/2 ethnicities can be seen
merely as a residue of a former productive process. Variability in
interpretation (motivation), as you note for Chinese, may apply to
individual compounds like "devil-guy", but it's problematic, to say
the least, where more constrained derivational processes, such as
Bantu class assignment are at issue.

Maybe even better to speak of an in-group out-group continuum. Seems
to have something to do with what's "normal" and what's not, cf.
Venda class-marking and general Bantu derivational processes for
aug/dim/deformities (all deviations from the ideal(?) "norm".


 From: <>

With some allowance for my memory, Brinton's Dictionary of Lenape
(published late 1800's), an Eastern Algonquian Native American clan
lists the name for Iroquois, the major adjacent rival group, as
"mengwe." Brinton's native informant and converted Christian
clergyman concurs with this (according to the notations in the
dictionary), but adds that literally "mengwe" means "penis." I
believe the language is now extinct, but the animosity lives on.


 in many North American Indian languages, at least the languages of
the Great Lakes, it is very common for the word for 'person' and
'Indian' to be the same, and for there to be a different word for
'white person'. This is the norm in central Algonquian languages; for
example, in Shawnee, there is a word /lenawe/ which, depending on
context, means 'person' or 'Indian', and which, incedentally, is a
nominalization off the verb meaning 'be alive'. Opposed to this, there
is a noun /tekohsiya/ which means 'white person'. Of course, there is
an unambiguous term meaning 'Shawnee', but generally context is the
only way to determine whether /lenawe/ is being used to mean 'Indian'
or 'person'. There is no unambiguous term for one or the other. As far
as I know, the exact same pattern obtains for Miami and Kickapoo, at


 From: (Jim Baldwin)

"Gaijin" in Japanese is written with the kanji for "outside" and
"person". There has been a general feeling lately that this is not
quite polite and that one should use "gaikokujin" ("outside country
person") instead. The effect of this is that there is some tendency
to use "gaikokujin" for people of caucasian ancestry and "gaijin" for
everyone else. This argument is rather specious as the politeness
marker is the use of "jin" rather than the honorific "kata". The
Japanese usually refer to themselves as "nihonjin" rather than "nihon
no kata" so the use of "gaikoku no kata" seems exquisitely stiff and
formal. I am not insulted when I am addressed or referred to as

The early (16th-18th C.) Portuguese and Dutch were referred to as
"Nanbanjin", the kanji for which mean "southern" "barbarian/savage"
"people". Interestingly, the kanji for "ban" (barbarian) consists of
the kanji for "red" over the one for "insect". Another ancient
perjorative word is "ketoujin" which is "hairy" "Chinese" "person".
The "tou" (Chinese) kanji is the same as the one for the T'ang
Dynasty. Back then all foreigners were thought to be Chinese, and the
Europeans were apparently considered a particularly hairy variety.

More recently, a friend who grew up in the 1930s as a missionary kid
in Karuizawa tells me that they were addressed as "seiyoujin",
"western" "ocean" "person". The feeling of this is quite respectful
and polite, as "seiyou" is used in the meaning of "the West" or "the

In the immediate postwar period, the term "yankii", a loanword from
the English "yankee", had a strongly disparaging feeling. The usage
of this word has shifted to meaning "wild, rebellious or disruptive
young people", and those of us who live near US military installations
can easily understand the association. There is a women's magazine
called "Yanmama" which is a pun on "Young Mama" and "Yankee Mama",
directed to young mothers who attained their maternal state as members
of motorcycle gangs and the like.


 From: Oesten Dahl <>

It strikes me that the following facts about Russian illustrate the
same phenomenon you have been talking about on the list:

There is a suffix -enok/-onok which is normally used to forms names of
young animals, e.g.

tigr - tigrenok 'tiger: tiger cub'

There are, however, a number of cases where the same suffix is used
with ethnonyms to form nouns denoting children of that group. Here is
a list derived from Zaliznjak's reverse Russian dictionary:

cyganenok 'Gypsy child'
negritenok 'Negro child'
kazachonok 'Kazakh child'
kitajchonok 'Chinese child'
tatarchonok 'Tatar child'
turchonok 'Turkish child'
I think this list looks rather suspicious - there are no apparently no
examples of ethnic groups belonging to the European cultural sphere,
which suggests that the use of this suffix at least originally
somehow relegated the referents to a lower rank as it were. Maybe
there are similar examples in other languages.

 From: Peter Szigetv'ari<>

I read that Greek _barbaros_ originally meant foreigner, but then it
was an onomatopoeic word to show that non-Greek speakers could not
speak properly, only say _barbar_. This is akin to Slavic _niemec_:
he foreigners don't speak (properly), but are mute.)

Related to this is a debate going on in Hungary at present: the Romany
population (at least their representatives) prefers the majority to
call them _roma_, their native term for themselves, as opposed to
Hungarian _cig\'any_. However, I, and some others I have spoken to,
feel _roma_ to be more derogatory than _cig\'any_. (It is true on the
other hand that most, if not all, idiomatic expressions contain
_cig\'any_ in derogatory contexts.) The same phenomenon applies to
Russians, their native _ruszki_ [ruski] (Russ. ruskiy) is derogatory
as opposed to the usual Hungarian _orosz_. With most neighbouring
nations the case is just the opposite, the official terms (after
1920), _szlov\'ak_, _rom\'an_, _szerb_ are neutral, as opposed to the
highly derogarory native Hungarian terms used up to 1920, _t\'ot_,
_ol\'ah_ and _r\'ac_, for Slovakian, Rumanian and Serbian. With ethnic
names whose population lives farther away and therefore no serious
conflicts influence reference to them, the "original" _lengyel_
(Polish), _olasz_ (Italian), _n\'emet_ (German, cf. Slavic) is

 From: norvinMIT.EDU

Regarding the Serbo-Croatian word "Nijemac", meaning "German", which
was also glossed as "mute"--I think Caesar's _Gallic Wars_ mentions a
Germanic people called the Nemetes, which raises the possibility that
the "mute" part could just be a folk etymology...


 From: Peter Szigetv'ari<>

Coins and stamps issued in the United Kingdom do not bear any
reference to the name of the country, whereas all (at least as far as
I know) other countries do put their name on their coins and stamps.
E-mail addressed in the United States do not end in a country code,
whereas other e-mail addresses all seem to do so. This is very much
like "we ARE the ones, we don't have to name ourselves." (In these
cases the reasons are probably more historical than psychological,


From: (Chris Miller)

A couple of minor corrections to some of the forms I gave you:
"wae:las" should be "wealas" (singular "wealh"); my reference for
"Illinois" gives "illini" (rather than "iliniwa") as the original
name, although that appears already to be an anglicised spelling given
the double <l>; what I gave as the Cantonese form for "China"
("Tiongkok") may in fact be from another Chinese language.
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