Rules for converting country names to adjectival form
October 17, 2008 2:04 PM   Subscribe

America -> American. China -> Chinese. Iraq -> Iraqi. Are there any rules about converting a country name to its citizen/adjective form?

Say I invent a new country called Verte. What do I call the citizens? Verteans? Verti? Vertese? Are these conversions based entirely on the origin of the country's name?
posted by rq to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's no rules, just conventions as far as I can determine.

It can be completely different from the country name, or even just somewhat different as in: Holland -> Dutch, or Denmark -> Danish

So you could call the citizens of Verte anything you wanted, really. Call them Venitians, call them Verts, etc.
posted by smitt at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2008


As Smitt says, no real rules. Have a look at Wiki for a giant list. At Language Log they made a map.
posted by alex_reno at 2:28 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, for instance "Iraqi" follows the Arabic convention of adding the yaa vowell "pronounced ee" to the end of the country to form an (masculine) adjective. People from Kuwait are called Kuwaiti, Oman are called Omani, Yemen called Yemeni, etc. I suspect in many cases it has to do with colonial legacies as well. For instance, in Jordan (pronounced Al-ordan in Arabic), the word "Jordanian" is not used.
posted by proj at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2008


There are some "rules," but there are so many of them that it can be confusing, not to mention the fact that many of the exceptions to these rules exist. What's weird to me in English are these "clusters" of name formations which are geographical in nature.

For instance, many of the adjectives used to represent people or things from Asian nations is formed with the suffix "-ese" - Nepalese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese . . . but this suffix isn't used with nearly the same frequency (in English) outside Asian nations.

(Except to describe the people from many former French colonies in Africa, where an "l" is often added - Congolese, Togolese . . . modeled after Senegalese? I have no idea.)

The "-ish" or "-ic" ending seems to appear with disproportionate frequency to describe Germanic peoples are in areas dominated by Germanic peoples - Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Icelandic, English, Greenlandic, Nordic . . .

Spanish lands favor endings such as -n or -an or -ian, even in cases where a very Latin adjustment must be made (Peruvian follows the model of Jupiter -> Jovian in a way.)

Many Middle Eastern and Caucasus peoples not well-known to the English world for more than a century or so take that "-i" ending . . . Kuwaiti, Uzbeki, Israeli, Iraqi, Saudi. (But more historically 'recognized' peoples like the Egyptians or the Turks follow more "Euro" models. It's interesting to see some people described with both forms: "Kurdish" and "Kurdi" both seem to be used frequently.)

So to answer your question, I would say that it would have something to do with where your imagine country is on the globe. (The name looks Latinate to me; I'd go with Verteans.)
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:48 PM on October 17, 2008


There seem to be informal conventions based on brevity, but also with an etymological basis. However, bear in mind that the conventions differ markedly between languages.
Many of the 'irregulars' in English conventions are because they conform to conventions from other languages.

Places that end in a vowel usually take 'n' on the end, e.g. Georgian, Russian, Croatian.
For places that end in a vowel but would be inelegant/obtuse with just the 'n' attached, some variant of -ian is used: Canada - Canadian, not Canadan (clunky); Peru - Peruvian, not Peruan; Panama - Panamanian (not Panaman). This covers the majority of countries.

Of course, numerous exceptions abound. Belgium becomes Belgian, not Belgiuman - presumably for the sake of brevity, but probably more likely because this conforms to European norms: Spanish belga; French belge; German belgien.

Note, too, that although it is Denmark in English, it is Danmark in Danish, and the language is Dansk; In German, Danemark and Dänisch, respectively. All of this may be an artifact of English and Indo-European languages having a common root, so I suppose it doesn't really explain why, but food for thought, nonetheless. Also, it occurs to me that Norway in Dutch is Norwegen, which looks awfully close to Norwegian, even though one is a country name and one is an adjectival form...

The term "Dutch" has a complicated history. It was a catch-all term used by the English that referred to Germanic-speaking people like the Netherlands Dutch, Flemings, and Germans, but gradually came only to refer to people from the Netherlands. For the record, people in the Netherlands call themselves Nederlanders.

Generally, places ending in a consonant or group of consonants take -ish or -ese. Cf. Poland - Polish; Finland - Finnish; but not Iceland - Iceish, probably because of the overlap of vowels that would result. Icelandic is an irregular. As for something like Burmese, I see no reason why it couldn't just as well be Burmish, but it seems that the concentration of -ese is greater in Asian. (On preview, the Language Log map suggests otherwise...)

Places that end in -an seem to become -ese, as in Japan - Japanese; Sudan - Sudanese. In the case of China and Guyana, it seems that Chinan and Guyanan would be inelegant, and so the ending was dropped for Chinese/Guyanese respectively. The -an thing does not apply in the middle east, as the previous poster mentioned.

For the few places that end in -ish, alternates like Swedes (Swedish), Finns (Finnish), Danes (Danish) also exhibit a pattern.

Uh, lastly, there seems to be a further sub-group within this, which are names that apply to not groups but individuals within a nationality: Spaniard, Dutchman. As for the rhyme or reason to those, search me. Although Dutch has distinct forms for male and female individuals of a given nationality.
posted by softsantear at 2:54 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding Verteans, btw.
posted by softsantear at 2:57 PM on October 17, 2008


Wikipedia has an extensive and interesting article on demonyms, the technical term for this type of word.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:26 PM on October 17, 2008


Vertishenese?
posted by trinity8-director at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2008


I have a favorite (sadly out of print) reference book called What Do You Call A Person From...?, and he says this in his introduction:

When the state of Israel was founded in the late 1940s, the rest of the world wasn't sure what to call the citizens of the new country. Some began using the biblical name Israelite. It was then officially suggested by the foreign secretary ... that the name should be Israeli. It was pointed out that this construction fit in with the style of the area which made a citizen of Iraq an Iraqi and a person from Baghdad a Baghdadi. ...

Israeli worked, but there were many other choices that would have fit in with the broad rules for naming citizens. Commenting on the choice at the time, the National Geographic Society issued a press release stating that the Israeli could just as well have been "called an Israelian, in the manner of the Brazilian, Egyptian, or Babylonian" It added, "He could have been Israelese, following the form for the man from China, Japan, Siam, or Portugal. Taking a leaf from the New Yorker, the Asiatic, the Frenchman or the Nazarene, he could be, respectively, an Israeler, an Israelic, Israelman or Israelene. It went on to say that even Disraeli was a plausible alternative.

What this points out is that the rules are so broad and the exceptions so varied that "citizen names" offer a field day for name collectors.

posted by Airhen at 4:10 PM on October 17, 2008


He = the author, Paul Dickson.
posted by Airhen at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2008


It's only a city, but Cambridge = Cantabrigian.
posted by Forrest Greene at 4:18 PM on October 17, 2008


And someone from Halifax (at least the one in Nova Scotia, Canada) is a Haligonian.
posted by winston at 4:39 PM on October 17, 2008


Versions. Or Vertians. Ive always wondered what you call someone from Tokyo. Tokian? Tokyoian? The wiki linked above doesnt have it.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 5:13 PM on October 17, 2008


Well if you're going to go to all the trouble of inventing a country, you may as well invent your own rule for naming as well. How about Vertanos?
posted by JaredSeth at 5:16 PM on October 17, 2008


According to Dickson, it's Tokyoite.
posted by Airhen at 5:19 PM on October 17, 2008


Note that there's often a different name for people-of-region, or longer-standing group, versus legal citizens of the current state. Jewish and Israeli is a religiously-loaded one, but there's also Persian and Iranian and many others that I could probably think of if it wasn't (hic) Friday night.

So for added realism when naming your people, consider an old/deep name as well as a modern/legal/shallow one.
posted by rokusan at 5:54 PM on October 17, 2008


Say I invent a new country called Verte. What do I call the citizens?

Well, other people will call them Greenies. Perhaps derogatorily.
posted by rokusan at 5:56 PM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the difference between what people call themselves and what others call them.

For instance:

Lao vs. Laotian
Nepali vs. Nepalese
Deutsch vs. German
posted by lunasol at 6:32 PM on October 17, 2008


The word 'Washingtonian' always takes me extra effort to say (what I think is) correctly.
posted by gzimmer at 6:39 PM on October 17, 2008


Someone from Glasgow is a glaswegian.

On this same theme, has anyone noticed some sports commentators referring to the "Italy" player or the "France" player instead of "Italian" and "French"? I've heard this from more than one commentator, in different sports, and it sounds like a total barbarism.
posted by fantasticninety at 7:45 PM on October 17, 2008


I noticed during the recent Olympic games that the US commentators kept referring to the US team as Team USA and the other teams as Germany, Italy, China, etc... I only watched a few moments of the Olympics, so I don't know if this was an isolated instance, but it struck me as pretty ridiculous.

Re: Tokyo - yeah, it's Tokyoite, like Manhattanite, Seattleite, Mefite. But Chicagoan, not Chicagoite. Sigh... the enigma continues.
posted by softsantear at 7:55 PM on October 17, 2008


I know I'm getting a bit far afield here, but let me just mention that two of my most favorite places to live have special words for people who live in the area, but are not native. In Vermont, a newcomer is called a flatlander, and on Cape Cod a newcomer is known as a washashore.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 PM on October 17, 2008


Someone from Glasgow is a glaswegian.
Sometimes known colloquially as a Weegie; there's even a weegie board.
posted by Abiezer at 9:55 PM on October 17, 2008


Dee Xtrovert: The "-ish" or "-ic" ending seems to appear with disproportionate frequency to describe Germanic peoples are in areas dominated by Germanic peoples - Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Icelandic, English, Greenlandic, Nordic . . .

None of these are demonyms except Nordics... it's Finns, Swedes, Danes, Poles, Icelanders, Englishmen (Englishwomen) and Greenlanders.

To make a larger point, it's all convention, but natives may recognize one convention and despise the other.
posted by Kattullus at 11:59 PM on October 17, 2008


I noticed during the recent Olympic games that the US commentators kept referring to the US team as Team USA

"Team America" has acquired a new meaning in the past few years.
posted by oaf at 5:29 AM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Taking a leaf from the New Yorker, the Asiatic, the Frenchman or the Nazarene, he could be, respectively, an Israeler, an Israelic, Israelman or Israelene.

By the way, Israelene is the form used in Greek.
posted by ersatz at 5:59 AM on October 18, 2008


There are no rules. Also, I kind of like Vertese.
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on October 18, 2008


Say I invent a new country called Verte. What do I call the citizens?

Vertecals.

at least, those citizens who are upstanding examples of same.
posted by yohko at 11:44 AM on October 18, 2008


Cf. Poland - Polish; Finland - Finnish; but not Iceland - Iceish, probably because of the overlap of vowels that would result.

No. It's because the first two mean "Land of the Poles (or Finns)". Iceland and Greenland are named for geographic features (although some would say they should have swapped).

many of the adjectives used to represent people or things from Asian nations is formed with the suffix "-ese"

Well, Viennese or Portuguese for one. It's actually the same as the French suffix -aise (hollandaise, etc.) and is ultimately derived from Latin -ensis. This may simply be an artifact of which cultures explored which remote parts of the world and affixed their names.

The Anglo-Saxon suffix -ish has a very similar meaning. I can't find a source (oh for free OED access), but I strongly suspect that the devolution of -ensis into -aise and -ese was influenced by -ish or similar Germanic suffixes used in Northern France. On a longer etymological scale, they may both derive from a common Indo-European root.

This is a subject that is pretty difficult to nail down. Some people names are very ancient and of course predate the era of nation-states. Many countries are named after the peoples instead of the other way around. Newer countries of a certain period were often given Latinized names ("America" comes from "Amerigo", e.g.) In the post-colonial era there is a greater desire to call people what they want to be called, so names like "Iraqi" became more commonly used.

We're even to the point of having countries where the English version is deprecated, such as Côte d'Ivoire and Timor Leste (although East Timor seems used commonly enough still).

So it's basically a patchwork.
posted by dhartung at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


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