Why do countries use -istan in the names?
October 25, 2007 2:24 PM   Subscribe

LanguageFilter: Can anyone point me to the reason that several country names have an -istan ending?

Does it have some meaning, like "land of"?

On a related note, does anyone know what sets the official term to refer to someone from a country?

Someone from the USA is termed an American while someone from Pakistan is a Pakistani (sp?). I was just wondering if there is some standard like the "i before e, except after c" rule, or if it is just set by the nation themselves.
posted by slavlin to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: 'Stan' means 'tribal homeland'

More info - the construction is Indo-European in origin.

Found by googling 'stan country'.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:27 PM on October 25, 2007


Best answer: Did you check Wikipedia?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:27 PM on October 25, 2007


An Afghan coworker told me that it translates, roughly, to "garden of."
posted by lekvar at 2:27 PM on October 25, 2007


Here is another reference.
posted by angry.polymath at 2:28 PM on October 25, 2007


Response by poster: Thank you. I never thought to search Wikipedia for a word part.

Still wondering about the people names though.
posted by slavlin at 2:32 PM on October 25, 2007


I was just wondering if there is some standard like the "i before e, except after c" rule, or if it is just set by the nation themselves

It's certainly not set by the nation themselves. Speakers of any language determine what the words for other nationalities are. The other nationalities don't get a vote.

Someone from the US is termed an American in American English. Countries that use other languages have other words, like "americain" or "nortenyo" or "meiguo."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:35 PM on October 25, 2007


The last part is still somewhat confusing to me as well.

I have heard people from Afghanistan referred to non-pejoratively as Afghans or Afghanis. Yet if you were refer to people from Pakistan as Pakis, that would be considered an ethnic slur.
posted by Tommy Gnosis at 2:37 PM on October 25, 2007


As for why it's "Pakistani" in English and not "Pakistanian" or "Paklandish," you might as well ask why it's "cheeseburger" and not "griggle."

For fun, you might look at Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire, which is set in a slightly future world where people refer to other nationalities by the terms they use themselves. So you would get on a plane in America to fly to Koln, Deutschland to go to a conference where you meet a Magyar friend who's working in Nippon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:39 PM on October 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


Not to derail, but it has never made sense to me that we refer to other nationalities with different words than they use to refer to themselves.
posted by gnutron at 2:50 PM on October 25, 2007


Just an added datapoint: practically every other country calls Finland a variation of, well, Finland, while we call our country Suomi.

As to how this came to be, all I have is this little stub on wikipedia.

See also Holland/Netherlands/Dutch.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:00 PM on October 25, 2007


Not just tribal homeland - the Polish word for "state" (senses 1-10) is also "stan", so I'm guessing the etymology and metaphor are as old as they come.
posted by migurski at 3:07 PM on October 25, 2007


On a related note, does anyone know what sets the official term to refer to someone from a country?

It's just a set of conventions and historical chance, for the most part.

English speakers refer to many people by names which don't come close to what they use to describe themselves: Hungarian (Magyar), German (Deutsch) and so on. "German" is a good example of a country-of-origin adjective with wildly varying forms depending on the language - German, Deutsch, nemet, tedesco, allemand, neamt . . .

Obviously, one can make some generalizations:

Countries whose names end in "-a" or "-ia" almost always have their citizens described as "-an" or "-ian." Uruguayan, Brazilian, Indian, Mexican, Kenyan, Australian. (One might wonder why "Canadian" adds an "i," but I suspect it just flows better that way.)

Many countries near Britain take the only-slightly different forms of "-ish" or "-sh" or "-ch": Welsh, French, Spanish, Irish, Danish, Finnish. These are all places long-known to English speakers; "newer" discoveries tend to take that "-ian" or "-an" ending or the "-ese" ending. Senegalese, Burmese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese.

I have heard people from Afghanistan referred to non-pejoratively as Afghans or Afghanis. Yet if you were refer to people from Pakistan as Pakis, that would be considered an ethnic slur.

I think the difference there is that "Afghan" and "Afghani" and "Afghanistani" were used for centuries and not one of them was created with a sort of slurrish intent. But "Pakistan" is a very new (and invented) word to describe a new and invented state. "Paki" began almost from the start as a slur. In other words, it's offensive because it's used offensively often enough, not simply because it's a truncated form.

Just an added datapoint: practically every other country calls Finland a variation of, well, Finland, while we call our country Suomi.

There are theories that the name arose because some word like "suomaa" has the meaning of "swamp" or "fen," but that could be folk etymology. Finland is rare among western European countries because its language was largely oral and unstandardized for much longer than other national Euro languages, and terms similar to "Finn" were used to describe people living in the area for nearly 2,000 years - so it could be that this name trumped some variant of "Suomi" in English and other languages simply because Finnish (the language) kept such a low profile for so long!

As a side note, I have to mention Robert Wyatt's great song about newly emerging nations and previously oppressed people searching for a place in the 21st-century world. It's called "Dondestan" and is a nice play on the names of many of these new "-stan" nations, as it means "where are we" in Spanish.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Not to derail, but it has never made sense to me that we refer to other nationalities with different words than they use to refer to themselves."

There's no single reason. Adjectival description of nationality can have as complicated an etymology as any other word. Especially in English, as some words has a Romantic etymology and some have a Germanic etymology.

E.g. In English, we refer to Germany and Germans, even though they use Deutschand and Deutscher/Deutscherin. Our use of the word German is derived from Latin, when Rome referred to that rough area as Germania. French speakers refer to Germany as Allamagne, but I don't really know the etymological reason why.

In general, an exonym refers to any word that describes a place (and by proxy, its inhabitants) using words other than what they use.

However, it's important not to confuse exonyms with words simply being adopted into another language. For example, the rough area of France was known as Francia in Latin. It's an shortening of Imperium Francorum ("Empire of the Franks"). Our English France/French derives from this, as does the French's France/Français. German speakers use Frankenreich/Französisch have the same derivation. The etymology for all of these words is the same; their differences are merely due to adaptation.

On preview: Dee Xtrovert largely beat me to it. But she didn't mention exonym, so I think this answer still adds a little something.
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:27 PM on October 25, 2007


There's an amusing section of N. Stephenson's trio of books called "The Baroque Cycle", btw, about the meaning of "-stan". It's a good read overall, so check it out.
posted by cmiller at 3:47 PM on October 25, 2007


gnutron writes "Not to derail, but it has never made sense to me that we refer to other nationalities with different words than they use to refer to themselves."

We speak a different language than they do. Different languages use different words for the same thing.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:03 PM on October 25, 2007


Nelsormensch: French speakers refer to Germany as Allamagne
Nitpick: Allemagne.

posted by loiseau at 5:05 PM on October 25, 2007


"India" is Hindustan.

"Armenia" is Hayastan.

"Ireland" is Éire.

Is the Latinate "state" derived from -stan (similarly to stadt)? Maybe.
posted by meehawl at 5:23 PM on October 25, 2007


"India" is also often called "Bharat."
posted by sweetkid at 5:26 PM on October 25, 2007


gnutron writes "Not to derail, but it has never made sense to me that we refer to other nationalities with different words than they use to refer to themselves."

We speak a different language than they do. Different languages use different words for the same thing.

mr_roboto: Unless you call your buddy Jorge "George" in English, I think you'll find exceptions are made for proper names. It's peculiar why we don't make the same exception for country names.
posted by nightchrome at 6:56 PM on October 25, 2007


There's an amusing section of... "The Baroque Cycle"... about the meaning of "-stan"... so check it out.

Did you really just recommend a 3400-page story for a single anecdote buried somewhere in the middle?

Because if you did... well... kudos to you sir. Kudos.
posted by rokusan at 7:43 PM on October 25, 2007


-stan

"country," source of place names such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc., from Pers. -stan "country," from Indo-Iranian *stanam "place," lit. "where one stands," from PIE *sta-no-, from base *sta- "to stand"


source
posted by gimonca at 8:33 PM on October 25, 2007


Also, Happy Dave's link says:

It has been brought into English as the word stan, which I believe has yet to appear in any dictionary.

The author needs to update his text (from 1998?)...it's in the online OED with the notation "DRAFT ENTRY Sept. 2004".
posted by gimonca at 8:44 PM on October 25, 2007


Oh, and Bratislava, Pressburg, and Pozsony are all the same place: historically those are Slovak, German and Hungarian. Lots of former Hapsburg dominion places have 3-4 different place names depending on whose language you're using. See Wikipedia for how this came about in this example.
posted by gimonca at 8:53 PM on October 25, 2007


I have heard people from Afghanistan referred to non-pejoratively as Afghans or Afghanis. Yet if you were refer to people from Pakistan as Pakis, that would be considered an ethnic slur.

"Afghanistan" means "country of the Afghans". Pakistan, on the other hand, is a modern creation: Punjab, Afghani, Kashmir, India, and Baluchistan (coined in 1933 before it even existed). There is no people called "the Pakis", it is a country of several peoples. In most of the other cases the first section of the name is already the English name for the people, e.g. Kurdistan.

(Note that in Pakistan and India, the word "Pak" is acceptable headlinese for the country as an entity, e.g. PAK TO ATTEND TALKS, PAK OVER S'PORE IN CUP. It is primarily in Britain that the use of "Paki" as an all-purpose designation for South Asians (e.g anyone from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, etc.) in primarily negative contexts has made it a slur very akin to the N-word in the U.S.)

The use of -stan plus the "i" suffix is thus unnecessary in most cases, but see the difference in meaning between, say, "Hindu" and "Hindustani".
posted by dhartung at 10:46 PM on October 25, 2007


Tangent filter: Wikipedia suggests 'Allemagne' as the french name for Germany stems from the Suebic, from the southern Germanic Alemanni
posted by Smoosh Faced Lion at 2:42 AM on October 26, 2007


of course there are various reasons, but it is sometimes related to the naming conventions of either the area itself or of a conquering/"discovering" empire.

for example, the "i" ending is the usual arabic suffix for expressing nationality.
posted by lgyre at 9:35 AM on October 26, 2007


nightchrome writes "Unless you call your buddy Jorge 'George' in English, I think you'll find exceptions are made for proper names"

Personal names, but not the names of countries and nationalities.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:11 PM on October 27, 2007


American Heritage Dictionary says: "-stan is formed from the Iranian root *stā-, "to stand, stay," and means "place (where one stays), home, country." See Word History note for Pakistan, which is an arbitrary construction instead of the traditional formulation of: the resident people's name + where they live.
posted by riccardom at 5:47 AM on September 1, 2008


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