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Kenny同志

Grammar Question: an American, a Chinese

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Brian US

http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1712120

Post #7:

This has come up before, but it must have been in a thread about a different nationality, as I can't find it. 'Chinese' used to be usable as a noun for a person, but it basically no longer is. Likewise Japanese, Portuguese. The apparent plural 'the Chinese are' is a use of the adjective: compare 'the French are', another adjective, and contrast with 'the Germans are', which is a plural noun.

Some nationalities have person nouns (Swede, Serb, Finn), usually identical in form with the adjective (American, German, Russian); others have no person noun, only an adjective (English, French, Chinese, Portuguese). For these the adjective can be used on its own (the French are). Otherwise it can't (cross.gifthe American are). Hmm, some like Swede/Swedish allows both: the Swedish are; Swedes are. The -ese words used to be person nouns also.

It also grinds my gears when I tell people I'm American and then I get the question,"Which country? America is a continent!" It's always a Canadian...I don't call myself an United Statesian. It's like they learn it in school or get a pamphlet on how to annoy Americans.

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Lu
It's like they learn it in school
I learned in school that while the country is not called 'Amerika', the people from it are correctly called 'Amerikanen'. If that is any consolation :-)

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muirm

I think tooironic nailed it in the other thread saying that English speakers tend not to "use attributes as total-noun-descriptors". If you say someone is "a" something, you are saying that "something" is what defines him. It's no surprise this carries a negative connotation because when else do you make sweeping generalizations about other people but to disparage them?

However, I don't have any qualms about referring to myself as an American (as the song says, it is what I am proud to be). I was trying to decide if "I am American" and "I am an American" were interchangeable in my lexicon and I could only come up with one counterexample: were I running towards the embassy during some sort of crisis I would be waving my passport and shouting "I'm an American, open the gates!". On the other hand, I hardly ever have to choose which to say because the question is almost always "where are you from?", not "what (nationality) are you?" (or it's in Chinese, which doesn't seem to have this type of silly problem).

Of course this distinction doesn't apply to "Chinese" because as fanglu first pointed out, the -ese just doesn't allow nounification.

United Statesian

I think the proper term is a United States of Americaian.

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creamyhorror
It also grinds my gears when I tell people I'm American and then I get the question,"Which country? America is a continent!" It's always a Canadian...I don't call myself an United Statesian. It's like they learn it in school or get a pamphlet on how to annoy Americans.

I've been trying to switch to referring to you guys as USians, but it's hard to do it to your faces :P

I'd actually forgotten we'd discussed this question already, lol.

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Gleaves

A priest, a rabbi, and a Chinese walk into a bar... That does sound weird.

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roddy

Merging, thanks Lu.

Always sounds unfinished to me. A Chinese what?

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XiaoXi

Digging up a somewhat old thread but I just thought I'd research it since I've heard more Chinese people say "I'm a Chinese" than I've had 'out breaths' and of course heard it again today. Is that what is taught in schools there or what? You can say I'm an American, but you can't say I'm a Chinese, I'm an English or whatever. I don't know what the rule is but it perhaps has to do with the word ending in the letter 'n'?? For example: 

 

I'm a nigerian, I'm an American, I'm an Italian (perhaps ok), I'm a German.

 

Although to be honest I think I have a tendency to feel that they're all wrong. That's why some of them sound possibly ok but others don't while others sound downright painful to the ears like the aforementioned 'I'm a Chinese' and "I'm an English".

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Shelley
3 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

I'm a nigerian

Doesn't sound right to me.

I second 889 and I don't think there is a rule with the "n"

 

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XiaoXi
22 hours ago, 889 said:

No "n" rule: He's a Filipino, she's a Brit.

Yeah perhaps not, 'he's a Filipino' sounds very wrong to me. To be honest I think the reality is you can't do it at all. 'Brit' is not what we're talking about here, that should be 'a British' which would obviously be wrong. We're talking about words that refer to both nationality and a person of that nationality at the same time. You can't say 'I am Brit' so that is something different. A Brit is an established way of referring to a British person. Just like a Frenchman, an Englishman etc.

 

20 hours ago, Shelley said:

Doesn't sound right to me.

I second 889 and I don't think there is a rule with the "n"

Well ok well like I said they are probably in fact ALL incorrect. Some of us are used to some of them and thus sound ok but others disagree. Just like earlier in the thread with much discrepancy over whether 'he's a German' sounds right or not. The most obvious ones that sound wrong are when we have an established way of saying it already, like for example a Frenchman, an Englishman, a Brit.

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Zeppa

It's to do with whether a word is an adjective or a noun, not with an 'n' rule. Some of these adjectives are already recognized as nouns, so that makes it confusing. You can say He's a German but I would not say He's an English. (I think there's a problem with English/British - for instance, I never say 'I'm a Brit', although it's grammatically correct, because it just sounds so American to me!)

You can't say She's a French either.

The use of adjectives as nouns is growing, so I think She's a Chinese is OK, but I think you will find people saying it's wrong, because they don't accept language change.

Google 'nationalities' for more opinions.

Here's someone's list:

http://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/english-grammar/nationalities/

 

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XiaoXi
17 hours ago, Zeppa said:

It's to do with whether a word is an adjective or a noun, not with an 'n' rule. Some of these adjectives are already recognized as nouns, so that makes it confusing. You can say He's a German but I would not say He's an English. (I think there's a problem with English/British - for instance, I never say 'I'm a Brit', although it's grammatically correct, because it just sounds so American to me!)

You can't say She's a French either.

The use of adjectives as nouns is growing, so I think She's a Chinese is OK, but I think you will find people saying it's wrong, because they don't accept language change.

Google 'nationalities' for more opinions.

Here's someone's list:

http://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/english-grammar/nationalities/

That link does not say 'she's a Chinese' is ok, it says China, Chinese, a Chinese person. No 'he's a Chinese' is definitely very wrong, in fact its not different to 'He's an English'. You should really have checked that link yourself before posting it. :P

 

But it does say 'a Nigerian' so I guess I was right about that at least!

 

If you can say I'm a Chinese, then that suggest its countable and thus you can say ChineseS. I think that's the rule here. Looks like 'a Filipino' is fine too.

 

On 2017/10/12 at 7:25 PM, Shelley said:

Doesn't sound right to me.

I second 889 and I don't think there is a rule with the "n"

 

Looks like I was right after all about Nigerian  - http://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/english-grammar/nationalities/

 

Also BBC news have used Nigerian in the countable form 'Nigerians' several times: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-39731109 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-40720985 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-39268088

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Shelley
8 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

Looks like I was right after all about Nigerian

 

However correct it is grammatically, I think it sounds terrible and would never call someone a Nigerian, I would just say he is Nigerian or he is from Nigeria. I think its because it is to do with it being a noun or an adjective

 

I think it sounds rude to refer to a person as an object (noun) so I prefer to describe (adjective) the person as being a certain nationality.

I was not taught to use that pattern, I think it was also considered impolite in my school.

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Zeppa
8 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

That link does not say 'she's a Chinese' is ok, it says China, Chinese, a Chinese person. No 'he's a Chinese' is definitely very wrong, in fact its not different to 'He's an English'. You should really have checked that link yourself before posting it. :P

 

Sorry, I didn't realize it was an old thread.

 

The reason I linked to that site was because I saw the question as being about how the English language deals with nationalities. I know it says 'a Chinese' is wrong, but I think it's creeping in, although as you say one does not refer to 'Chineses'. I described it as 'someone's list' and did not intend it to be seen as a black-and-white record of what's right and what's wrong.

 

But I was really replying to some of the 2011 posts, so I apologize about that.

 

Funnily enough, I have found someone online claiming that if a nationality/ethnic term ends in a sibilant, e.g. Chinese ending in an s-sound, you can't pluralize it, whereas you can with words ending in other letters, such as -n. I had never heard of this n-rule and I have not researched it now either. In fact, I should be doing something completely different so I am off to do it.

 

Final remark: there seemed to be two things going on in this thread. Shelley wrote that she would never write 'I am a Canadian' but only 'I am Canadian'. Both are perfectly grammatically correct. Same goes for 'a Nigerian'. Anyone who objects to that is presumably doing it for political or similar reasons. I see Shelley has replied again but I can't comment on that approach as I simply don't understand it.

 

 

 

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Shelley

Its not political, I just think it sounds terrible to the ear and feel its impolite too.

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XiaoXi
37 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

Sorry, I didn't realize it was an old thread.

Well I meant the link your provided yourself stated that Chinese was incorrect for use in this sense. But yes I did dig up an old thread here.

 

38 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

The reason I linked to that site was because I saw the question as being about how the English language deals with nationalities. I know it says 'a Chinese' is wrong, but I think it's creeping in, although as you say one does not refer to 'Chineses'. I described it as 'someone's list' and did not intend it to be seen as a black-and-white record of what's right and what's wrong.

Well no its not creeping in and I don't think it will do any more than "I'm a scottish" would. I've only ever heard Chinese people say it. But then they frequently say "Where are you come from" too and other errors but I doubt that will 'creep in' either. Its the norm in China to say "I'm a Chinese" and "where are you come from" rather than "I am a Chinese person" or "Where DO you come from". They don't always say it like that but I've heard the former way, way more than the latter.

43 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

Funnily enough, I have found someone online claiming that if a nationality/ethnic term ends in a sibilant, e.g. Chinese ending in an s-sound, you can't pluralize it, whereas you can with words ending in other letters, such as -n. I had never heard of this n-rule and I have not researched it now either. In fact, I should be doing something completely different so I am off to do it.

I never meant that an "n rule" actually existed, I just noticed it seemed to be the ones ending in n that were ok. And from your list it looks like all of them are...Australian, Canadian, Austrian, German, Nigerian etc....but there are also ones that don't end in n that are also ok. Ones that end in s, se, sh etc seem to never be ok which is why "I'm a Chinese" always sounds painful to the ear of a native. But it seems to be the only one we ever hear, I've never heard anyone say any others wrongly but then Asia is pretty famous for bad English what with all the Chinglish signs and such and Japan with their beloved L/R reversal.

 

46 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

Final remark: there seemed to be two things going on in this thread. Shelley wrote that she would never write 'I am a Canadian' but only 'I am Canadian'. Both are perfectly grammatically correct. Same goes for 'a Nigerian'. Anyone who objects to that is presumably doing it for political or similar reasons. I see Shelley has replied again but I can't comment on that approach as I simply don't understand it.

Well that seems to just be a personal thing for Shelley. All the words that end in n are fine and even used in BBC news. But some people personally find certain words like American English terms or whatever annoying. Some people hate to use 'lol' and such too. You can certainly avoid using it by simply saying "I am Nigerian" or "26 Nigerian people". But yeah I don't see why say saying "he's a Canadian" would be impolite either but each to his own.

 

I'm sure its due to countable objects. There all nouns are they not? I don't see how 'English' is not a noun although I don't now much about grammar but you can't say "I'm an English".

 

A Canadian, 2 Canadians - countable.

An English, 2 Englishes.....not countable..

A Chinese, 2 Chineses....not countable.

A dog, 2 dogs - countable.

A grass, 2 grasses....not countable.

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Zeppa
Quote

 

I agree with you about Chinese, but usage can change. However, I have no evidence of this.

 

Grass, btw, can be countable. It can mean a type of grass - I have planted 6 different grasses in the border - or it can in British English mean an informant.

 

You say it is important that this is a countable noun. Well, I think every noun indicating a nationality is going to be countable, so when I say it's important that 'Nigerian' is a noun, whereas 'English' is an adjective, I am really saying the same as you. The very use of 'a' in 'a Nigerian' indicates that it's countable.

 

As Brian US wrote in 2011, 'a Chinese' used to be used as a countable noun but it no longer is. Here is an excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary of English:

 

a. A native of China.  [The plural Chineses was in regular use during 17th cent.: since it became obsolete Chinese has been singular and plural; in modern times a singular Chinee has arisen in vulgar use in U.S. (So sailors say Maltee, Portuguee.)]

1606   E. Scott (title)    An Exact Discourse of the..East Indians, as well Chyneses as Iauans.
1667   Milton Paradise Lost iii. 438   Sericana, where Chineses drive With Sails and Wind thir canie Waggons light.
1697   W. Dampier New Voy. around World xv. 406   The Chinese in general are tall.
1702   J. Cunningham in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 23 1206   Saying that the Chineses are strangers to the art of grafting.
1842   J. C. Prichard Nat. Hist. Man 228   The Chinese have long been the most numerous and powerful of these nations.
1848   S. W. Williams Middle Kingdom II. xiv. 52   If a Chinese feared or expected something from a foreigner.

 

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XiaoXi
8 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

Grass, btw, can be countable. It can mean a type of grass - I have planted 6 different grasses in the border - or it can in British English mean an informant.

Grass as an informant is a different word entirely so not relevant here. Grass in normal usage is not countable, your usage has a different meaning and not to blades of grass, in fact I remembered it as being used as an example of non countable objects. Although your usage still seems strange, I think it would be more normal to say types of grass.

 

Words can be non countable in one meaning and countable in another. Like 'light' for example. Light itself is not countable but A light is. You'd have to use 'shard of light' with light itself but for describing a light source, like a lamp you can use light and its then countable.

Both English and Nigerian are listed as both a noun and an adjective in the dictionary so I'm not sure its that reason.

 

14 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

As Brian US wrote in 2011, 'a Chinese' used to be used as a countable noun but it no longer is. Here is an excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary of English:

Yes well all languages were weird in the past. Try reading the grammar in the old testament...not to mention all the completely different words.

15 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

I agree with you about Chinese, but usage can change. However, I have no evidence of this.

That would be a really huge grammar change if we started affecting the language if we started expressing non countable objects by adding an S on the end. But you may be right and soon enough we'll all be saying "where are you come from?" too....

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Zeppa

I think everyone's questions have been answered here so I think I will leave you to it. Your only question is if so many Chinese people say 'a Chinese' are they wrong? Yes, they are wrong!

Mind you, I spent years teaching about English verbs in Germany and telling people not to say 'I'm loving it' but 'I love it', but with the help of McDonalds it has really become acceptable.

 

About grasses: certainly not relevant. But we do the same thing with coffees and teas, meaning cups of coffee. Coffee is uncountable but we say a coffee meaning one cup of coffee. But never mind that.

 

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XiaoXi
1 hour ago, Zeppa said:

Mind you, I spent years teaching about English verbs in Germany and telling people not to say 'I'm loving it' but 'I love it', but with the help of McDonalds it has really become acceptable.

Yeah its a catchphrase which has a meaning of its own, but doesn't really have the same meaning as 'I love it' which is still normally used. It also depends where you are, it may be popular in the US but if I said "I'm loving it!" in England I'm sure they'd just think I was a moron. Same goes for stuff like "Amen to that!" etc. Anyway, catchphrases will come and go as you say. We also get a lot of 'urban' English where the grammar is all wrong, for example almost everything Eddie Murphy says, but yet its all still considered incorrect (double negatives, grammar tenses etc) and had not been adopted by the vast majority of the population.

 

What's most ironic is I found a post in zhidao.baidu.com with someone asking once and for all if its possible to "I'm a Chinese" or not and of course another Chinese person had replied and said "yeah its fine!". I find English learning and teaching in China is very often 'the blind leading the blind". The teachers are almost always Chinese and have a very average standard of English at best. No 'C2 language ability requirement' like in the west. I've met and chatted to many in China who are English teachers over the years so I know a lot about it.

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