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Kenny同志

Grammar Question: an American, a Chinese

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889

My ear tells me "I'm a Chinese" isn't wrong. Just that it can, as the attached guide says, be awkward sometimes. But awkward doesn't mean wrong.

 

Honestly, who can object to something like, "So you're a Russian. I'm a Chinese! No big deal."

 

(From Garner's Modern English Usage, page 161, via Google Books.)

 

A Chinese.jpg

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Shelley
1 hour ago, 889 said:

But awkward doesn't mean wrong.

It does sound awkward to my ear. I have always found different ways to say it.

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XiaoXi
7 hours ago, 889 said:

My ear tells me "I'm a Chinese" isn't wrong. Just that it can, as the attached guide says, be awkward sometimes. But awkward doesn't mean wrong.

 

Honestly, who can object to something like, "So you're a Russian. I'm a Chinese! No big deal."

That doesn't make any sense at all. "I'm a Nigerian" is ok because its also ok with Canadian, American etc etc. If "I'm a Chinese" is ok then certainly "I"m an English" would be fine too. The only possible reason is because 1 billion people keep repeating it that way again and again. "Where are you come from" also sounds awkward, its not like they're saying "You where come from you" so its not 100% wrong. Awkward almost always DOES mean wrong. That's why natives always have a 'feeling' that something is wrong grammatically...its not that we'll say that a sentence is wrong grammatically and then go on to explain about the position of the verb, talk about adjectives etc, we'll just say 'its wrong' without explanation because we have that feeling as a native.

 

You could even get used to "Where are you come from" and if you analyse it like you are with "I'm a Chinese" you could see that maybe it even makes more sense. "Where DO you come from" seems to suggest a continuous action.

 

Its always just a feeling so, yes, awkward to the ear of a native does invariably mean wrong. I'm sure if you went out on the streets of the UK and asked people if they felt "I'm a Chinese" or "I"m an English" were correct you would get a pretty overwhelming consensus that there not correct at all.

 

Regarding your attachment, the examples are a little more subtle but still sound wrong to me. I think just saying it outright as "I'm a Chinese" or "he's a Chinese" like the Chinese normally do sounds particularly painful. See what I just did there without thinking? THE Chinese. You can't say THE American, or THE Nigerian, so it can't be used in that way. You can also say THE English.

 

Sorry but I really have to insist, "I'm a Chinese" is 100% wrong! People may use it but then Eddie Murphy says "I didn't do nothing" but that don't (sic) make it right.

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XiaoXi
6 hours ago, Shelley said:

It does sound awkward to my ear. I have always found different ways to say it.

Just wondering what 'The Nigerian' means to you (as in The English, The French etc). Does it mean all of the Nigerian people or one particular Nigerian?

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XiaoXi

People keep saying perhaps "I'm a Chinese" is fine but just like "I'm an American" that means its a countable thing. So therefore you could also say "15 Chineses" just like you can say "15 Americans".

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realmayo

(misposted)

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lips

"Chinese" can be plural or singular.  No need to add an "s" to the end.

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Zeppa

Xiaoxi, if you're so certain it's wrong, why did you ask us whether it is wrong?

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realmayo

I think the answer to this question is 'nominalised adjectives' :tong. Nominalised adjectives are adjectives that are used as nouns. So: "the bold" or "the brave" means "bold people in general" or "brave people in general". This usage is 100% normal and natural-sounding. Another example: "the dead": "the dead will rise again". Perfectly normal.

 

Two key points about nominalised adjectives.
 

1. They are used for a collective group of people. You wouldn't use it to describe just one person. You can't say "look out, there's a walking dead coming!" It's "the walking dead", referring to people, not singular.

2. For some reason, place-adjectives ending in 's' or 'ch' like English, Welsh, French, Dutch, are all commonly used as nominalised adjectives.

 

And I think that words like Chinese, Japanese etc sound too close to words like English, Welsh, French, Dutch. So they are treated as if they are nominalised adjectives.

 

And I think that this is why "I'm a Chinese" is problematic. Because we hear it & automatically think it's being used as one of these nominalised adjectives. And they're all plural!

 

So "a Chinese" sounds wrong because it sounds like it's breaking the fundamental rule about singular/plural. It's like saying "I am a people".

 

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realmayo
49 minutes ago, lips said:

"Chinese" can be plural or singular.

 

Nominalised adjectives like 'English', 'Dutch', 'French' must be treated as plural. The Dutch. You can't say "a Dutch".

Nouns like "American" are, of course, regular nouns and can be plural or singular.

 

The question is: is 'Chinese' a regular noun, which then as you say, can be plural or singular?

Or is it a nominalised adjective, which must be plural?

 

 

Perhaps in strict grammatical terms, 'Chinese', 'Japanese', are in fact normal nouns like 'American(s)'.

And, like, for example, "rice", their singular and the plural forms are the same, with no 's' added.

 

But:

 

While that may be true grammatically (I've no idea), I think that they definitely sound as if they are nominalised adjectives like 'English', 'Dutch', 'French'.

It can't be a coincidence that the -ese on the end of 'Chinese' is similar in the 's' sound to the endings of Engli-sh, Dut-ch, Fren-ch.

 

So: words like Chinese, Japanese, are treated as nominalised adjectives. Or alternatively, they actually are nominalised adjectives.

 

Either way: they must be plural.

Which means that 'Chinese' shouldn't be singular.

 

The term 'Chinaman' is now archaic, or offensive. But the fact that in the past people needed to invent this word, to go alongside 'Englishman', 'Dutchman', 'Irishman', strongly suggests that 'Chinese' is used the same way as 'English'. And if you can't say "I'm an English" then you shouldn't say "I'm a Chinese."

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Shelley
9 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

Just wondering what 'The Nigerian' means to you (as in The English, The French etc). Does it mean all of the Nigerian people or one particular Nigerian?

To me it would mean one particular Nigerian. I would only use it to distinguish between nationalities so if I was asked which of 2 people I was referring to I might say the Nigerian, but if there was any other identifying property I would probably use that, It was the tall man, the man with the hat, etc. unless I knew for certain he was Nigerian.

 

Mistaking peoples nationalities has been a problem I have encountered too many times and for some reason the people involved always seemed to really get uppity about. I am Canadian and don't like being mistaken for being American, but its not so upsetting that it causes me terrible anguish. Other people who I or others have mistaken their nationality, can get very upset and can be really unpleasant in their response. This is one reason I veer away from using nationality to identify people, getting it wrong is not worth it.

 

 So in that paragraph I didn't use an American or a Canadian. There is always more than one way to say something and some things sound much better. Take the word "get" in every situation were you use "get" there is better verb to use - get over the fence - climb over the fence, get a new coat - buy a new coat, or indeed if you didn't pay for it, steal a new coat and so on.

 

XiaoXi makes a good point about native speakers just knowing something is wrong without necessarily knowing the rules or reasons behind it. Grammar rules are often superseded by common usage and it takes some time, if at all, before common use is absorbed into the written rules. Only just recently here in the UK the "i before e..." rule has been discredited and dropped from school curriculums.

 

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889

To repear, there's awkward:

 

"You better ask a Chinese how to pronounce that."

 

Not quite so awkward:

 

"I asked a young, smartly-dressed Chinese for directions."

 

And unquestionably fine:

 

"At 6'2" he was tall for a Chinese."

 

Why there's a difference I have no idea. But there certainly is.

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dwq

@XiaoXi, since we're in a thread about correct usage of English... Please do look up the difference between it's and its and use them correctly.

 

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Shelley

@889

If you put "person" after the Chinese in each of your examples it sounds right. I think in some instances the unsaid "person" is ok and sometimes not.

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XiaoXi
5 hours ago, Zeppa said:

Xiaoxi, if you're so certain it's wrong, why did you ask us whether it is wrong?

I think you'll find I didn't...maybe you can find the quote where I said that?

 

5 hours ago, realmayo said:

And I think that words like Chinese, Japanese etc sound too close to words like English, Welsh, French, Dutch. So they are treated as if they are nominalised adjectives.

What do you mean by too close? They are used in the same way "The English", "The Chinese" both refer to the people of England or China.

 

1 hour ago, Shelley said:

To me it would mean one particular Nigerian. I would only use it to distinguish between nationalities so if I was asked which of 2 people I was referring to I might say the Nigerian, but if there was any other identifying property I would probably use that, It was the tall man, the man with the hat, etc. unless I knew for certain he was Nigerian.

Ok that is the correct usage then, I just wondered.

 

1 hour ago, 889 said:

"You better ask a Chinese how to pronounce that."

 

Not quite so awkward:

 

"I asked a young, smartly-dressed Chinese for directions."

 

And unquestionably fine:

 

"At 6'2" he was tall for a Chinese."

No difference for me for any of them....especially that your first and third example are grammatically identical. Not sure where you're going with that.

 

32 minutes ago, dwq said:

since we're in a thread about correct usage of English... Please do look up the difference between it's and its and use them correctly.

Very bad contribution to the thread, somewhat pathetic to resort to personal attacks with absolutely no provocation. I'm perfectly aware of the difference but generally many people don't bother to distinguish since its such a small thing, especially in a casual forum, and not a newspaper article or whatever. It also has no bearing on spoken English whereas this thread certainly does. Equally pathetic contribution would me to say you should have written 'about THE correct usage of English'. I suggest you learn how to conduct yourself better in a forum.

 

21 minutes ago, Shelley said:

If you put "person" after the Chinese in each of your examples it sounds right. I think in some instances the unsaid "person" is ok and sometimes not.

Yes exactly, that's the correct usage. I don't know where he was going with those examples, they're all equally wrong.

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realmayo
56 minutes ago, 889 said:

And unquestionably fine:

 

"At 6'2" he was tall for a Chinese."

 

Doesn't sound unquestionably fine to me.

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dwq

XiaoXi, apparently I misjudged you to be one who is passionate about the (thanks for pointing that out) correct usage of English. I'm sorry you took it as a personal attack, which was not an intention on my part.

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realmayo
33 minutes ago, XiaoXi said:
5 hours ago, realmayo said:

And I think that words like Chinese, Japanese etc sound too close to words like English, Welsh, French, Dutch. So they are treated as if they are nominalised adjectives.

What do you mean by too close? They are used in the same way "The English", "The Chinese" both refer to the people of England or China.

 

I mean that Chinese/Japanese end in an 's' sound. This sounds like the endings of the following: English/Dutch/French/Spanish/Welsh, which end in either 'ch' or 'sh' sounds. Those latter words aren't nouns but are nominalised adjectives. I suggest that most native English speakers feel they should also treat Chinese/Japanese/etc as nominalised adjectives, even if they are not.


 

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Zeppa
Quote

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".

@Xiaoxi: I misread your meaning - I thought between the lines you were asking what is right and what is wrong.

 

 

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