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Grammar Question: an American, a Chinese

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Zeppa
4 hours ago, 889 said:

And sometimes, only a Chinese will do:

 

Do you all know the TV sketch where a group of Indians decide they want to go out for 'an English'?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huSP7PtctC4

 

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889

Well, if it's good enough for Somerset Maugham, it's good enough for me:

 

"He was an old man, with a white beard, long and for a Chinese full; his broad face, much wrinkled, especially between the brows, was benign, and his large horn spectacles did not conceal the friendliness of his eyes." On a Chinese Screen (1922).

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realmayo

Me too, if I lived in

Nineteen twenty-two

:P

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889

Few authorities on English usage top Fowler's. This is from the Fourth Edition of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, edited by Jeremy Butterfield and published 2015 by Oxford University Press:

 

"[XXX] (first recorded in 1901) is highly offensive slang for a Chinese."

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realmayo

Still sounds wrong to my ears. I can't help but want the word "Chinese" to behave the same way as the word "English".

 

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889

And finally -- they say all good things must end someday, autumn leaves must fall -- here's Bernstein in The Careful Writer (1965):

 

"CHINAMAN: No, unless your are referring to a maker or seller of porcelain. The proper word for a native of China is Chinese."

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realmayo

Like I already said, I suspect it is grammatically correct to say "a Chinese".

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imron
12 hours ago, 889 said:

And unquestionably fine:

 

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

I question that this is unquestionably fine.

 

If I heard someone say this, my first thought would be "a Chinese what?".  It feels like it is missing a word after 'Chinese'.

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XiaoXi
12 hours ago, realmayo said:

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.

Why do you think they are different? They are continuously used in all the same ways in all literature I've ever come across.

 

They are NEVER used grammatically in any different way:

 

All correct:
I am French
I am English
I am Chinese
I am Spanish

 

All correct, referring to the people of each country:
The French
The English
The Chinese
The Spanish

 

All incorrect:
4 Frenches
4 Englishes
4 Chineses
4 Spanishes

 

All incorrect unless followed by a noun:
1 French
1 English
1 Chinese
1 Spanish

 

The dictionary describes Chinese as an adjective and a plural noun. English is also an adjective and a noun. If Chinese is a plural noun then how can you say "I'm a Chinese" ?

15 hours ago, dwq said:

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.

Ermm no...it was intentional and so obvious it was painful. It also had nothing to do with the thread and the subject we were debating. Its called ad hominem. I didn't take it as a personal attack, it WAS a personal attack. A personal attack is to say something critical about any particular individual....that's the definition of what you did.

10 hours ago, Zeppa said:

Do you all know the TV sketch where a group of Indians decide they want to go out for 'an English'?

That's a different meaning, you're just confusing the issue. We're talking about saying I'm a Chinese or I'm an English in the sense it refers to an individual person of that country.

 

7 hours ago, 889 said:

And finally -- they say all good things must end someday, autumn leaves must fall -- here's Bernstein in The Careful Writer (1965):

 

"CHINAMAN: No, unless your are referring to a maker or seller of porcelain. The proper word for a native of China is Chinese."

Yeah all Chinese people say "I'm a Chinese", that's how this whole thread started. I could probably find loads of quotes from literature with double negatives and worse, it doesn't make them right. Its often just used for effect too.

 

10 hours ago, Zeppa said:

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

No only foreigners need to ask that, as a native I can just 'feel' its wrong as most everyone in this thread could. I was just trying to get to the bottom of why people in China are saying it like that so much. Its possible that those in this thread who feel its possible to say it like that are actually not natives, despite having a high level of English. And native is not an exact term in any case. You could say a Singaporean is a native of English but if you actually listen to their English its a far cry from what we're used to in places like the UK and the US.

 

Sorry to post so many but something else you'd have to consider is that for this to be correct, the word Chinese would have to be an unchanging noun for its plural and singular forms which is also somewhat rare. So 'a Chinese' and '2 Chinese' would need to be correct. Unchanging irregular plural nouns are very few in English. Even those listed that I found could not all be used in this way. For example: glasses, fish, sheep, scissors. Glasses and scissors do not change but you can't just say '2 scissors or '2 glasses', you have to add 'pairs' to the beginning. Only sheep is fine as 1 sheep and 2 sheep, but fish is often used as '2 fishes'.

3 hours ago, imron said:

If I heard someone say this, my first thought would be "a Chinese what?".  It feels like it is missing a word after 'Chinese'.

Nail...hit on head...

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imron
3 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

Sorry to post so many

Merged.

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Zeppa

@lips

I like the Merriam-Webster. Just because it doesn't take an S in the plural doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

As for the Oxford example sentence 'We found a Chinese in Soho'... they didn't have to look far!

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realmayo
5 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

Why do you think they are different? They are continuously used in all the same ways in all literature I've ever come across.

Because:

"a English/Welsh/Spanish" sounds completely wrong to me.

but

"a Chinese/Japanese/Javanese" only sounds rather wrong to me.

hence

for me

there is a difference.

 

Also: plenty of writers have referred to "a Chinese". But they haven't referred to "an English".

That's a difference as well.

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realmayo
5 hours ago, XiaoXi said:

I was just trying to get to the bottom of why people in China are saying it like that so much.

Oh well in that case, they're surely just translating from 中国人。 Chinese uses the noun. So they want to use a noun in English.

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dwq

XiaoXi, you can believe whatever you choose to believe.  I have nothing to add.

 

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Shelley

I have spoken to my English grammar guru, he says there is no rule.

The major thing he pointed out was that it seems to be a difference in usage for American English and British English, "a chinese" is not used in the UK but is common in the USA.

I am going to end my contributions to this topic by saying if it sounds wrong it probably is, so I will continue with my usages.

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