'people' (was: Re: autonym)

Lynne Murphy m.l.murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK
Sat May 9 21:28:51 UTC 2009

--On Friday, May 8, 2009 18:24 -0500 Darla Wells <lethe9 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> I have been meaning to ask you all about that. I read somewhere that many
> people have names referring to themselves as people and call outsiders
> other names; I think the example used was the Navaho calling themselves
> Dine and outsiders calling them Navaho. Is that another linguistic urban
> legend?

There are various examples of auto(-ethno)nyms that mean 'people', but it
is debatable whether some of them are true ethnonyms--i.e. used do
distinguish themselves from other groups.  Groups don't need names for
themselves until they come into regular contact with other groups.  So,
there have been cases when a member of a group is asked by an outsider 'and
what do you call yourselves' and the answer they give is 'people'.  But
that may or may not mean that they don't call members of other groups by
that name.

Now, I know I have examples of these things in papers I wrote more than 10
years ago, but I'm in exile from my office during a move, so can't get to
them.  Inuit means 'people', but I can't recall whether it's what they use
(or used in the past) to contrast themselves with other groups. 'Bantu'
means 'people', but is not the name of a single ethnic group.  There are
some (perhaps several) Khoisan ethnonyms that mean 'people' and others that
are uncomplimentary names given to them by other groups...there's a little
on that here: <http://www.khoisan.org/>.


Dr M Lynne Murphy
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and English Language
Arts B135
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QN

phone: +44-(0)1273-678844

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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