ELL: Re: 'Reburial of 500 Huron'...

Victor Golla vkgolla at UCDAVIS.EDU
Thu Dec 9 09:14:12 UTC 1999


It was dumb of me not to have thought of some of the non-American
Indian occurrences of zero-plural ethnonyms that Tony Woodbury
and others have cited in rebuttal of my claim that this is an
American phenomenon.  I also think Tony is pretty much on target
with his hypothesis that the category marked by zero-plural
ethnonyms is "tribal" and "exotic".

There is also, clearly, something phonologically exotic about
most of the non-pluralizing tribal names, especially when they
have vowel finals.  That  (or the echo of Latin -i) seems to
be the best explanation for the contrast "Lapps" (always s-plural)
vs. "Saami" (mostly zero-plural).  (In a quick search of the UC
Library catalogue, I found 18 books with "the Lapps" in their
titles;  zero with *"the Lapp"; five with "the Saami";  and two
with "the Saamis".)

Both in the Americas and elsewhere, names in the zero-plural
category are almost always found with -s as well, whereas names in
the s-plural category  never take zero-plurals.  In the same UC
Library search, I found six titles with "the Hmong", but also
one with "The Hmongs";  similarly, two titles with "the Miao"
but one with "the Miaos".  The trend in the US seems to be
moving toward s-pluralizing tribal ethnonyms.  A clear majority
of titles said they were about "the Navajos" and only a few, older
works referred to "the Navajo".  This is in part a stylistic shift,
but it may also signal an emerging polysemy:  the zero-plural
ethnonym implying that the group is "anthropological" and "tribal",
the s-plural form implying that it is a modern socio-political

Here are a couple of textual examples, culled from recent
internet postings, that seem to support this idea:

1.  (from the announcement of a film):

>Title: "Invisible People"--Genocide of the Traditional Navajo
>Since the passage of Public Law 93-531 ("Relocation Act") in 1974,
>6,000 of the 10,000 already relocated Navajo have died from
>suicide, alcoholism, and broken hearts-the manifestation of
>spiritual sickness caused by being torn from their traditional

1. (newspaper headline):

> Peyote Law Has Navajos in Bind

2. (news story):

>spoke repeatedly of his fellow Comanches who died before being
>honored for their service by the United States

--Victor Golla
  Native American Studies
  Humboldt State University

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