ELL: 'Reburial of 500 *English*',evidence of continuing stereotyping

Sean O Seaghdha Sean at URANIA.APANA.ORG.AU
Wed Dec 22 03:56:29 UTC 1999

Ar 9 Dec 99, ag 11:57 scríobh David Harris
fán ábhar "ELL: 'Reburial of 500 *English*',ev":

> Everybody seems to have overlooked the most obvious proof that the stated
> accusations of racism do not apply here:
> In English, we routinely use the following zero-plural forms: The English
> (not 'Englishes'), the French (not 'Frenches'), the Portuguese (not
> 'Portugueses'), the Dutch (not 'Dutches'), the Flemish (not 'Flemishes'),
> the Chinese (not 'Chineses'), the Japanese (not 'Japaneses'), the Vietnamese
> (not 'Vietnameses), etc., etc. (I could go on and on, but you get the
> point). Yes, obviously it does not work with 'Italians', 'Swedes',
> 'Albanians', and 'Jews'. But it does work with an awful lot of others. In
> fact, I would venture to guess it works with at least as many ethnicities as
> it doesn't.
> My theory is that this zero-plural phenomenon results from a combination of
> factors but, first and foremost, the fact that French singular and plural
> ethnic/language adjectives sound and are usually spelled the same. I believe
> that English derives its names for these ethnicities from these French
> forms. Note that many of the ethnicities for which the zero-plural works
> seem to be derived from the French forms. Examples:

At the risk of adding to a thread that probably should have died by

Does this zero-plural business also have something to do with how far
a particular ethnic adjective has become a noun?  This kind of thing
is pretty clear-cut in other European languages, but English
obviously has grey areas.

I think it would be very hard to sustain any argument that zero-
plurals are automatically racist or stereotypical.  While it is
certainly possible to cite cases where their use is racist, that
hardly proves a connection.  Jane Austen uses the word "gay" rather
differently that I do and my nephew uses it in a different way again
("wet, stupid, unfashionable?").  This has nothing to do with the
form of the word.

A good example of adjective-noun plural confusion might be that now
rather suspect word "Chinee".  Didn't this form arise simply from the
mishearing/misinterpretation of the adjective "Chinese" as a plural
noun "Chinees"?

The existence of forms ending in -man (Englishman, Frenchman,
Chinaman) shows we're not really happy with these adjectives as nouns
by themselves.  The use of a zero-plural could even be (has been?)
seen as a non-sexist alternative in these cases!

While in general I agree with the idea of using the names people use
for themselves rather than colonial labels, this can be an uphill
battle, especially when you include all the different plurals.  How
many on this list know the Chechen word for Chechen _and_ its
plural?*  Canadians seem to be succeeding, but I suspect the old s-
plural (or zero-plural) will still be used by people overseas.  The
other problem is where do we draw the boundary - if the French demand
we start calling them "français", will we?  On the other hand can we
see the Académie agreeing to "les English"?

In contrast to Canadians, Australians have been learning generalised
regional terms rather than tribal names and these all have s-plurals -
 Koori(s) in the south-east, Murri(s) in the north-east (?) and
Noonga(s) in the west.  The fact that I'm a little uncertain about
the spelling and distribution of these terms shows how far this bit
of public education has gone.  If anyone knows more about the origins
of these terms and whether they have native plurals, I'd be
interested to know.

*Nakhchuo (sg.)  Nokhchi (pl.)

 S e á n   Ó   S é a g h d h a                   sean at urania.apana.org.au

Is buan neach ina áit dhúchais.                                Seanfhocal.

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