Why does English have different suffixes for referring to different ethnicities

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Like for example, why do we say things like Scottish, Saudi Arabian and Japanese and not things like Japanian, Arabish or Scottese?

Bonus points if somebody can point a reason why a lot of these suffixes are pretty consistent to their world regions? Many European countries refer to their people as ___ish, many Asian countries as ___ese and many Middle Eastern countries as ____ian?


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4 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s been asked several times already. Here’s an excellent explanation on another sub: https://www.reddit.com/r/etymology/s/t4BVFapPy0

Anonymous 0 Comments

What you’re describing are known as demonyms, AKA words for a people or nation. The names can come from a lot of different sources:

* -ish has Germanic roots, and is generally used to describe place names that the English have known about since the Early Middle Ages, when the English language had a far more Germanic vocabulary.

* -ese comes from Latin via French, and has a lot of cognates in Romance languages like Portuguese or Italian. The reason a lot of East Asian names use this (Chinese, Japanese, etc.) is because a lot of explorers and travelers to East Asia were Portuguese, and the names entered English via reports from Portugal.

* -an and -ian come from Latin, so they’re generally used to describe names that either come from Latin, or are at least pseudo-Latin sounding.

* -ic also comes from Latin, and is also used to describe place names with Greek or Latin roots. Why do some use -ic while some use -ian? Probably because that’s what the Romans did and we just copied that.

* -ite comes from ancient Greek via Latin. It’s uncommon nowadays, and generally only sees use today as a deliberate neologism (e.g., “Brooklynite”).

* -i comes from words adopted from Semitic languages like Hebrew and Arabic (Israeli, Omani, etc.).

And then there are a lot of exceptions, generally because we adopted the word straight from another language and didn’t change it too much (e.g., “Greek” coming from Latin *graecus*).

And the specific origins of unique demonyms for places:

* **Greek:** From Latin “Graecus.”

* **French:** From Old English “Frencisċ” (Frankish). The -isċ also evolved into the modern English -ish.

* **Michigander:** Deliberate pun on the word “gander” (as in a male goose).

* **Norwegian:** From the medieval Latin name for Norway, “Norvegia.”

* **Glaswegian:** A pun by the people of Glasgow based on “Galwegian,” which itself was a pun by the people of Galway based on “Norwegian.”

* **Haligonian:** Based on a legend that the town of Halifax’s Old English name as “halig feax” (holy hair).

* **Corfiot:** Based on the word “Cypriot,” from the Greek Κυπριώτης (*Kupriótis*), to describe someone from Cyprus. Ironically enough, not used in Greek, because the Greek name of the island of Corfu is Kerkyra.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There’s also some that are completely off the wall. Yeah Pennsylvanian or Texan make sense, but a person from Indiana? A Hoosier.

Poor Purdue kids.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Why are people from Canada called ‘Canadians’ instead of ‘Canadans’? They don’t live in Canadia.