Forming adjectives from country names

It recently occurred to me that English is extremely irregular when it comes to assigning adjectives to countries. There appear to be *four *separate suffixes commonly used to form adjectives from country names:

-ish: English, Swedish, Polish etc.
-an: American, Australian, Russian etc.
-i: Iraqi, Pakistani, Israeli etc.
-ese: Chinese, Lebanese, Maltese etc.

Plus oddities such as:

-ch: French, Dutch
-sh: Welsh
-ic: Icelandic
-iot: Cypriot
-k: Greek
-ss: Swiss

And there are probably others I haven’t thought of yet.

And some countries (those ending in -stan) *drop *the suffix to form the adjective.

Kazakh, Uzbek, Afghan etc.

Do other languages have this variety in their national adjectives, or do they impose a uniform “style”?

Your Greek example also has the form “Greecian” (think that’s spelled right but maybe not).

Let’s see how the country names look like: England, Sweden, Poland.
So the rule seems to apply to all that end in -land, plus irregulars like Sweden. But don’t you also call them Swedes?

America, Australia (both continetns, too, don’T know if that plays a role), Russia (which originally was named after the tribe of Rus who lived there).
So the rule seems to apply to all names ending in -a.

Iraq, Pakistan, Israel: all those that end in a hard consonant?

China, Lebanon, Malta: shoot, there goes the second and third rule.

All I can say that it’s very complicated in German, too. Zwiebelfish (an internet column from a guy obsessed about using the language correctly) wrote a long column on what country names become which natives names (and which countries get Der/Die/Das, and which don’t), and several had more than one allowed name. It’s also changed - countries known for a long time often have older variants that aren’t used when forming new names from new country names.

At least this makes some sense, because I’ve heard (don’t speak those languages themselves) that the -stan in these country names simply means “land of the …”, so dropping it to get the name of the individual people/tribe living there is rather the easiest way.

I only know of the French who have a committee for the proper use of their language (and to ward off foreign influences), and even they have the problem that the normal people speak different than officially ordered to. Languages are alive and change all the time, so I doubt there is one uniform style, though now that I said that, probably somebody will come in and explain how in an African or Asian language, everything is much simpler…

French doesn’t have a particular uniform style either; I can think of several suffixes that are used:[ul][li]-ien, e.g. italien, canadien, norvégien[]-ain, e.g. americain, cubain[]-ais, e.g. français, anglais, irlandais, japonais-ois, e.g. suédois, chinois, finnois[/ul][/li]And of course, there’s a whole mess of rarer or irregular ones: russe, suisse, espagnol, allemand, turc, grec, monégasque (Monacan), guatémaltèque, etc.

In general, the “-istans” of Central Asia formed the nation name by adding “-(i)stan” to the nationality name, as though the Netherlands were named “Dutchistan”. The Turkmen, the Uzbeks, the Qaraqalpaqs, and so on all inhabit nations (or provinces of nations) formed from the nationality (ethnic) name plus “-istan.”

However,there are exceptions. “Pakistan” is a coinage meaning, approximately, “land of the pure”, and supposedly derived from some acronym of the constituent provinces. And “Paki” is apparently considered something of a racial slur – the only proper usage is “Pakistani” (or of course Punjabi, Baluchi, etc., for the constituent ethnic groups). The people from the nation sandwiched between Iran and Georgia are either Azeris or Azerbaijanis, with the nation itself being, I believe, “Azerbaijan” (though I have seen “Azerbaijanistan”).


I have noticed that sometimes two divergent terms will exist in English with slightly different meanings. For example, “Javanese”, a formation along the lines of Chinese, Japanese, etc., means “Indonesian Malay from Java” – a specific ethnic group among a large number of related Malay groups comprising Indonesians generally. But alongside it exists “Javan” – the general adjective meaning “of, related to Java” – which also exists as a substantive with the meaning “inhabitant of Java, whether of Javanese or other ethnic extraction.” (A similar usage seems to exist for “Lao”/“Laotian”.)

There’s sometimes a distinction between “citizen/national” and “member of ethnic group” – The “Swedish” live in Sweden and are (at keast nominally) subjects of Köning Karl XVI Gustav; the “Swedes” mostly live in Sweden but also constitute a substantial minority in Finland, as well as other enclaves.

That should be “Grecian,” but “Greek” is the preferred style, I think (except for urns and formulas ;)).

Two other odd, subnational suffixes: residents of Liverpool are “Liverpudlians,” and those of Manchester are “Mancunians.”

“Welsh” is originally an “-ish” word, but sound changes over time have disguised that. I suspect “French” falls into that category as well.

One other highly interesting usage is that inhabitants of the older cities of Europe (along with the adjectives referencing those cities) are quite often formed from the ancient Greek or Latin name of the city:

Naples (Napoli) – formerly Neapolis – Neapolitan
Marseilles – formerly Massilia – Massilian
Manchester – formerly Mancunia Castra – Mancunian (as noted by Elendil’s Heir)

Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, Balochistan. It was originally coined as Pakstan - the i was added by Jinnah to make it flow better.

After checking, yes, French and Welsh are contractions of Frankish (OE frenciscand Wal-ish (OE wielisc). In both cases common use brought about contraction and the suffix caused the A to raise to E. “Wal-ish” just means “foreign,” which is sort of amusing considering their history with the English.

“Greekish” was apparently the dominant form in English until the 18th century, and still in use until the end of the 19th. The shorter form “Greek” is borrowed from French grec. Many of the abberant forms are because they are newer to the English language and / or filtered through French. “Cypriot” has the variant “Cyprian,” both attested from the 16th century.

I believe “Grecian” (only one e) is only used to refer to artifacts from the ancient Greek civilisation, such as a Grecian urn, but even here “Greek” is more common. I’ve never heard of “Grecian” being used to refer to modern Greeks.

Another example of this sort of thing, “Israelite” is only ever used to refer to the ancient people, never the modern Israelis.

No… Thailand drops the suffix and becomes Thai.

So aren’t all the -land countries a “land of the…” case? Should then people from England be the Engs, just as people from Thailand are Thai and people from Kazakhstan are Kazakh? Is Poles acceptable for people from Poland (or is it somehow not PC)?

England comes from the Angles (they of -Saxon fame), who of course predate modern English by some time. Kazakhstan, Thailand and Poland are all fairly recent Anglicizations of native names for those places, and so haven’t changed much.

I think something the OP has missed is that we don’t form adjectives from country names. Generally, we form country names from adjectives (or the noun form of the locals, which is often the same thing).

There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to it. Another counterexample: English references to residents of Germany simply drop the last letter of the word.

I believe this is also the case with some of the OP’s examples. I’d say there may be a difference between an “Uzbek” and an “Uzbekistani”, for example.

The countries that form their demonym by adding an -i are for the most part Islamic countries as well as Israel. Could it be possible that this comes from the way these adjectives are formed in Semitic languages?

Plenty of languages have regulatory bodies whose purpose is to establish a common standard. I believe you are German, constanze: even the German language appears to have one. For the most part what they do is establish a single written standard for official publications (certainly a useful goal), not tell people how to speak, which is useless especially given the dialectal differences.

Greeks are also known as Hellenes (from Hellas, the Greek word for Greece).

Swiss can be also be referred to as Helvetians (from the Latin name for the area).

And Italians as Times New Roman.

Not in English, they can’t.