Today is the tenth anniversary that I mentioned my "long unfulfilled useless project" to make a map of English language demonym suffixes.
A demonym is the word for the inhabitant of a place, like "American" or "Somali." The thing about demonyms in the English language is that there seems to be a pattern. The demonyms for a lot of Middle Eastern countries end with an "-i" (e.g. "Israeli," "Saudi," "Kuwaiti") (which is how you make a demonym in Arabic so that makes sense). The demonyms for most of the British Isles is "-sh" or "-ish" (e.g. "English," "British," 'Welsh,") and the demoynym for the far East seemed to be -ese (e.g. "Chinese," Japanese," "Vietnamese"). Years ago I started wondering if I put all English-language demonyms on a color-coded map some sort of larger pattern would emerge.
As my Facebook friends know, I finally got around to making a map last February. The below map is an somewhat revised version of that original. The map only represents national denonym. I did not try to do the demonym for regions within the country. Thus, "Welsh" is not represented in the map although Wales is under the color for "British." For the ones I didn't know off the top of my head, I mostly used this list. If a country had more than one demonym, I used the the color for the one I thought was most commonly used, and I resorted to google fight when I did not know which was more common. Here is the map:
The color code is hard to see unless you make the map really big, so here it is:
As you can see, most demonyms are made in English by adding a suffix to the country's name, but not all of them. The ones that are not created with a suffix are the bracketed categories in the color code. "Short" is when the demonym is a shortened version of the country's name. For example, the demonym for Germany is 'German." A very few number of countries don't have a demonym and they are colored light green for "none." I bet you can't even find them on the map. The none-places all tend to be obscure Islands, like the South Sandwich Islands. See? I bet you still can't find it on the map. (Why they didn't go with "South Sandwich Islanders" I'll never know. Most Islands have the -er demonym anyway)
AND after all that work, I have to say the map was a bit less illuminating than I thought it would be. The -i/y suffix was unsurprisingly centered around middle east, extending into Central Asia and South along the African coast. But for the others the pattern seemed to be a cluster where I expected the suffix to be, but also a bunch of random members of the group elsewhere. The -ese suffix (green on the map) I associated with East Asia, but there is a column of the -ese suffix going down the middle of Africa (Sudanese, Congoese), not to mention a bunch of other stragglers, like the three Guyanas in South America (Guyana, French Guyana, and Suriname), Portugal, Senegal, etc. So that was (kind of) interesting. But I am having trouble seeing a bigger pattern that accounts for all those countries. As expected the -ish suffix (orange on the map) is mostly in the British Isles, but what about Spain?
What about Spain indeed! A need a new paragraph for this digression.There is a distinction between a demonym (the word for someone from a place) and the adjectival for a country. So Sweden, for example, has an adjectival of "Swedish" but the demonym is "Swede." For most countries the adjectival and demonym are the same (e.g. "American"). But for some, it seems like mostly European countries, they can be different. Denmark, for example, has a "short" demonym: "Dane." "Danish" with the "ish" ending, is an adjective to describe something that is of Denmark. That is why Denmark is purple and not orange on the map. Traditionally, Spain had a separate demonym and adjectival, with "Spaniard" as the demonym and "Spanish" as the adjectival. But, in my opinion, "Spaniard" is antiquated and these days people use "Spanish" when they talk about the people of Spain. That's why, after much debate, I decided to make Spain orange.
By the way there were a ton of other judgment calls like that one. I spent waaaaaaaaaay too much time on this project. As if coloring in about 200 countries wasn't time consuming without the debates with myself over the close calls! Don't get me started about the great -an/ian debate (should they have different colors or are they the same with the "i" as a helping vowel? I eventually decided they were essentially the same, which is why red dominates the globe in my map).
Feel free to point out any mistakes. I'm sure there are plenty.
Map created with a fill-in map tool found here.