In X they speak f(X)

Observation: in English, there are several countries whose name and language are similar. Unfortunately, there is no clear way to construct the appropriate suffix from the stem. For example:

  • In Hungary they speak Hungarian.
  • In Germany they speak German.
  • In Turkey they speak Turkish.
  • In China they speak Chinese.
  • In Corsica they (spoke) speak Corsican.
  • In Poland they speak Polish.
  • In Iceland they speak Icelandic.
  • In Greece they speak Greek, in France they speak French, and in Bangladesh they speak Bengali.

Of course, languages are weird and evolved for thousand of years and copied and stole and were influenced by dozens of bothersome neighbors and the very fact that through thorough thought we can still learn them gives great glory to our heuristic brain, and even godly Lisp is not sometimes without such quirkiness, but still: Dear linguists: What is the reasoning (if any) behind the suffixes? Can any nice rule be formulated? What morphological logic stands behind these choices?

By the way, for a more civilized construction, compare this with Hebrew:

  • In הונגריה they speak הונגרית.
  • In גרמניה they speak גרמנית.
  • In תורכיה they speak תורכית.
  • In סין they speak סינית.
  • In קורסיקה they (spoke) speak קורסיקאית.
  • In פולין they speak פולנית.
  • In איסלנד they speak איסלנדית.
  • In יוון they speak יוונית, in צרפת they speak צרפתית, and in בנגלדש they speak בנגלית.

(For the Hebrew impaired, a transliteration goes:

  • In Hungaria they speak Hungarit.
  • In Germania they speak Germanit.
  • In Turkia they speak Turkit.
  • In Sin they speak Sinit.
  • In Corsica they (spoke) speak Corsicait.
  • In Polin they speak Polanit.
  • In Island they speak Islandit.
  • In Yavan they speak Yevanit, in Tzarfat they speak Tzarfatit, and in Bangladesh they speak Bengalit).
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3 comments

  1. I don’t think “choices” is the right term – “unconnected coincidences” is probably better. Is it surprising that English is inconsistent, especially with this matter?

    Here’s some copy pasting from Wiktionary.

    -an
    From Latin -ānus, which forms adjectives of belonging or origin from a noun.

    Of or pertaining to; an adjectival suffix appended to various words, often nouns, to make an adjective form. (Often added to words of Latin origin, but also used with words of other origins. When a word ends in a, -n is used instead.)

    -ish
    From Middle English -ish, -isch, from Old English -isc (“-ish”, suffix), from Proto-Germanic *-iskaz (“-ish”), from Proto-Indo-European *-iskos. Cognate with Dutch -s; German -isch, whence Dutch -isch; Norwegian, Danish and Swedish -isk or -sk; Lithuanian -iškas and the Ancient Greek diminutive suffix -ίσκος (-ískos).

    (appended to roots denoting names of nations or regions) Of a nationality, place, language or similar association with something.

    -ese
    From Old French -eis, from Latin -ēnsis.

    Used to form adjectives and nouns describing things and characteristics of a city, region, or country, such as the people and the language spoken by these people.

    -ic
    From French -ique, from Latin -icus, from Proto-Indo-European *-ikos, *-iḱos, formed with the i-stem suffix *-i- and the adjectival suffix *-ko-. Compare Ancient Greek -ικός (-ikós), Sanskrit श (śa), क (ka) and Old Church Slavonic -ъкъ (-ŭkŭ). Doublet of -y.

    Used to form adjectives from nouns with the meaning “of or pertaining to”.

    French

    From Middle English Frenche, Frensch, Frensc, Frenshe, Frenkisch, Franche, from Old English frencisc (“French”, literally “Frankish”), equivalent to Frank +‎ -ish. Cognate with Danish fransk (“French”), Swedish fransk, fransysk (“French”), Icelandic franska (“French”).

    Greek

    From Old English Grecas (“Greeks”), from Latin Graecus, of uncertain origin, perhaps derived via Illyrian or other Paleo-Balkans forms from a tribal name Graii, or possibly from the toponym Γραῖα (Graîa); Greek in any case has the cognate Γραικός (Graikós), the mythological ancestor of the Graecians (Γραίοι (Graíoi)

    The adjective dates to the Middle English period (14th century), replacing Old English Grecisc (as it were “Greekish”) and earlier Middle English Gregeis.

    Bengali

    From Hindi बंगाली (bangālī).

    • By the way, I encountered this in a book I read, in which a person wrote an informal document, and a lawyer rewrote it in legal language. I wondered if the right way to call it was indeed “legalese”, or perhaps one should opt for “legalic”, “legalian”, or “legalish”.

      We could say that this inconsistency is annoying and makes the language harder to master, but we should look at it this way: it gives you a rich selection to choose from when inventing your own words 🙂

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