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Why People From Manchester Are Mancunians, Not Manchesterians

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Dan Nosowitz writes in Atlas Obscura:

Take a list of cities with unusual demonyms—that’s the category of words describing either a person from a certain place, or a property of that place, like New Yorker or Italian—and ask people to guess what the demonym is. Here are some favorites I came up with, with the help of historical linguist Lauren Fonteyn, a lecturer at the University of Manchester. It’s tilted a bit in favor of the U.K. for two reasons. First is that Fonteyn lives and works there, and second is that the U.K. has some excellently weird ones. The answer key is at the bottom.

  1. Glasgow, Scotland
  2. Newcastle, England
  3. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  4. Liverpool, England
  5. Leeds, England
  6. Wolverhampton, England
  7. Madagascar
  8. Halifax, Canada
  9. Barbados

Demonyms are personal and vital to our conceptions of ourselves. Few things are more important to our identities than where we’re from. This explains why people invariably feel the need to correct anyone who gets their demonym wrong. “It’s understudied but it’s kind of important,” says Fonteyn, who is originally from Belgium. “I moved to Manchester and had no idea what the demonym was. And if you do it wrong, people will get very, very mad at you.”

The demonym for people from or properties of Manchester is “Mancunian,” which dates back to the Latin word for the area, “Mancunium.” It is, like the other fun demonyms we’re about to get into, irregular, which means it does not follow the accepted norms of how we modify place names to come up with demonyms. In other words, someone has to tell you that the correct word is “Mancunian” and not “Manchesterian.”

A MAJOR PROBLEM WITH THE entire system of demonyms is that it’s almost entirely ad-hoc, a mess of words cobbled from mostly archaic languages. Typically, though not in every case, the way we turn a place name into a demonym, at least in English, is with a suffix. The suffix -an or -ian, as in “Canadian,” “Mexican,” and “German,” comes from Latin. The suffix -er comes from, linguists think, Proto-Germanic, the Northern European precursor to Germanic languages like English, German, and Dutch. Originally it was something like -ware or -waras, but eventually was turned into the -er suffix we see in “New Yorker,” Londoner,” and “Berliner.”

Other less common ones came from other sources. From Old French we get -ois, as in “Québécois” and “Seychellois.” Also from Old French is -ese, as in “Chinese” and “Portuguese.” Proto-Germanic also gave us -ish, as in “Scottish” and “Swedish.” From Ancient Greek we get -ite, which is found in “Brooklynite” and the somewhat irregular “Muscovite” (that’s someone from Moscow, Russia).

Demonyms usually end in a suffix like that, but there are hardly any rules as to which place names get which suffixes. Sometimes there’s some historical connection with the base language of one of the suffixes—“Venetian,” say, because Venice has Roman and Latin roots—but sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes we pick a certain suffix to make a demonym easier to say, as in “Peruvian,” because nobody wants to struggle to say “Peruer.” Sometimes we don’t! The demonym for Dubai is “Dubaiite.”

And things get way worse than that, because not only does the suffix not necessarily follow any rules, but the actual place name itself often changes, as in Manchester’s switch to Mancunian.

From our list, let’s take Glasgow, which boasts the irregular demonym “Glaswegian.”  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2017 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Daily life

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