January 22, 2006

Who let the 'n' in?

I think it was the Dutch, actually, though the influence is an indirect one. Victor Mair emailed to ask why the language and people of Shanghai are known in English as "Shanghainese" (210,000 Google hits vs. 25,500 for "Shanghaiese"). The response that first comes to mind for most linguists, as Victor knows, would reference the universal preference for consonant-vowel alternation, the resulting uneasiness about vowels in hiatus (i.e. vowel-vowel sequences across morpheme boundaries), and the status of coronal (i.e. tongue-tip) consonants as the least-marked option for consonant epenthesis in repairing cases of hiatus.

However, Victor also cites these other counts:

Shandongese Shandongnese Vietnamese Vietnamnese

Now, many Chinese languages/dialects would pronounce Shandong with a final nasalized vowel rather than a velar nasal, but that's not the way it works in the English version of the place name, so why is "Shandongnese" with instrusive -n- preferred by 7 to 1?

I haven't done a careful study of this -- nor have I checked carefully to find the existing careful studies that may well exist. But my guess is that this starts with the analogical shadow cast by the place names ending in 'n' -- Japan, Taiwan, Canton, Bhutan -- whose adjectival forms (and the corresponding language names and/or ethnonyms) add '-ese' -- Japanese, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Bhutanese. Then there are the cases where a final syllable is elided in the place names to get adjectival forms that happen to end up ending in '-nese': Chinese, Lebanese.

Finally -- and most relevantly -- there are some long-established cases where there is an intrusive 'n': Java → Javanese, Sunda → Sundanese, Bali → Balinese, etc. The oldest of these seems to be Javanese, which the OED traces back to 1704:

1704 CHURCHILL Collect. Voy. III. 724/1 The Javaneses and Mardykers.

and which may derive from an earlier Javan:

1606 SCOTT (title) An exact Discovrse..of the East Indians, as well Chyneses as Iauans.

The preference for -ese as the adjectival ending for places in the "East Indies" presumably reflects the influence of Dutch, which also (I think) regularly has intrusive -n- in such words: Javanees, Sundanees, Balinees, etc. I don't have access to a historical dictionary of Dutch -- is there one? -- but I assume that these words date back at least to the early 17th century, if not the 16th. I also don't know whether the use of intrusive -n- to repair hiatus is the general pattern in Dutch, or whether (as in English) it's just one of many quasi-regular local options.

Anyhow, Shanghainese follows this well-established pattern, though the OED's earlier citation is from 1964:

1964 Asia Mag. 12 July 22/3 The Chinese [in Hong Kong]..speak no less than seven tongues -- Cantonese, Hoklo,..Shanghainese, Chiuchow and Fukienese.

As for "Shandongnese" and "Vietnamnese", I guess that people have started to re-analyze the ending as -nese rather than -ese. In the case of Shandongnese, there is no established English term, so the coinage is a recent one, and the 7-to-1 preference for "Shandongnese" over "Shandongese" apparently is telling us about the state of the net's collective neural net in this connection, so to speak. In the case of "Vietnamnese", there has been a standard English form "Vietnamese" for some time, so that "Vietnamnese" has the status of a rare mistake -- though I was surprised to learn that the OED's earliest citation is from 1947:

1947 H. R. ISAACS New Cycle in Asia viii. 157 Matters came to a head in Hanoi on December 19, 1946, when clashes in that city resulted in generalized warfare... The French charged that the Vietnamese were the instigators of the outbreak.

It's interesting that we chose the Dutchlike form (compare Vietnamees) rather than the Frenchy one (compare Vietnamien). They gave us their war, but not their word.

[Update: Steve of Language Hat emails to point out an obvious fact that I'd forgotten about:

I imagine the reason the OED's earliest citation is from 1947 is that until WWII and Ho's independence movement, there was no such thing as "Vietnam" -- what we think of as Vietnam was three provinces of French Indochina, and you'd use Tonkinese, Annamese/Annamite (interesting that there was no settled form), or Cochin-Chinese as called for.

He goes on to observe

Interesting also that the OED has no entry for Cochin-Chinese; they do have one for Cochin-China, which is defined as "Name of a country in the Eastern Peninsula"! I had never heard or seen that phrase used in that way, but a little googling turned up "Geography of the Eastern Peninsula: comprising a descriptive outline of the whole territory, and a geographical, commercial, social and political account of each of its divisions, with a full and connective history of Burmah, Siam, Anam, Cambodia, French Cochin-China, Yunan, and Malaya," by Henry Croley (1878). Forgotten geography...


[Update #2: Rogier Blokland writes:

As an avid reader of Language Log I couldn't resist answering your question ('I don't have access to a historical dictionary of Dutch -- is there one?'). There is one indeed, and it might be larger than the OED, or at least that's what we like to think.

The 'Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal' has some 43 volumes and is a historico-descriptive dictionary of Dutch from 1500 to 1976 ('Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT) is een historisch, wetenschappelijk, beschrijvend woordenboek van het Nederlands van 1500-1976').

See ( link).

I don't have access to one at the moment, nor have I found one on the web (the German Grimm is!), so I cannot check when 'Javanees' or 'Balinees' was first recorded, but I can have a look one of these days and get back to you, if you're interested.

I'll look forward to learning from Prof. Blokland, or another reader, what the WNT says about the antiquity of Javanees and similar words. ]

[Ben Zimmer observes

The historically older forms in Dutch are "Javaan" (pl. "Javanen") to refer to a Javanese person and "Javaansch" (now usually spelled "Javaans") to refer to the Javanese language or ethnic group. I know that both of these forms were in use at the time of the first Dutch expedition to Java in the 1590s. I don't have sources at hand, but I seem to remember that this and similar ethnonyms were borrowed from the Portuguese, who may have based their forms on Latin ("javana, javanensis"?).

He added in a later note

The historical Portuguese ethnonym is actually "Jãos" (= 'Javanese people'), used by João de Barros in 1553 (mentioned in the Hobson Jobson entry for "Java"). That appears to be based on Arabic "Jawi", which was a broader term used to refer to inhabitants of island Southeast Asia.

Hmm, looks like Language Hat has covered this...

http://www.languagehat.com/archives/002135.php quoting: http://www.crise.ox.ac.uk/pubs/workingpaper14.pdf


[And Gene Buckley observes

With regard to your post on intrusive "n", there's also of course the "l" in some African placename adjectives, such as Congolese and Togolese. These seem to follow "o" and I recall the story that the analogy is based on Angolese (a word that exists but which I'm not use to hearing, given the prevalence of Angolan). There may be other models as well.


[Update 1/23/2006: Marina Muilwijk writes:

In your post on "Who let the 'n' in" you wonder about the date of Javanees and Balinees. Since I'm sitting in a library, I could easily look them up in the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.

"Javanees" can't be found anywhere in the WNT. The first example for the form "Javaansch", that Ben Zimmer mentions, is from 1688, but that is in an example for a not very relevant word.

The earliest example for "Balineesch" is from 1726 (as an example with "vrouwentimmer (women's quarters)").

So I'm afraid the WNT isn't of much help here.


Posted by Mark Liberman at January 22, 2006 09:32 AM