Mark Liberman has a Language Log post about an oddly formed adjective that’s always pleased and puzzled me, Shanghainese. Where does that intrusive –n– come from? I assumed it had something to do with Chinese, but Mark provides more parallels:

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[…] and which may derive from an earlier Javan
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.

He expressed surprise that the OED’s earliest citation for the word Vietnamese is from 1947; I reminded him (via e-mail, LL having no comments) 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.” And I added the following observation, which I repeat here as perhaps of interest to such of my readers as are interested in recondite geographical terminology:

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…

Amazingly, Amazon has a listing for the book! I have no idea what they’d do if you ordered a copy.


  1. They couldn’t gift wrap it, for one thing. Incompetents! If I buy a book published in 1878, I damn well expect some fine gift wrapping.

  2. “I don’t have access to a historical dictionary of Dutch—is there one?”
    Why, yes. Actually, the “Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal” is probably the biggest dictionary in the world!
    (Link in dutch)

  3. Hat, you have been pwned by SN.
    Only available in electronic form.

  4. Excuse me, but I have not been pwned—Mark has been pwned. I have merely served as a facilitator of pwnation.

  5. But there was a “Vietnam”–or to be more precise, a “Việt Nam” earlier than that. Wasn’t it Emperor Gia Long who, in the very early 1800s, who petitioned his overlord the Qing Emperor for a name change for his country to “Nam Việt”, which was reversed by the Qing to “Việt Nam”?
    Nam Việt = Nan Yue (ch.) = southern Yue
    Việt Nam = Yue nan (Ch.) = south of the Yue
    I believe that Gia Long’s Nguyen Dynasty ruled over an area roughly coextensive with modern Vietnam. Before 1802, the
    But as you said, the French were the ones who divided it into three provinces after they colonised Vietnam.

  6. Bah.
    “Search Keyword Balinees returned 0 matches.”
    “Search Keyword Javanees returned 0 matches.”
    What kind of “biggest dictionary in the world” is this?

  7. But there was a “Vietnam”–or to be more precise, a “Việt Nam” earlier than that.
    Yes, of course, and I wrote about it in an earlier post, where I said “The modern name of Vietnam dates from 1803.” But it was not used in English until much later.

  8. Oh, and SN, I’ve added the Woordenboek to the Language Resources links — thanks!

  9. And so you did; and mentioning the very same book (by Taylor) I was thinking of too…

  10. My apologies hat. Schadenfreude at pwnage drove me temporarily insane.

  11. The China Daily just ran another of those ridiculous rants against –ese (“Listen, I’m Chinian, not Chinese“).

  12. LH, you shouldn’t expect Javanees in WNT. As I mentioned to Mark (see update to the LL post), the forms that have been used historically are Javaan, pl. Javanen ‘Javanese person’ and Javaans(ch) ‘Javanese (language, ethnic group, etc.)’.

  13. Oh, and also, that INL search engine doesn’t actually search on the text of the dictionary, as you’ve probably figured out by now.

  14. So what good is it? How do you search the dictionary?

  15. I believe it’s only available on CD-ROM (besides the 43-volume print version, of course), so you’re out of luck unless you happen to be near a major university library.

  16. By the way, it is true that some geographical names in Dutch use an intrusive -n- to repair hiatus in their adjectival form, esp. in the case of short ones ending in -i, e.g., Mali – Malinees, Fiji – Fijinees (but Chili – Chileen!). Note that short toponyms ending in -o use an intrusive -l- instead, e.g., Togo – Togolees, Congo – Congolees. When ending in -u, no intrusive consonant is needed, e.g., Tuvalu – Tuvaluaans, Nauru – Nauruaans. Sometimes a -v- is used anyway, e.g., Peru – Peruaans/Peruviaans. The short placenames ending in -a however usually change it into -aans or -ees without an intrusive letter, e.g., Malta – Maltees, Cuba – Cubaans. Endings in -ië (the equivalent of -ia in English) form their adjective by changing into -isch, e.g., Syrië – Syrisch. Anyway, the argument could still hold: short toponyms ending in -a derive an adjective by changing into -aans, the inhabitants are identified by the form without the final -s, i.e., -aan (pl. -anen).

  17. “The short placenames ending in -a however usually change it into -aans or -ees without an intrusive letter, e.g., Malta – Maltees, Cuba – Cubaans.”

    One exception is Soenda/SundaSoendanees/Sundanees (pl. Soendanezen/Sundanezen). The Sundanese language has been called Soendanees(ch) or Soendaas(ch). (I assume the latter takes -aas rather than -aans due to dissimilation?)

  18. Bertil van Zweeden says

    How about the adjectives Breda-Bredaas, Albanië-Albanees and Portugal-Portugees?

  19. I believe it’s only available on CD-ROM (besides the 43-volume print version, of course), so you’re out of luck unless you happen to be near a major university library.
    Well, poo. OK, I’ll delete it from the resources list.

  20. John Emerson says

    Perhaps next Christmas we could get Hat the CD. Not having something that claims to be the world’s largest dictionary must be unbearably painful for him.
    This is shallow, but Dutch often seems like misspelled baby-talk English to me. (Stravinsky said something like that about Polish.)

  21. The INL site says that the eventual aim is to turn WNT into iWNT, an “internetprojectie”. So maybe if we just wait long enough it’ll come online. Shouldn’t take too long… after all, the print version only took 147 years to finish!

  22. It looks like it’s Dutch day on Language Log!
    The one I never understood is Guatemala – Guatemalteeks/Guatemalteke/Guatemalteque (Dutch/German/French). Why the t and the k/que? English is much simpler here with Guatemalan.

  23. They’re presumably based on Spanish guatemalteco, but I don’t know how that was formed.

  24. Just a wild guess but it probably has something to do with the fact that -tec seems to be common for ancient pre-Columbian Central-American civilizations: Aztec, Toltec, Zapotec, Mixtec, etc., but Olmec, Tepanec, etc. without the -t-. Actually, in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec, “ec” stands basically for “people,” e.g., “Aztec” means “the people from [the ancestral land of] Aztlán.” I think that Aztec sources are where most of the “people names” come from hence all the “-ecs.” I have no clue on the other hand whether the -t- in “Guatemalteeks” is just an analogous form mirrored on the majority of names given above or really belongs there in the first place but was dropped in the country name for some reason or another.

  25. Andrew Dunbar says

    Interestingly, the RAE doesn’t have an entry for -teco, nor does it have an etymology for Guatemalteco. But I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this suffix among others used for various towns and areas in Latin America. I’ll keep an eye out for others.

  26. Is this where I tell you that those of my countrymen who come from the town of Timaru are popularly known as Timaruvians?

  27. Andrew Dunbar says

    More on -teco or -eco being used as a suffix meaning “native of place X”:
    Somebody from Chipas, Mexico is a chiapaneco.
    Somebody from Cholula, Puebla, Mexico is a cholulteco.
    And just in case you’re wondering, RAE does not have an entry for -eco either.
    I’m keeping an eye open for more…

  28. Andrew Dunbar says

    More on -teco or -eco being used as a suffix meaning “native of place X”:
    Somebody from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala is a quetzalteco.

  29. Andrew Dunbar says

    More on -teco or -eco being used as a suffix meaning “native of place X”:
    Somebody from Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico is a comiteco.
    Somebody from Huehuetenango, Guatemala is a huehueteco.
    Let me know when you’re getting bored with these (-:

  30. Ewald Ebing says

    Spelling is always a problem when looking for occurrences of words in old sources, and for Dutch it’s worse because there have been so many official changes in orthography.
    ‘Javanees’ is not Dutch as has been remarked above. ‘Javaan’ has been used for a (male) Javanese person from the earliest VOC contacts on. The ‘Dagh-register gehouden int Casteel Batavia vant passerende daer ter plaetse als over geheel Nederlandts-India […] already uses it. The adjective would be ‘Javaansch(e)’ (the ‘e’ depending on the gender of the modified noun and the type of noun phrase), and the name of the Javanese language would be Javaansch. In modern spelling, after the 1930s or so, the ‘ch’ was dropped after the s, yielding ‘Javaanse’. In the oldest list of Malay words that has been preserved, an appendix to the journal of one of the first Dutch ships to sail to the Indonesian archipelago, published in 1599, an even older spelling is used: ‘Javaensche’, in ‘Vocabulaer vande Javaensche ende Malaysche Woorden, die selfs op Ternate vanden onsen gheschreven zijn (List of Javanese and Malay words, which were recorded by our people in Ternate)’. The spelling ‘ae’ to represent the long ‘a’ sound was common in medieval Dutch.
    In 19th-century Dutch, an alternative form of the adjective was ‘Javasch(e), used, for example in the name of the ‘Javasche Bank’. In the 20th century, this form was no longer used.
    The Dutch word ‘Sundanese’ can be ‘Soendaasch(e)’ or ‘Soendaneesch(e)’ (as adjective, or as the name of the language, without the ‘e’. Modern spelling: Soendanees/Soendanese or (less frequently) Soendaas/Soendase. A Sundanese person is a Soendanees(ch) (the word Soendaas(ch) can only be an adjective). Some modern Dutch texts use the ‘u’ instead of the ‘oe’, in imitation of English usage or perhaps to relect modern Indonesian spelling.
    The word ‘Soendaan’ does not exist. But then Sunda is not normally used as an independent geographical term. There is an island of Java, but no equivalent geographical unit of Sunda, which, if it existed as such, would be the Sundanese-speaking westerb part of the island of Java. ‘Sunda’ denotes the ethnic group, language and culture but not the area, which is sometimes called ‘Pasundan'(pa- + sunda + -an). The Sundanese area was long politically dominated by the Central Javanese realm of Mataram.
    The use of ‘Soendanees’ (etc.) in Dutch sources is much more recent than that of ‘Javaans’; older VOC sources don’t seem to make the distinction between the two and call all locals ‘Javanen’.
    BTW Raffles used ‘Javan’ and ‘Javans’ rather than ‘Javanese’.

  31. Thanks — that’s what I call a thorough response!

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