Chinese or Chinese person?
Okay, English lesson time. It may sound like a stupid question, but should we say 'Chinese' or 'Chinese person'? Until I came to China, I always would say 'he is Chinese' or 'he is a Chinese person.' I probably would prefer the former. It sounds just funny to me to say 'he is a Chinese.' It sounds like saying 'he is an English' to me. But you know, almost all Chinese people say 'I am a Chinese.' I know it is anything but unusual for Chinese people to make English mistakes, but since it is so common, I feel that it is likely this is what their textbooks teach them.
I also feel using 'Chinese' in a plural way is odd. For example, I would normally say 'Chinese people use chopsticks.' I feel strange saying 'Chinese use chopsticks,' but somehow it feels less odd than saying 'Chinese' in a singular way as mentioned above. Regardless, saying 'the Chinese are happy with the new American policy' sounds okay to me as this time 'Chinese' refers to the Chinese government.
Is it just my local variety of English from my hometown that makes me feel this way ? Am I just wrong? Or is it that I'm right, and Chinese people are getting it messed up?
If I am right to think that these useages of the word Chinese are wrong, then it is best for me to know now. After being in China for five years, these useages are starting to sound correct to me 啊啊.
danchaoJuly 15, 2010, 01:50 AM
Hmm.. well, if you think about it, we can say American either way too
"I am an American"
"I am American"
Seems like these words can be used as both adjectives and nouns. English is a funny language, huh?
Also, "Chinese" as plural doesn't really sound weird to me. You just have to get used to it, I guess.
I was just thinking about these two sentences:
1) The Chinese consume untold amounts of rice every year.
2) Chinese consume untold amounts of rice every year.
Actually, number 2 doesn't rub me wrong that much, but I definitely think that number 1 sounds somehow more correct.
As for your American example, yes, I did think about it. English does seem willy-nilly when it comes to nationalities. In this case, 'a Chinese' falls under the bad feeling category that is shared by 'a French,' 'a New Zealand,' 'a Scottish,' and so on. What say you in this case?
There are different rules for different words. For example a "New Zealand" is not a person. A New Zealander is. A British person is a Briton (or, if we want to refer to the collective population, we can say the British). Whereas American (adj.) is the same as American (noun).
Chinese is a langauge, the Chinese are the people. When I'm talking I usually say "He is a Chinese person," though technically I believe Chinese is the correct noun for the "people of China."
If you're curious about other nationalities the CIA World Factbook, under the People tab for each nation, lists the noun and adjective used to describe that nationality.
I think it should be 'a New Zealander' in that example, but I don't feel weird saying I'm a New Zealander. But personally I wouldn't say that, I'm more likely to say 'I'm from New Zealand'. And saying 'I'm New Zealander' to me just sounds wrong. I think 'a French' and 'a Scottish' carry more negative connotations to me, but they still sound wrong. I think it's just a matter of what we are used to, I suppose we are just used to hearing people saying 'I'm American' but not so much with the others. Maybe some of them just sound more like adjectives and other sound like nouns. Perhaps with the Scottish one, we can associate the 'ish' part to other adjectives like 'goodish' and 'badish' etc
Hmm... "A Chinese" technically is correct, but it does sound weird. I'd sooner say "I am Chinese" than "I am a Chinese". I'd also say "Chinese people consume untold amounts of rice every year." You're right, the concept of "Chinese" being a plural noun is weird.
What I was trying to say is that New Zealand could be used as an adjective, e.g. 'that is a New Zealand tradition,' but we couldn't use it as a noun to refer to a person like we can, as you said, say 'he's an American'. I too would most likely say 'he is from New Zealand.' I think your country's name is a bit of an exception as it is composed of two words.
Side note: why does Firefox spell checker tell me Zealand is spelled wrong?
Okay, it looks like 'a Chinese' could be technically correct, but out of our sample of four (including me), nobody has come out and said, "a Chinese sounds completely natural and normal and its the way I choose to day it." Does anyone feel this way? This of course is VERY important :-).
Well, "a Chinese" doesn't sound natural and normal to me... but when I arrived here and started hearing many people say it I had an internal dialog that pretty much mirrors everything said here. I did hear Chinese people in America using it but attributed it to less than perfect English. But you are right the shear mass of use here has broken down my resistance to the phrase. If an American said, "He is a Chinese" I would make a mental note that this person is likely prejudiced and keep a mental distance until I got more information to the contrary. (yes, I am aware of the irony in that sentence.) So hearing it come from Chinese people gives me a small shock and quick mental readjustment.
嗯，我的态度不好的。It's just that "a Chinese" has a ring of ignorance about it if there are no mitigating circumstances such as the speaker not being a native English speaker or using another English dialect. And perhaps I worded my feelings about the subject a bit strongly. I am prone to hyperbole.
zhenlijiangJuly 15, 2010, 03:55 AM
When they do this I guess they're saying 我是中国人, ”Chinese" being 中国人 and thus the article "a".
If they're your students--you do this right?--you would tell them, in English it's not natural to say "I am a ～人" because of course we all are a 人; that's never in question. That's just the way we think and speak in English.
我是中国人。This is the natural way for us in Japanese as well as Chinese. 私は日本人です。 We just shouldn't carry that way over into speaking English. We should say You are Chinese. I am Japanese.
But what Chinese (the language) can do that Japanese (the language) can't--we have no way of saying 我是中国的。 We can't really avoid saying the 人 in Japanese.
When I first went to the US I was corrected for saying "American people" (not "the American people" which isn't the same thing) in an essay. A classmate immediately said, "We don't say that. We say Americans", and our teacher concurred. I don't know if it's outright wrong, but it is not natural or normally said. I guess I was unconsciously speaking Japanese in English then.
We don't usually say 'Australian people' but we could, and I have been thinking about why this is so - keep in mind that it is getting late and this could all be perfect rubbish.
We do usually say 'Australians' or 'all Australians' (a bigger claim beloved of politicians) rather than 'Australian people' but I think this is because of our familiarity with Australians. Australian people would also be perfectly correct, but I would expect the speaker to be other than Australian (and maybe this is why 'American people came naturally to you.) Trying it with another country, 'X people' gives you a bit of distance, or scientific objectivity, like Darwin examining the extant species. You are right that 'the Australian people' carries a slightly different meaning again - the meaning here is closer to 'all Australians' (the politician's favourite.)
A. Australians like football, meat pies and Holden cars.* aka Aussies.
B. Australian people like football, meat pies and Holden cars. More formal, sounding a little scientific.
C. All Australians like football, meat pies and Holden cars. Rhetorical.
D. The Australian people like football, meat pies and Holden cars. Rhetorical and precious.
They all say slightly different things. A - Maaaaaate... everyone 'knows' these things, but no-one takes it too literally. B - like A but formal, maybe spoken by a foreigner, or a boffin. C - a bit more rhetorical than A - all Australians SHOULD like football etc. D - as for C, but making us sound like an endangered species.
* A myth if ever there was one. 1. More Australians play netball than football. 2. Many Australians are vegetarian, and even more who do eat meat would not eat a meat pie. 3. Holden, what's a Holden? I think we buy more Toyotas now than Holdens. (Culture point: a Holden model is sold in China under the GM or Buick badge.)
PS. I might have forgotten kangaroos. Sigh.. Well, that might spoil my myth assertion. Australia is indeed full of kangaroos. But do we like them? Well, we like to eat them. We like to watch them (just close enough to get a good shot.)
I do think that it might be a case where Chinese are trying to use grammar rules they have learned and other reasons to figure out how to say what they want to say and just came up with the wrong conclusion. What is ironic is that I guess the reason we say Chinese person in English could be because way back Chinese with broken English would refer to themselves as a 'China man' (which of course is now an awful word in English when not said by Chinese people). I can't help but wonder if this label evolved into the respectable and oft used 'Chinese person'.
I wonder if English ever had another word to refer to 中国人. Cathay was once used to refer to China. I wonder if there was a derivative of this word to refer to the people themselves?
xiaophilJuly 15, 2010, 04:16 AM
I kind of figured it was a case of them trying to reason out how to properly say 我是中国人. The funny thing is, I think native English speakers probably prefer saying 'Chinese person' because we copied the Chinese way of speaking. Chinese = 中国（的）, person = 人. Furthermore, and as you probably know, it is not a very nice to call a 中国人 Chinaman in English, but I suspect this term came from when people mocked Chinese for how they called themselves when speaking broken English. So it seems possible native English speakers are trying to fit English into a Chinese way of speaking, and Chinese are doing vice-versa.
By the way, I felt more natural saying Chinese than saying Chinese people in the above.
andrew_cJuly 15, 2010, 11:54 AM
xiaophil, I concur 100%. I've also started getting used to other Chinglish mistakes (dropped s's for words that should be plural), but not this one.
I've been correcting people for a while (who want me to help them with their English). In terms of the source, I just attributed it to them having learned British English or some other dialect.