Most people in Spain are Spanish and speak Spanish. Most people in Italy are Italian and speak Italian. There are many countries that give their name, plus a suffix, to both a language, and an adjective for things from the country.
Of course there are lots of languages without countries, and plenty of countries that do not share a name with the language. But there are quite a few cases where the name of country, plus a suffix, gives a word that is both the name of the national language and also the adjective. To any fluent speaker of English, these are familiar words and cut-and-dried cases: the people from Norway are Norwegian and speak Norwegian, and the people from Sweden are Swedish and speak Swedish, but the people in Germany are not Germanish and do not speak Germanese. Let’s focus on the cases where there is a country, whose name (plus a suffix) is both the adjective, and the name of the language. (I’ll set aside the issue of the word for people from the country. We get three Italians who speak Italian, but three Englishmen – or women – who speak English, three Finns who speak Finnish, and three Spaniards who speak Spanish. We leave that for another day, but there’s more discussion here.)
There are four common suffixes: -ish, -ic, -ese and -ian (or sometimes -ean). We have:
Danish, English, Finnish, Polish, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish (and complicated cases like English, Northern Irish and Scottish, which I’ve disregarded because, technically, we are the United Kingdom, and also the Welsh might complain)
Icelandic and Arabic (not very many languages; I think the -ic suffix is a bit archaic, and goes with languages and landscapes that are dramatic, even operatic)
Burmese (or at least it used to be, not sure what to do about Myanmar), Chinese (one language or many? too complex to contemplate), Japanese, Maltese, Portuguese and Vietnamese
Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Persian (if you’ll permit a little historical flexibility), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian
There is also a group of -i cases, an Arabic suffix found in Somali (also in Iraqi, Israeli and Pakistani – but those aren’t languages) and also relating to the many official languages of India: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi. Another set are akin to ‘bare names’: Czech, Malay, Slovak, Slovene, Tamil, Thai. And then some of Britain’s closest neighbours or allies are special cases: Dutch, French, German, Greek.
Is there a pattern to be found? One generalization is that country names ending in -ia tend to give language names and adjectives ending in -ian. There is a big cluster of them in Central and Eastern Europe. But watch out for Hungary! Many non-native speakers (and plenty of native speakers too) follow the rule in reverse and call the country ‘Hungaria’. Correct (with local variation) in Italian, Greek and Dutch: but in English, no ‘a’: it’s Hungary.Email this Post