Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Japan" as adjective

I know I've raised this issue before - but since when did country names become adjectives of common use?

Yes, I can understand it in the occasional tight-count headline (the Wall Street Journal has adopted too much, I think), though it still strikes me as a bit off tone. But then there are sentences like this from my local paper:
The report by Lochbaum’s group last week came at a time when much of the world is asking questions about nuclear safety in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami.
And I've seen them in plenty of national news dispatches as well. What ever happened to things like Japanese as the adjective form in most uses? Perhaps it's because when we say United States there is no equivalent form (Japan = Japanese but United States = United States)? If that's the case, permit me to demur and suggest a rethink.

 Of maybe it's to save a few spaces on Twitter:

I still demur. Save the space with a little editing: Japanese reactor pressure rises again ...

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At 3/20/11, 2:09 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

It looks as if it's shortened from "in Japan", e.g. reactor in Japan. Typical journalese practice IMHO. Might catch on, might not.

Pondering a bit, I can see analogues in such constructions as "China trade" (trade with China) and "Haiti aid" (aid to Haiti). It's nonstandard but not unprecedented. YMMV.

At 3/20/11, 3:05 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yes, the China stuff has previously brought my harrumphing.

I see your reasoning but not "their" logic.

What's wrong with Chinese trade and Haitian aid? And reactor in Japan is easily Japanese reactor, not Japan reactor.

I'm just fascinated by why all of a sudden this seems to be becoming much more common when the other phrasing is just as easy. Some post-industrial, technologically influenced clipping of the language?

It still grates.

At 3/21/11, 12:39 AM, Blogger vtuss said...

Perhaps another consequence of the rise of SEO? Everyone is searching for Japan but not Japanese?

At 3/21/11, 10:12 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Good thought, too, though I think most of the major search engine algorithms account for that. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.)

And as one poster on Facebook noted, it might be correctness run amok - that somehow it is felt more correct to attribute to a place rather than a word that can also serve as the designator for a group. Meh ...

At 3/22/11, 11:03 PM, Anonymous Allen said...

Nouns acting as adjectives is certainly very common, and have been recognized for literally centuries. However, nouns acting as adjectives where adjective form already exists is a little more specialized. Language Log had a post on the topic a few years back:

It's probably be interesting to look into the use with Japan in particular. I did some google book searches just now on things like "the Japan war" or "japan trade", vs Japanese, but it seems in general Japanese far outweights Japan as an adjective.

At 3/23/11, 12:55 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks for the point to that post, which seems to bolster the argument that Japanese would be favored in these cases.

Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine with using the attributive noun (for instance, I have argued that Democrat-controlled, not Democratic-controlled, is the better form (but Democratic, not Democrat, Party).

I'm just fascinated by how much the attributive has suddenly with the Japanese disaster seem to become much more common.

At 3/27/11, 3:19 AM, Anonymous Matthew Jr. said...

You should check out Arthur Quinn's book Figures of Speech. You'll probably live a little longer.

At 3/27/11, 10:01 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yes, I'm familiar with it. It does not change my uneasiness, however.

At 3/27/11, 10:08 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Let me clarify a bit further. My uneasiness is not so much the noun descriptive - that is well-established in grammar.

My uneasiness is why it suddenly seems to have burst wholesale on the scene. In my business, I pay attention to such things and am constantly watching nuances of language and adjusting. But this one just seems to have hit wholesale with the earthquake, and I'm trying to figure out why.

At 3/28/11, 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the latest earthquake had been in California or Chile, wouldn't the quakes be called the "California quake" or the "Chile quake"?

Was "Chilean quake" used when there was an earthquake there? What about the quake in New Zealand? I wonder if people are just drawing parallels -- I don't think I've heard of a Californian earthquake.

At 3/28/11, 3:03 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Idiomatically, we have tended to use the adjectival forms for nation-level description and the noun for state-level description. See the Language Log entry referenced earlier by Allen.

So, yes, California earthquake, Chilean earthquake.

New Zealand is the outlier, and again, it's more idiomatic, just as United States is (we don't say United Statesean).

And there's not necessarily any pattern I see. I bet you were the earthquake in Canada, most publications would say Canadian not Canada earthquake. But maybe that's changed.

Ultimately, I guess that's what I'm exploring here - whether the idiom has changed and what was the impetus behind the shift.

At 3/28/11, 3:07 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Just one additional thought.

I don't want to push this beyond the very limited envelope of just an observation, but the GOP has had a concerted thought and language campaign to replace "Democratic" with "Democrat." I wonder how much that has contributed to people's overall perception of the usage of the noun descriptive.

Or maybe it's just the result of our continued industrial and technological push to convey ideas and thoughts quicker and quicker.

At 3/30/11, 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the U.S., we don't use "United Statesean" because we use "American" and co-opt the entire continet. People in Canada and Mexico are not amused.

Maybe in some quarters an earthquake in Canada would be "North American."

At 3/30/11, 1:37 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

True. Point well taken :)

At 3/30/11, 3:08 PM, Anonymous raYb said...

Part of the usage should be because the quake was not Japanese. People are Japanese. It's Japan's coastline, the Japanese language. But that quake had no nationality. Probably closest tothe cause is the previous comment that it's a shortened form of the "earthquake and tsunami that struck (or devastated...) Japan."


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