‘Mancunians, not Manchesterians’ – Fonteyn’s interview in Atlas Obscura

Posted on July 8, 2017 by

On July 6, travel and info guide Atlas Obscura published an interview with historical linguist Lauren Fonteyn on the wondrous world of demonyms. A demonym is a word used to describe a person from or a property of a certain place. For instance, Londoner is the demonym of London, and Belgian is the demonym of Belgium.

As aptly noted by Dan Nosowitz, the author of the piece, demonyms look pretty straightforward and regular at first (just add a suffix like -er or -ian to the name of a place and voila), but one does not have to look far to come across some pretty quirky ones. In the article, a range of interesting, beautiful, and odd demonyms are discussed, briefly showing how these are used in Present-day English and occasionally discussing their history. Using the Oxford English Dictionary alongside the News On the Web corpus (NOW) and an extensive data set scraped from Twitter, Fonteyn tried to illustrate how some places have varying demonyms (usually comprising a marked and an unmarked form), and that the demonym that is most commonly adopted by locals is not necessarily the official dictionary-listed one: people talk about Brummies, and hardly ever use the suggested official variant Birminghamians.

If you’re interested in more: some things (but not nearly enough) have been said about the suffixes that form demonyms (see, for instance, here, and this post on Language Log), and Lauren would be happy to share her collocation study and lexical variation data if your drop her a line.