how come that russian (русский) in context of ethnic group is adjective, but all(?) other ethic groups are called using nouns, американец, серб, эстонец, латыш, казах ... Are there similar examples in other languages?

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    Note that there's word россияне, which conforms to general naming convention.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 11:41
  • sure, there is word, it indicates person with Russian Federation passport, citizenship, but what about nationality/ethnicity context? For example we can't use the word россияне when speaking about ussr citizens.
    – Gennadi
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 11:54
  • I don't think it necessarily mean Russian citizens. However it's rarely used to describe ethnicity - nor citizenship for that matter. +1 for a good question though.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 12:00
  • What is ‘nationality’ in your interpretation? In usual sense ’nationality’ ≈ ‘citizenship’ (гражданство), much rarely it stands for ‘ethnicity’ (национальность). English is not your native language, is it? And as far as I can guess from your name, Russian should be no less convenient for you. Так к чему говорить по-английски? Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 18:08
  • Related question: ‘Difference between российский and русский’ Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 19:47

4 Answers 4


Не вполне пока понимая, как отвечать на вопрос «как так получилось», отвечу на вторую часть: есть ли аналогичные ситуации в других языках, когда автоэтноним (самоназвание) выпадает из общей схемы образования имен национальностей.

Первое, что приходит в голову — это немецкий язык, где Deutsche (что склоняется ein Deutscher / eine Deutsche, eines Deutschen / einer Deutschen и т. д.) тоже субстантивированное прилагательное (ад’ективное существительное) от прилагательного deutsch. Большинство же названий для других наций (возможно даже, что для всех) — нет, обычные существительные, и прилагательные образуются от них: Russe (прил. russisch), Amerikaner (ж. Amerikanerin, прил. amerikanisch), Este (прил. estnisch), Lette (прил. lettisch), Kasache (прил. kasachisch).

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    адъективное существительное это то что надо! и за пример спасибо!
    – Gennadi
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 8:57
  • "как получилось",- конечно звучит наивно, но тоже интересно, исторический аспект, так сказать
    – Gennadi
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 13:29

В русской википедии есть подробная статья - Этнонимы русских, там описан процесс субстантивации https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%AD%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BC%D1%8B_%D1%80%D1%83%D1%81%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D1%85


I think that it is because there are no means in Russian to produce an ethnic noun from the word Русь. In related East Slavic languages the situation is as follows: in Ukrainian they use the word Росіянин, from the modern country's name Росія (Russia). Thus they cannot distinguish between ethnic Russians and Russian citizens. In Belarusian the situation the same as in Russian, they use an adjective. Only in Rusyn language they use a noun (for their own ethnicity which also originates from Русь), by using the suffix -ин which is not productive in similar circumstances in modern Russian.

P.S. Well, there are actually nouns for the Russians, the рус or росс and великоросс. The first two I only encountered in poetry and in scientific texts in plural form (русы) to refer to the ancient people of the Русь. This is because рус may be understood as short form of the adjective "русый" "having blonde hair", and рос means "grew" or dew in genitive.

The word великоросс was widely used in 19th and early 20th century but later came out of use because of schauvinist coloring (along with the word "малоросс" for Ukrainians).

  • 2
    There is also word русичи - it's very rarely used these days, mainly in historic/classical literature or folklore.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 12:23

Just wanted to add my two cents on this. Even though nominalization of adjectives is something that not that exotic to Russian - a lot of quite used words evolved that way - speaking of ethnonym it's indeed almost the only example of such derivation. But it's not unique!

There's at least one another Russian ethnonym derived from adjective - there's a small group of Turkic (Tatar) people who turned into christianity, so called кряшены. This actually is derived from крещённые (baptized).

As of whether this exists in other languages - well, look up for ethnonym nominalisation and you'll find some examples - but this is better to be asked at Linguistics SE.

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