Use of the word American

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Use of the word American in the English language differs between historical, geographical and political contexts. Deriving from America, a term originally referring to all of the New World (also called the Americas), its usage has evolved over time, and differs from uses of cognate words in other languages.

The word can be used as both a noun and an adjective. In adjectival use, it is generally understood to mean "of or relating to the United States of America"; for example, "Elvis Presley was an American singer" or "the American president gave a speech today;" in noun form, it generally means U.S. citizen or national. When used with a grammatical qualifer the adjective American can mean "of or relating to the Americas," as in Latin American or Indigenous American. Less frequently, the adjective can take this meaning without a qualifier, even when used in the United States, as in "American Spanish dialects and pronunciation differ by country," or "The ancient American civilizations of the pre-Columbian period were advanced in mathematics and astronomy." A third use of the term pertains specifically to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, for instance, "In the 15th century, many Americans died from European diseases during the Spanish Conquest"; this is related to the second usage.

In contrast, cognates of the word "American" in other languages have primarily the pan-American function. For example, the Spanish americano generally refers to the entire New World; the adjective and noun describing the United States is estadounidense, deriving from Estados Unidos de América, the United States of America. Also, the term norteamericano, North American, is used in some Central American and South American countries, to describe the people of the United states. Some critics, particularly Latin Americans, object to the primary English usage of American, feeling it unfairly appropriates the term.


[edit] History of the word

Image:Bowen America.png
British Map of America in 1744.

Various theories exist for the derivation of the word America. The most commonly expounded theory is that German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller derived it from the Latinized version of the name of Amerigo Vespucci (Americus Vespucius), an Italian merchant and cartographer whose exploratory journeys in the early 1500s brought him to the eastern coastline of South America and to the Caribbean. However, a more elaborate explanation is that Vespucci changed his Christian name of Alberigo Vespucci (Albericus Vespucius) to Amerigo Vespucci only after coming into contact with natives from the eponymous Amerrique ranges of Nicaragua, which connect North America to South America, an important geographical feature of New World atlases. A second and newer but weaker theory suggests its derivation from the name of one Richard Amerike of Bristol in England, financier of John Cabot's expedition in 1497, and Cabot became the first Western European to set foot on the mainland. However it came into existence, the term American was subsequently used as an adjective describing the New World and its native people.

By the 1500s, the word American was used by Europeans for the indigenous habitants of the New World and was extended to describe newly settled Europeans, namely Spaniards and their mixed progeny. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation proclaimed a new country, "The United States of America". Above the signatories of the Articles of Confederation it states as follows: "In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the independence of America." It is noteworthy that only the word America, not the United States, was used in this section.

Alexander Hamilton writes of "the American republic" in Federalist Paper 51 <ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and 70<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>. In Federalist Paper 24 Hamilton uses American to describe land outside the political borders of the United States of America at that time:<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

Though a wide ocean separates the United States from Europe, yet there are various considerations that warn us against an excess of confidence or security. On one side of us, and stretching far into our rear, are growing settlements subject to the dominion of Britain. On the other side, and extending to meet the British settlements, are colonies and establishments subject to the dominion of Spain. This situation and the vicinity of the West India Islands, belonging to these two powers create between them, in respect to their American possessions and in relation to us, a common interest.

In 1801, a document titled "Letter to American Spaniards" is considered to have directly influenced the Act of Independence and the 1811 Constitution of Venezuela. <ref>Template:Cite web (Spanish)</ref> This document was published in French, Spanish, and English in 1799, 1801 and 1808, respectively.

The Treaty of Peace and Amity, Signed at Algiers September 5, 1795, <ref> Template:Cite web</ref> is an agreement with the "United States of North America" and uses both "citizens of the United States" and "American Citizens" in the document.

The 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France uses the term "United States of North America" in the first sentence, but subsquently uses just "the said United States". Both "United States of America" and "United States of North America" came from the earlier terms "United Colonies of America" and "United Colonies of North America".

Some proposals for a different name for the country were made prior to the Constitutional Convention, with the most popular name being "Columbia". The problems with the name "United States of America" (its length, awkwardness, vague and imprecise meaning) were known and discussed at the time, but the Constitution did not address the topic, using both "United States of America" and "United States" interchangeably.

Since the late 18th century American has been used in both the historical continental sense and to refer to the United States of America.

[edit] Disagreement over meaning

The use of American as a national demonym for U.S. citizens has been frequently challenged primarily by Latin Americans. <ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> This has been attributed to a shift in meaning around the late 18th century in English usage of a word that originally referred to the land that comprises the New World.[citation needed]

[edit] Political-cultural views

[edit] Latin American countries

Latin Americans consider everyone in the Americas to be americanos. Use of the word to refer specifically to U.S. citizens may be seen as ignorant, arrogant, incorrect, or even self-serving depending on the context.[citation needed] The same sentiments may apply to the use of the word American in English. The Luxury Link travel guide [1] advises U.S. nationals traveling in Mexico to avoid referring to themselves as Americans, as Mexicans consider themselves Americans.

In Latin America, the slippage between the word American as a relation to the landmass of the Western Hemisphere and American exclusively to refer to U.S. nationals is seen as beneficial to the advances of United States foreign policy in Latin America; namely American exceptionalism or a diplomatic renewal of the Monroe Doctrine depending on contemporary political interests.[citation needed] Also, in American Spanish, the word Estadounidense is used to describe U.S. nationals, and the use of the word American to refer to only U.S. nationals is seen as culturally aggressive and imperialistic in nature, especially in countries with strong anti-U.S. sentiment like Bolivia and Venezuela.[citation needed]

[edit] Spain

In Spain people who have lived in the Western Hemisphere but now live in Spain may be called americanos. The Diccionario de la Lengua Española (Dictionary of the Spanish Language) published by the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), also gives estadounidense (United Stater) as one of the definitions of americano, meaning "someone from the United States or relating to the United States".

[edit] Canada

In Canada, American is frequently used in specific reference to the United States. Some Canadians in particular have devoted a great deal of attention to proclaiming that they are not "Americans" both in their own cultural products and when they travel outside the region, as they are frequently mistaken for U.S. citizens.[citation needed] Some Canadians have protested the use of American as a national demonym in the past <ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>.

[edit] United States

Self-described American ancestry in U.S. counties per 2000 United States Census. (Dark colors may represent higher relative density.)

In the United States Census, millions of people described their ancestry or ethnic origin as American, particularly those in the South. This region has a high percentage of people who trace their ancestry to the colonial origins of the United States but often lack records of the specific countries of their ancestors' origins. People who describe themselves as Italian American, Mexican American, or Native American were coded separately per census tabulation rules as they self-identifed as being ethnic Americans.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is quoted as saying, "…todos somos americanos" during a speech in Honduras.<ref>Carias, Suyapa. "Clinton promises to lobby for more aid", HondurasThisWeek, 15 March 1999.</ref> His quotation is translated as "We are all Americans" by the Washington Post <ref>Babington, Charles. "Clinton Hails U.S. Efforts in Storm Zone", Washington Post, 10 March 1999.</ref> and CNN. <ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] American in other contexts

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (1994) defines American as "An acceptable description for a resident of the United States. It also may be applied to any resident or citizen of nations in North or South America." It also advises that United States should "be spelled out when used as a noun. Use U.S. (no space) only as an adjective."

In the entry for America, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (1999) says that the "terms America, American(s) and Americas refer not only to the United States, but to all of North America and South America. They may be used in any of their senses, including references to just the United States, if the context is clear. The countries of the Western Hemisphere are collectively the Americas."

[edit] American in international law

In legal circles a citizen of the United States is usually referred to as a U.S. citizen, not an American citizen, though the latter term is common in popular usage. The following excerpt is from the North American Free Trade Agreement:

Only air carriers that are U.S. citizens are permitted to operate domestic air services or operate international air services as a "U.S." carrier; non-U.S. citizens may own and control foreign air carriers that operate between the U.S. and foreign points. <ref>Template:Cite web</ref></blockquote>

Also, the existence of the Organization of American states suggests that nationals of all countries in the Americas can be called Americans.

[edit] American in U.S. law, generally

In the 6th Edition of Black's Law Dictionary, American is defined as "Of or pertaining to the United States." In the two newer editions of the same dictionary there is no entry for American.

[edit] American in U.S. marketplace regulation

Products labeled, advertised, or marketed in the U.S. as "American Made" must be "all or virtually all made in the U.S." The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, in order to prevent deception and unfair competition, considers an unqualified "American Made" claim to be an express claim of U.S. manufacture. "The FTC Act gives the Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin." [2]

[edit] U.S. national in other languages

English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew and Russian speakers may use American (Japanese: アメリカ人 roma-ji: amerika-jin), (Russian: американец, американка,) (Mandarin Chinese: pinyin- měiguórén, traditional- 美國人, simplified- 美国人) to refer to U.S. citizens. These languages generally have other terms for U.S. nationals; for example, there is U.S. Amerikaner in German, étatsunien in French, or statunitense in Italian.

In Spanish, estadounidense and in Portuguese estado-unidense or estadunidense are preferred to americano for U.S. nationals[citation needed]; the latter tends to refer to any resident of the Americas and not necessarily from the United States; English spoken in Latin America often makes this distinction as well.[citation needed]

Latin Americans also may employ the term norteamericano (North American), which itself conflates the United States and Canada (and possibly Mexico and the Central American countries) all of which are, technically speaking, part of the North American continent.

Worldwide, speakers of Esperanto use the term "Usono" to refer to the United States of America, from the initials for "Unuiĝintaj Ŝtatoj de Nordameriko" (USN, pronounced as "oo-SO-no") hence a citizen or national of the United States is referred to as an "usonano". The Esperantist terms for North Americans and for South Americans, by continent rather than country, are Nordamerikano and Sudamerikano, respectively.

Adjectives derived from "United States" (such as United Statian) appear awkward in English, but similar constructions exist in Spanish (estadounidense or estadinense), Portuguese (estado-unidense, estadunidense) and Finnish (yhdysvaltalainen: from Yhdysvallat, United States); and also in French (états-unien) and Italian (statunitense).

The word Gringo is widely used in parts of Latin America, to make a reference to U.S. residents, not necessarily in a pejorative way. Yanqui (Yankee) is also very common in some regions (in contrast to "gringo", "yanqui" tends to have a pejorative undertone.) In Argentina, Uruguay and some regions of Brazil, the word Gringo is also used for any foreigner, not just for U.S. Citizens.

With the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the following words were used to label the United States Section of that organization: in French, étatsunien; in Spanish, estadounidense. In English the adjective used to indicate relation to the United States is U.S.

[edit] Alternative adjectives for U.S. citizens

Further information: Adjectives for U.S. citizens

There are a number of alternatives to the demonym "American" (a citizen of the United States) that do not simultaneously mean any inhabitant of the Americas. One such alternative is "Usonian," which some would argue, conveys a certain style of residential architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Nevertheless, with the exception of "U.S." or "U.S. citizen", no alternative to "American" has been seriously considered. <ref> The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.</ref>

[edit] References

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[edit] See also

[edit] Scholarly sources

  • Allen, Irving L. (1983). The Language of Ethnic Conflict: Social Organization and Lexical Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Condon, J.C. (1986). J.M. Valdes: Culture bound: Bridging the cultural gap in language teaching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 85-93. Chapter 8: “…So near the United States”.
  • Herbst, Philip H. (1997). Color of Words: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States. ISBN 1-877864-97-8.

[edit] External links

tr:Amerikan sözcüğünün kullanılışı

Use of the word American

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