Groningish or Groningian?

Written by Dyami Millarson

When I was writing my article on frequently used Saterlandic words that have a German aura about them, I want to anglify the Dutch word Gronings (the name of the language of Groningen) but I ended up pondering whether to say Groningish or Groningian. Because of the -s in Dutch which corresponds with -isch in German and -ish in English, I wrote down Groningish at first.

After all, there are also words such as Kentish in English. However, I read it again what I had written down and I felt that Groningish was a bit odd and I could not really get used to the sound of it in English. Etymologically, Groningish is correct. However, to decide between using -ish or -ian, I had to investigate a bit more.

I will spare you the details of the investigative process, but the result was that -ish is generally only used with one-syllable words (Kent + ish) and -ian is generally used with polysyllabic words nowadays. This made deciding between Groningish and Groningian a whole lot easier: Groningen contains multiple syllables, even when you remove the final syllable to replace it with a suffix. Therefore, it should be Groningian according to modern standards of word formation in the English language.

Finally, I found that Grōningiānus is an actual word that was adopted in Latin texts. This proved to me that Groningian was an etymologically sensible and sound choice, and that my intuitive preference for Groningian is based on historical fact. After all, it turns our that I am not the only one in history who created that form and so it is not entirely my creation, which is a good thing, because it is sometimes a relief knowing you are not the only one who has made a certain linguistic decision in the formation of a new word. The fact that the same formation has been repeated in history is a good argument for Groningian.

All of this demonstrates the difficulty of trying to translate the name of a local language into English. Much of the English-speaking world does not know about the existence of many languages because it is hard to decide what to call them in English. Oftentimes I circumvent this by using geographical names and saying ‘the language of XXX’. However, it is quite tedious to repeat ‘the language of Groningen’ constantly after people have been made familiar with the idea that Groningen even has a language of its own. Names based on scientific classifications such as ‘Groningen Low Saxon’ are also way too tedious to keep repeating, although I find such a name helpful occasionally.

Therefore, I might resort to using the most common exonym (Gronings in this case) or the endonym (Grunnegers, Grunnegs). However, although I want to popularise familiarity with these names, I have a habit of wishing to anglify names of languages, because I want it to stick in people’s memories. Grunnegers or Gronings might look more alien than Groningian, and thus I like to have an anglified name as well. I use these different forms quite liberally, but my general policy is to promote endonyms. Yet, as I have indicated, exonyms and anglified forms may also serve their purpose. The term Gronings is more familiar in the Netherlands; everyone knows what you are talking about in the Netherlands when you mention Gronings. The term Groningian makes it look familiar to English speakers.

However, Groningish looks a bit odd. It is too archaic nowadays to use such a name regularly, even to me it sounds rather strange and so I prefer Groningian. However, as I have said, Groningish is not an incorrect formation; note my words, it is just an odd formation because nowadays polysyllabic words show -ian whereas they could regularly show -ish in the distant past. English has become a bit more latinised and the Germanic suffix -ish has lost ground.

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