-phones around the world

From the NYT on the 29th, in “In Congo, Self-Defense Can Offer Its Own Risk” by Stephen Castle, about Rwandaphone Congolese:

“There is a tendency to reject the presence of all Rwandaphones,” Colonel [Delphin] Kahimbi [commandant of the Congolese Army’s operations in South Kivu] said.

That’s Rwandaphone ‘Kinyarwanda speaker (n.), Kinyarwanda-speaking (adj.)’. Noun use above; here’s an adjective use:

The contested role of the Rwandaphone communities in eastern Zaire (DR Congo) in the political discussions of the Kinshasa based oppositional printed press, 1991-1996 (link)

Compare Anglophone for English, Francophone for French, Italophone for Italian, Lusophone for Portuguese, Hispanophone for Spanish, Grecophone for Greek, Germanophone for German, etc., even Arabophone for Arabic, Sinophone for Chinese, Turkophone for Turkish, and some others. The general pattern is of compounds of the form X + -phone, where X is is combining element in -o that is Latin-derived, or at least Latin-looking. But the pattern has been extended into some new territory, as in the occasional use of Hebrewphone — and in Rwandaphone, with its Bantu first element.

All of these compounds have alternatives in Y-speaking / Y speaker, where Y is a language name, so their function in English is largely to evoke the learnèd stratum of the vocabulary, and some of them seem to be mainly confined to academic or technical contexts. (Some also have the advantage of being shorter than the alternatives.) Indeed, there are languages for which the more learnèd variants are rare or apparently unattested: what are the variants for Dutch, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.?

Back to Rwandaphone. This might at first look odd, since Rwanda is a country name; for the speakers of the language, its name is Kinyarwanda, so the expected compound would be the 5-syllable Kinyarwandaphone. But the kinya- part of Kinyarwanda is a separate element: the ki- prefix is used in other Bantu language names (like Kirundi, Kikongo, and for that matter Kiswahili). So for the speakers, the prefixal material is a crucial part of the language name, but for outside users, it’s an ornament, and the plain stems — Rwanda, Rundi, Kongo, Swahili — are often used to name the languages; this is the general practice in the Ethnologue, for example, though it lists the prefixed versions as well.

And there we are.

2 Responses to “-phones around the world”

  1. Eamonn McManus Says:

    Concerning Dutch-speaking: In French there are the same standard -ophone words as you cite. They are used more frequently than in English because there is no convenient X-speaking alternative. Being able to say “Dutch-speaking”, or more exactly “Flemish-speaking”, is of some importance to French speakers in Belgium, and by far the most usual word is néerlandophone. The Google finds occasional uses of Netherlandophone in English. French speakers also use hollandophone occasionally, and there are hits for that in English too. And Belgian Francophones even use flamandophone, for which the only English equivalent I can imagine, Flemophone, has a mere 10 hits.

    I have biggish one-volume dictionaries of English and French to hand, and none of these words appears in either of them. Néerlandophone does appear in the online Larousse, though.

  2. Erik Zyman Says:

    If forced to generate -phone words for Dutch, Thai, and Vietnamese, I’d go with Nederlandophone, Thaiophone, and Vietnamophone respectively. A really cursory Google search turns up instances of the first and third of those. Thaiophone really does seem odder, though it’s much better than (?)?Thaiphone, which just cries out for a connecting vowel to separate its two stress-bearing syllables.

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