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    #1

    the German in generic contexts?

    Hi, teachers.
    Would you please share your interpretations on this with me:
    Here come the words, from a famous book, confusing me so much:
    Singular or plural, definite or indefinite, can often be used without appreciable difference of meaning in generic contexts:
    A German is a good musician.
    Germans/The Germans are good musicians.
    A fourth possibility might even be included:
    The German is a good musician.
    A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language

    Singular nationality words with generic reference?
    Did the writer make a mistake?
    If not, kindly tell when it is said.
    Thank you very much.

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    #2

    not a teacher

    No that's not a mistake. I'd say all of the following constructions are synonymous and deal with nationalities:

    Russians like to drink vodka.
    The Russians like to drink vodka.
    The Russian likes to drink vodka.

    That last one, the usage you are wondering about--it's a little bit old-fashioned, maybe. And I think that it's mostly used for European nationalities. Can't remember ever reading "The Canadian".

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    #3

    Re: not a teacher

    Quote Originally Posted by Vidor View Post
    No that's not a mistake. I'd say all of the following constructions are synonymous and deal with nationalities:

    Russians like to drink vodka.
    The Russians like to drink vodka.
    The Russian likes to drink vodka.

    That last one, the usage you are wondering about--it's a little bit old-fashioned, maybe. And I think that it's mostly used for European nationalities. Can't remember ever reading "The Canadian".
    What a shame! Dear Vidor. I have never read "The Canadian".
    What's it about?

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    #4

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    No, I meant that I've never read anyone use "The Canadian" in the way that you asked above re: "the German".

    I cannot access video at the moment, but if you look, there's a movie scene that uses "the German" in the way you asked about. The film is called "The Stranger", it was made in the 1940s, and it stars Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson. Welles is an escaped Nazi using a false identity, and Robinson is an agent attempting to capture him. In the movie Welles has a long monologue at dinner about "the German".

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    #5

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vidor View Post
    No, I meant that I've never read anyone use "The Canadian" in the way that you asked above re: "the German".

    I cannot access video at the moment, but if you look, there's a movie scene that uses "the German" in the way you asked about. The film is called "The Stranger", it was made in the 1940s, and it stars Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson. Welles is an escaped Nazi using a false identity, and Robinson is an agent attempting to capture him. In the movie Welles has a long monologue at dinner about "the German".
    This almost always has negative implications these days - national or racial stereotyping. Of course, it's understandable that one would do that during WWII about the enemy. It's a type of dehumanisation; it's the way we refer to animals - the cat has four rows of whiskers, the elephant has a trunk and tusks, the German is excessively orderly.

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    #6

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    Dear Raymott, nice to see you.
    How about these, not negative ones:

    Schools should concentrate more on the child and less on exams.
    A poor sense of color is thought to be a legacy from the time our mammalian ancestors coexisted with the dinosaurs.(generic reference)

    Would you please tell the more profound reasons why we choose singular or plural nouns?
    Last edited by norwolf; 09-Dec-2010 at 17:02.

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    #7

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    Quote Originally Posted by norwolf View Post
    Dear Raymott, nice to see.
    How about these, not negative ones:

    Schools should concentrate more on the child and less on exams.
    A poor sense of color is thought to be a legacy from the time our mammalian ancestors coexisted with the dinosaurs.(generic reference)

    Would you please tell the more profound reasons why we choose singular or plural nouns?
    Often there is no profound reason to use one form or the other. "The child" is quite alright, as is "the dinosaurs".
    But, "the Jew", "the Oriental", etc. are not alright, if you are referring to those people as a whole.

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    #8

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    Thank you, Raymott.


    Here are my ideas about this issue. Would you and all other teachers please give me a hand to find out the mistakes?


    Individuals or a group
    Plural nouns with definite articles and either specific or generic reference are usually used, when we consider a group as a whole.
    The Romans defeated the Carthaginians in 202 BC.
    The action of a war is not taken by a person individually but a whole people.
    The Americans are a generous people.
    That is a general impression, but perhaps some of them aren’t.
    I saw the stars in the sky.
    My wife likes the seaside, but I prefer the mountains.
    The stars or mountains, in fact, appear in my eyes as a group not one after one.
    Singular non-count nouns with generic reference often denote one typical example in a group individually.
    He took her by the arm.
    I wouldn’t take both of her arms with the one exception to let her not go.
    Put your cup down on the arm of your chair.
    It is impossible to put a cup on both of the arms of a chair.
    "Well Mr. Jones, I have travelled the world extensively and I can tell you that, in general, the Frenchman is a lover of food, the German is a good musician, the Spaniard has a passionate nature, etc." (by an e-pal named grubble)
    The speaker learnt the knowledge of those peoples by watching some of them instead of studying them as a whole.
    Schools should concentrate more on the child and less on exams.
    The child, in this topic on education, means every one of the children at school should be cared for individually and equally, by contrast, the children, a whole, irresponsibly.
    Why do we usually prefer plural nouns of nationalities?
    The reason is that when we refer generically to nations or racial groups, we usually treat the people as a whole, and at the same time respect their individualities, not like a group of animals without any differences.
    Last edited by norwolf; 11-Dec-2010 at 05:14.

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    #9

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    Quote Originally Posted by norwolf View Post
    "Well Mr. Jones, I have travelled the world extensively and I can tell you that, in general, the Frenchman is a lover of food, the German is a good musician, the Spaniard has a passionate nature, etc." (by an e-pal named grubble)
    That's the only one I'd question. It doesn't sound too bad as written, but I hope not too many people actually speak that way.
    Even 'Frenchman' sound a bit off these days. What about French women? You'll certainly read this type of thing in English texts that are not too ancient though.

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    #10

    Re: the German in generic contexts?

    Quote Originally Posted by norwolf View Post
    A poor sense of color is thought to be a legacy from the time our mammalian ancestors coexisted with the dinosaurs.(generic reference)
    Does the dinosaurs denote many/all kinds of dinosaur?

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