Ich bin ein Bergamasc

[Posted 1:05 PM by John Derbyshire]

Here’s a thing. I was just browsing in William Ashbrook’s fine book Donizetti and his Operas. On p.7 I read: "[Francesco] Salari (1751-1823), a Bergamasc by birth, had studied at Naples with Piccinni..."

That word "Bergamasc" stopped my eye. It plainly means "a native ofBergamo" (Donizetti’s own home town). How striking that the Englishlanguage should have an irregular formation like that to identify the natives of an inconsequential Italian town!

There are a number of these irregulars in Britain: "Liverpudlian" for anative of Liverpool, "Mancunian" for someone from nearby Manchester,"Salopian" for the people of Shropshire, and so on. In the U.S.A., though, the only one I know of is "Cantabrigian," which I have heard used for anative of Cambridge, Mass. -- obviously borrowed from the corresponding British usage. (In re which, let’s not forget "Oxonian"!)

Even setting aside these irregular forms, the business of making English substantives and adjectives to identify people from this or that place isvery convoluted. Why is a native of Paris a Parisian, while a native ofBerlin is a Berliner? (As also, notoriously, is a sticky cream-filled bun.)Why is a native of Beijing a Beijinger, while a native of Shanghai is a Shanghainese? Because the first ends in a consonant but the second doesn’t? Then why is a native of Canton a Cantonese, not a Cantoner? There are deepmysteries to be plumbed here.

Is there any other language in the world as rich, varied, and mysterious as English?