A sovereign state (a 'country' in common language) consisting of 2 or more nations (as in geographically defined, ethnic nationality) or even a sovereign state having 'at least one distinctive Nation within it', based on the example of Quebec [1], seems to be currently defined as a multi-national state, but I couldn't find a single word or even short phrase for the reverse: "a nation within a state", although this exact longer phrase is in frequent use, as the following Google search will show:

Google search for "nation within a state"

A few examples: Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Quebec (arguable), Ukraine when it was part of the former USSR (also applicable to all the other nations that once made up the USSR, later becoming independent states) and the Navajo Nation.

So what is a single word or short phrase meaning 'a nation within a state?'

Mandatory Example for SWR: Nation A is a __________ , which means that Nation A is a nation within a state.

Note: It is not enclave or exclave which terms instead deal with 2 or more entirely sovereign states.

Note 2: members are earnestly requested to please resist the temptation to engage in any political debate, and my question is concerned solely with the linguistic aspects of the matter.

[1] In 2006, the House of Commons of Canada voted in favor of Government Business No. 11, which states that the Québécois "form a nation within a united Canada".

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multinational_state under the heading 'modern multinational or multiethnic states' - Americas - Canada.


I think the word you really want is simply nation.

A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people. Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state

  • Oxford English Dictionary

But the distinctions between country, nation, and state are quite complicated. For instance, according to the CIA World Factbook, The United States is considered a country comprised of multiple states. This terminology dates back to the founding of the U.S., when there was disagreement between forming a Confederation or a Federation, as was ultimately done by the The Constitutional Convention.

On the other hand, The United Kingdom is considered a sovereign state that includes multiple countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

At the same time, The United Kingdom itself can be referred to as a country.

All of these terms are complicated by their multiple and overlapping definitions. For instance, OED provides definition 4.a for country, implying that it is smaller than a nation or state, as with Wales or Scotland.

  1. a. An area of land of defined extent characterized by its human occupants or boundaries; a district or administrative region, typically one smaller than a nation or state

A footnote on definition five delves into some of the confusion about the word country:

With political changes, what were originally distinct countries have become regions or provinces of one country, and vice versa, but the tendency is to identify the term with the current political condition.

The question is complicated further by the complex definitions of nation. While Quebec is quite arguably a nation within Canada, as well as a province by name, anti-separatists would probably take political umbrage with using the term nation. That's because of that second part of the definition of "nation" provided at the top of this answer:

Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state.

This creates some political implications regarding terminology that make it hard to give a clear-cut answer that applies in all cases. Still, I believe that the most accurate term to refer to a nation, whether it is among others in a state or not, would still be nation. Perhaps there is a more precise terminology for nations that exist within a larger state; Other users will surely contribute to that question.

  • 1
    Thanks for your comprehensive answer, @RaceYouAnytime: 'country' within a state seems being used interchangeably with 'nation' which is indeed the most basic term we can use, but the quest for a more defining word is in order to distinguish a nation-within-a-state from a nation-state where the nation is itself a sovereign state. – English Student Jul 12 '17 at 8:50

The State is a political organization and structure formed by people. People typically will form groups called Nations since they share a common culture, history and ethnicity. Nations can be stateless, that is, a Nation does not necessarily have a defined or developed political structure such as the State. States on the other hand will contain at least one Nation. A Nation that forms a State is called Nation State. Also, a Nation can exist in many States. Hence, a Nation within a State is still called Nation

  • Thanks for your excellent answer @Alex Sarmiento and for pointing out that a 'nation' can itself exist as part of multiple states: 'nation' is indeed the most basic term we can use, but the quest for a more defining word is in order to distinguish a nation-within-a-state or nation-within-multiple-states from a nation-state where the nation is itself a sovereign state. – English Student Jul 12 '17 at 8:54

In a sociological perspective, another term would be minority if the nation in a state is relatively small.

Minority: a small group within a community or country that is different because of race, religion, language, etc.

  • I get your point, @Mustafa, and it is very relevant. Please note I've specifically defined 'nation' with a geographical basis here (see question) as in, the geographical entity Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Quebec, the Basque nation, etc. If ethnic minorities either 'scattered all over the state' or 'far from their homeland' were taken as a 'nation' each, the USA would also be a multi-national state with around 150 significant ethnic minorities -- which many already suggest it actually is! I upvote your very interesting answer. – English Student Jul 12 '17 at 13:21

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