Please note I am not trying to be offensive in this question. If I were to refer to people from China/Korea/Japan without specifying their country I would use the term "Asian" and likewise for people from Germany/France/Greece I would use the term "European".

However people who come from countries neighboring India such as Sri Lanka or Fijian Indians do not like to be classified as "Indian" because this would be similar to calling a Japanese person "Chinese". I understand why this would be offensive.

Is there a word to describe this type of group of people that doesn't assume their country of origin?

For example a colleague of mine wanted to say that they are the only person who isn't Indian in their team however although they look/sound like they could be from the same group of people the team is not made up entirely of Indians so it wouldn't be accurate to describe them as such.

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    '... from the subcontinent' (assuming they were born there). Jan 8, 2018 at 22:34
  • 5
    In Britain, unqualified "Asian" usually means this. More precisely, "South Asian".
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 8, 2018 at 22:41
  • Perhaps it's different where I am (NZ) we would use "Asian" almost exclusively to refer to east Asian decent. My colleague in this context for example was Chinese. So "I'm the only person in my team who isn't Asian" certainly doesn't fit the context required.
    – L3monsta
    Jan 8, 2018 at 22:44
  • A counterpart, and a relative.
    – choster
    Jan 9, 2018 at 1:27
  • The UN has a map that lumps countries into tidy regions. United_Nations_geoscheme
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 9, 2018 at 4:05

2 Answers 2


I'd have said South Asians. It's correct, but not necessarily widely understood.

Regarding your comment on the use of "Asian", it seems there are competing definitions of "Asian" in New Zealand:

One is racially based and includes only East and Southeast Asian peoples. It is commonly employed in popular discourse and by the media. The other construction includes peoples from East, South and Southeast Asia, but excludes peoples from the Middle East and Central Asia. This construction is recent and unique to New Zealand ...

  • 1
    This would be correct and fairly well-understood in the US, at least by most relevant audiences (Asian Americans of any origin, most folks in education, etc.).
    – 1006a
    Jan 9, 2018 at 1:50
  • 1
    I tend to use South Asian as well, it rarely causes ambiguities and if it does it's pretty easy to elaborate (i.e. "South Asian as in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc."). An Indian friend of mine uses "Brown Asian" and "Yellow Asian". While it's nice and unambiguous, and solves the problem of 2 very different ethnic groups being given the same term, as a pasty white Brit I'm not going to be using that expression in the workplace!! I've also come across the term desi but I've never encountered it "in the wild" so to speak
    – Some_Guy
    Jan 9, 2018 at 1:57
  • My sister-in-law is from London, her parents are from India. She refers to herself as British South Asian, so I go with that. Jan 9, 2018 at 2:24

I would use "Indic", a parallel to "Indo-". There had been a political entity called India by the British, but it split politically into Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri-Lanka/Celyon, so calling all such people "Indian" would be politically reductive.

It is very important to accurately name such peoples, as they are now the most numerous on earth with about 1 in 4 humans being residents, or descended from residents of the Indian Subcontinent.

I am not sure that South Asia is specific enough, since all Asian places south of China, the Caspian Sea or the Himalayas would most etymologically be "southern Asian". In the UK, where there were waves of immigration from Africa, home to generations of migrants from the old British India, I believe that the term "South Asian" was one of political correctness. The map below differs from my proposal in that a) it oddly puts Afghanistan and Iran in "South Asia" instead of Central Asia, and b) it oddly omits from West Asia former West Asian Soviet Union (Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia).

Color-coded map of Asian regions

That in mind, there should also be reworking of poltically-imbued terms to reflect geographic reality and be geographically consistent. I propose:

"South-West Asian" (i.e., the Indian sub-continent and associated islands)

"South-east Asian" (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, New Guinea and Indochinese nations).

"West Asian". The medieval term "Levant" or even the European-centric misnomer "Middle East" should be renamed "West Asia" to include Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Israel, the Gulf microstates, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It would abut against Central Asia at the Caspian Sea, and southern Asia at Pakistan.

"Central Asia." This would the places to the east of the Ural mountain, north of the Indian sub-continent, south of Russian Asia and west of China. (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Iran)

" (North) East Asia". China, Mongolia, Eastern Siberia, Japan, Korea. If Mr. Putin continues to rely upon supplies, support and funds from China, we may well see the Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Siberia subject to historic claims by China. With a mere 140M Russians, I don't see how a distant Moscow regime could adequately maintain and defend a place larger than even Canada, most of which would be inhabitable, with an economy smaller than that of similarly-populated Mexico.

  • 2
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