I've noticed in a lot of proceedings that Aboriginal citizens in Australia are referred to as 'Aboriginal peoples', not 'Aboriginal people' - is there any specific reason?

  • 'peoples' means these are different ethic groups, no matter how closely related they may be. Please see OALD, 3rd meaning COUNTABLE. Example: native peoples of Siberia – alexsms Apr 25 '18 at 5:27
  • I was going to remove the australian-english tag because it's not specifically related to Australian English or Aborigines, but I might be wrong. It would be helpful if you could show an instance of this. It may be an idiosyncratic form used within the government bureaucracy, documents, recognition status etc, I'm not sure. – Zebrafish Apr 25 '18 at 8:41
  • You're right - this is a duplicate of english.stackexchange.com/questions/2444/… :) Thanks for point it out! – ItsPugle Apr 26 '18 at 7:26

The difference between using people and peoples isn't specific to Australian native Aborigines, it's an English distinction.

2.treated as singular or plural
The members of a particular nation, community, or ethnic group.
‘the native peoples of Canada’
Oxford Living Dictionaries

I don't think the definitions explain the distinction exactly. For example, the different groups of a community may not exactly be peoples. I'll try and explain and offer a rule that I find intuitive.

Peoples is a plural form of people that is used in specific cases. If you see a group of people standing to your left and another standing to your right you nearly never call them peoples; all together they are just people.

You use "peoples" when you're referring to more than one group that you can refer to as "a people." So a group standing on the street isn't "a people", however Cherokee American natives are "a people", the Muscogee are also "a people", and the Chickasaw are also "a people". Therefore you call them "native peoples of southeastern Unites States."

So a hint, if it helps at all, is whether you can refer to a group of people as "a people", then multiple of them are "peoples".

Another example:

The people of the world

Would generally refer to the 7.6 billion individuals on Earth.

The peoples of the world

Would refer to the distinct ethnic, racial, cultural, national or whatever other groups of people. So we can talk Germans, Francophones, Hindus, Jewish, Catalonians etc.

Notice these groups can be national, linguistic, religious, ethnic, regional, etc.

Get it?

  • Used in the sense of this question the word "people" is singular, and refers to a category of "people" (plural) e.g. the Ethiopians are an East-African people, Americans are a continental people, whist the British are a maritime people. American and Russians are continental peoples. – WS2 Apr 25 '18 at 8:31

It's people, not peoples. Because the people is already plural.

  • 2
    No, in this case, a people is a particular ethnic group, so multiple groups are peoples. This is analogous to the use of fishes or perhaps candelabras. – choster Apr 25 '18 at 6:01

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