What is the difference between a "Chinese-Canadian" and a "Canadian-Chinese"?

Do I understand correctly that the first part of such phrases will show the origin of a person, and the second part will indicate their citizenship?

  • 1
    Yes. In English, we put modifiers before the word they're modifying.
    – Barmar
    Nov 6 at 17:22

2 Answers 2


Yes, the first is 'ethnicity', the second is current 'citizenship'.

However, I would hesitate to recommend using such terms, if they can be avoided.
I as a 'German-Brit'* object to this classification of people by dual standards, because they do not reflect a culture, they reflect only a historical ethnicity.

A Chinese-Canadian's family may have immigrated centuries ago, or just last year. The specific person may have been born in Canada, been orphaned at an early age & have little to no knowledge of their 'home' country or culture; or they may have been in Canada just a couple of years - long enough to pass citizenship requirements, whilst barely being able to speak English (or French, depending on territory).
I don't know the Canadian laws for this, but in many territories being fluent in the language is not an absolute condition of citizenship.

Consider the over-used [& imnsho] truly hideous appliqué, 'African American'.
Is their citizenship one of hundreds of years, following an 'enforced migration' & attendant misery, or did they actually just move from Nairobi last year, maybe as part of a work promotion?

*My family moved from Germany to England in the mid 16th century. Just because I look as 'English' as I do 'German' no-one ever notices or cares.
This should be the same for any ethnicity.

  • 1
    Some people want to use those terms. There is no other way to state the idea. African American is a separate category.
    – Lambie
    Nov 7 at 18:54
  • @Lambie - 'African American' is an apologist construction [PC meets woke in a car crash]. One I will have no truck with at all, & as a Brit, I know of no-one in my circle of friends/acquaintances who finds it comfortable either, no matter their own ethnicity.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 7 at 18:57
  • NAACP: Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln's birth. naacp.org/about/our-history What matters is what the community this touches uses not what you or I think.
    – Lambie
    Nov 7 at 19:38
  • @Lambie - America loves its euphemisms & bowdlerisms. The rest of the world [again, imnsho] is less comfortable with them. btw, I'm not reading all that to see what point you're actually trying to make. I even had to look up what NAACP means - the article seems to assume everyone, no matter where they're from, should already know.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 7 at 19:50
  • The NAACP is an American organization. Does the NHS write for Americans? I should think not. Pa-lease....
    – Lambie
    Nov 7 at 20:02

"a Chinese-Canadian" and “a Canadian-Chinese"?

The phrases are couplings of substantives. They operate in the same way as “noun1 noun2”.

noun1 noun2 = noun2 contextually associated with noun1

Information technology = technology contextually associated with information.

He is Chinese-Canadian = He is a Canadian contextually associated with China.

He is Canadian-Chinese = He is a Chinese contextually associated with Canada.

That said, the presence of the indefinite article means that the next word could be an adjective – e.g.

(i) a British Indian, which can mean (historically) a person born in India under British Rule, or a person who is ethnically Indian but born and resident in Britain.

(ii) A French Canadian – a person who is born in Canada and adheres to French culture.

Thus, British Indian -> an Indian contextually associated with Britain. A French Canadian -> A Canadian contextually associated with France.

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