Definition of ethnic in English:



  • 1Relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.

    ‘ethnic and cultural rights and traditions’
    ‘leaders of ethnic communities’
    • ‘He says Germany's 2 million-plus Turks are the country's largest foreign ethnic group.’
    • ‘An innovative Lancashire County Council scheme aims to recruit more teachers of ethnic and black origin.’
    • ‘The production and distribution of rental housing was handled within the city's ethnic communities.’
    • ‘In recent years, rugby league has made giant strides in developing the interest and involvement in the game in indigenous and ethnic communities and its success will be on full parade on Sunday night.’
    • ‘The most promising developments in recent years have included the formation of historical societies within ethnic communities.’
    • ‘The company dates back to a time when they would sell their products within ethnic communities, before eventually expanding to include the other Australians.’
    • ‘I know that in Christchurch where it was very difficult to get representatives from within small ethnic communities, that is exactly what I did.’
    • ‘His celebration, his hopes and further aspirations should not just be seen as inspiration within the ethnic community.’
    • ‘These policy shifts stem from struggles over social dominance among cultural and ethnic groups within the larger society.’
    • ‘We seek help from within the ethnic communities to give us a balance as to what we are actually seeking to achieve.’
    racial, race-related, ethnological, genetic, inherited
    cultural, national, tribal, ancestral, traditional, folk
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Relating to national and cultural origins.
      ‘pupils from a wide variety of ethnic origins’
      • ‘As I have set out above, the school has for many years taught pupils from a wide variety of ethnic origins, cultural backgrounds and religious faiths.’
      • ‘But regardless of age and status (employment, ethnic origin, marital status) women are much less likely than men to read the financial pages of the newspapers.’
      • ‘Do children tend to select heroes who are of their same ethnic background?’
      • ‘In trials on people with hypertension, sex and ethnic characteristics were generally poorly documented.’
      • ‘Kenya's rich cultural heritage is a mixture of ethnic and cultural traditions.’
      • ‘Mexico is a country with an enormously diverse cultural, ethnic, and racial population.’
      • ‘People from more than a hundred different nationalities and as many cultural and ethnic origins were subsumed under a single national identity in Israel.’
      • ‘Not only did a discourse of rights have to be created for Mexican immigrant farmworkers, but it also had to recognize the ethnic variation within the farmworker population.’
      • ‘Assimilation is the process of giving up traditional ethnic identity and accepting the dominant group's culture.’
      • ‘The Muslim community in America is made up of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins.’
      • ‘Malaysia's heritage has the distinction of being a harmonious blend of centuries-old culture, arts and traditions of different racial and ethnic communities.’
      • ‘They belonged to the same ethnic group and all were right handed.’
      • ‘Individuals who belong to high-risk ethnic groups might also benefit from a genetic evaluation and counseling.’
      • ‘European law also provides protection from discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion or belief and disability.’
      • ‘I'm not saying that Asians should shed their ethnic traditions by assimilating within the mainstream.’
      • ‘Do not prejudge or label people because of their cultural or ethnic origin.’
      • ‘The patients and the controls were randomly selected and belonged to the same ethnic group.’
      • ‘I had hoped we had moved beyond the use of ethnic characteristics as ways to ridicule people.’
      • ‘All human beings were entitled to be treated equally, regardless of their ethnic or religious origins.’
      • ‘He sternly reminded the airlines that it was illegal to discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin, or religion.’
      race-related, ethnological
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2Denoting origin by birth or descent rather than by present nationality.
      ‘ethnic Indian populations’
      • ‘This is especially true for those who are temporarily occupying houses belonging to ethnic Serbs who have returned or intend to return.’
      • ‘Singaporeans have deliberately tried to suppress their ethnic Chinese cultural characteristics lest they provoke a counter-reaction from Muslims.’
      • ‘Not one of the pledges made by the Khmer Rouge then was adhered to; they refused to disarm and continued their campaign of terror in several parts of the country, killing many of ethnic Vietnamese origin.’
      • ‘The Constitution is designed to guarantee power-sharing between the country's indigenous Fijian and ethnic Indian populations.’
      • ‘Three of them are said to be of ethnic Pakistani origin.’
      • ‘The reason for tabling the strategy was that 250,000 families of ethnic Turk origin make their living in the tobacco sector.’
      • ‘Up to 11,000 people, mainly ethnic Albanians, were killed and some 3,000 are still registered as missing.’
      • ‘They're predominantly ethnic Chinese, who suffered greatly at the hands of the country's military.’
      • ‘In 1998, just before then President Suharto stepped down, unrest and arson destroyed or damaged hundreds of properties belonging to ethnic Chinese in Solo.’
      • ‘And in Fiji, tensions continued between its indigenous and its ethnic Indian populations.’
      • ‘They are, instead, a subset of the country's citizens: those who belong to the ethnic Slav majority.’
      • ‘He did acknowledge the emergence of a separatist movement within the ethnic Albanian population in the late 1980s.’
      • ‘About 25 per cent of the university's students are Bulgarians of Turkish ethnic origin and Roma.’
      • ‘They were predominantly ethnic Albanian, but from different backgrounds - farmers, politicians and retirees.’
      • ‘Since 1959 non-citizens within the ethnic Chinese population have been denied the right to run businesses in rural Indonesia.’
      • ‘Hundreds of properties belonging to ethnic Chinese in Solo were burned down in 1998 just before then President Suharto stepped down.’
      • ‘Last year, three women of ethnic Bulgarian origin went on a hunger strike as a last resort in their desperation to seek protection from the state.’
      • ‘Macedonia came close to civil war last year, when ethnic Albanians staged an uprising demanding greater rights.’
    3. 1.3Characteristic of or belonging to a non-Western cultural tradition.
      ‘ethnic jewellery’
      ‘folk and ethnic music’
      • ‘The festival, to be held on October 9, features ethnic foods and music, craft booths, and food vendors.’
      • ‘So there are now two photos of me in ethnic dress!’
      • ‘For children aged 5 to 7 there will be a fancy dress competition with ethnic costumes and ‘painting the flag’.’
      • ‘Antonio Marras is excellent in creating dresses in ethnic styles.’
      • ‘He is now exploring ethnic music from around the world.’
      • ‘Our patterns are based on ethnic designs, and are always faithful in spirit and approach to the African originals that have influenced their design.’
      • ‘The richness of their heritage became a legacy for all and their recordings dating back to the turn of the 20th century put Irish traditional music on a par with other ethnic world music forms.’
      • ‘Dark blue walls shimmer with candlelight, a display case of market vegetables glows in the background and strains of ethnic music play at just the right level for conversation.’
      • ‘Another feature of the festival is the ethnic dress.’
      • ‘It was while in Cornell that he began to be interested in ethnic music from India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and also African as well as Western music.’
      • ‘And despite the many different ethnic influences, the music seems to create an atmosphere that almost radiates from the CD player.’
      • ‘The ethnic instruments we carry are used in numerous styles of traditional music, from folk to Celtic to classical.’
  • 2archaic Neither Christian nor Jewish; pagan or heathen.

    • ‘Christmas is an imitation of the Saturnalia of the ethnic Romans, and so used as if Bacchus, and not Christ, were the God of Christians.’


offensive, dated
  • A member of an ethnic minority.


Ethnic is sometimes used in a euphemistic way to refer to non-white people as a whole, as in a radio station which broadcasts to the ethnic community in Birmingham. Although this usage is quite common, more specific terms such as ‘black’ or ‘Asian’ are preferable. Note that use of the word as a noun is often regarded as offensive, especially in British English, and is best avoided


Late Middle English (denoting a person not of the Christian or Jewish faith): via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek ethnikos heathen, from ethnos nation. Current senses date from the 19th century.