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A title in the IELTS Reading Section reads -

The Phoenicians: an almost forgotten people

It's IELTS and thus unlikely to make a mistake!

What am I missing? Or IELTS has gone wrong?

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    COUNTRY/RACE [countable also + plural verb] the people who belong to a particular country, race, or area: the Basques, a people of northwestern Spain – Mv Log Jan 17 at 2:08
  • @MvLog If that's the case, a particular country, then a people of America? or The people of America? A particular/specific noun would then take the definite article! – Maulik V Jan 17 at 2:34
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Nothing has gone wrong. I agree that we've all gotten used to the idea of thinking of the word people as the plural form of person, but, believe it or not, it can also be used as a countable noun in singular (a people) as well as plural (peoples) form. It basically means a body of persons living in the same country under one national government. I simply recommend thinking of the phrase a people (or peoples) as equivalent to the phrase a nation (or nations).

So, the title is absolutely fine because, as far as I know from ancient history, the Phoenicians indeed were a people. It was a nation living in what's now called the Middle East. Though, I must say the term nation, strictly speaking, does not really apply here very well because nation is a more modern political concept which historically was a much later invention compared to when the Phoenicians lived.

Long story short, people when used without an article just refers to a bunch of individuals (in fact, it can be millions of individuals). People when used with an article refers to a large group of individuals living together as a nation (they speak the same language, share the same customs and live on the same territory).

Here's a reference for you from the Collins English Dictionary:

  1. countable noun

    A people is all the men, women, and children of a particular country or race.

Example:

the native peoples of Central and South America

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    One nit: "a people" need not be living together in a country under a single government, and multiple "peoples" might be under the same government. Consider various cases of diasporas for the first case, and historical countries like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, or the Austro-Hungarian empire for examples of the second. – Deolater Jan 17 at 14:52
  • That's a good point, I just didn't want to go into details. I thought that would be, kind of, understood. Thank you for your comment. – Michael Rybkin Jan 17 at 17:23
  • I'm not necessarily suggesting an edit, since this is in the historical context part of your answer, not the English language part, but just FYI, it's not quite right to say that the Phoenicians "lived in the Middle East." They probably originated in what's now Lebanon, but they had a huge empire that spanned the entire Mediterranean. Famous Phoenicians settlements outside of Lebanon include Carthage in modern-day Tunisia and Cadiz in Spain. – Juhasz Jan 17 at 18:05

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