the respelling tactic

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sat Jul 3 18:47:08 UTC 2004

from today's (7/3/04) NYT, story by Sharon Waxman, "Using a Racial
Epithet To Combat Racism", p. A19, about the documentary "The N Word":

The perspectives diverge widely.  Young hip-hop artists defiantly state
their right to use the word whenever they wish.  An unidentified
teenage white girl explains carefully that "niggaz" is completely
different from niggers and thus acceptable.

ah, the respelling strategy, which gave us "boyz", "grrlz",
"ghey/ghay", and possibly others, where the differentiation of senses
is entirely orthographic.  in this case, it's possible that the girl is
an rful speaker and has a phonological distinction between "niggers"
and "niggaz" -- though i doubt it would assuage offended rless speakers
if she told them that she spelled these words differently.

whatever else this is, it's a touching tribute to the power of the
writing system in the minds of its users.  and an interesting
exploitation of one of the most frequently criticized aspects of the
english spelling system, namely the many alternative spellings it
provides for the same pronunciation.

arnold (zwicky at

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