the respelling tactic

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Sun Jul 4 10:20:41 UTC 2004

>Once again arnold gets to say all the clever stuff, and I follow up
>with the references. Readers intereted in (some of) the social
>meansings of respellings should consult the special issue of the
>Journal of Sociolinguistics (ed. by Alexandra Jaffe) on just this
>topic. It's Volume 4, #4, November 2000.


>  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

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic,
        Asian and African Languages
Wells Hall A-740
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office: (517) 353-0740
Fax: (517) 432-2736

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