"nayger" [WAS: Re: Rastus (was: "Jazz Means Happy and Loose Like" (1917))]

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Mon Dec 10 14:16:31 UTC 2007

I think 'renege' came into English in the 16th Cent., and it might
have been subject to the sporadic raising of /e/ (BET) to /I/ (BIT)
that was common in Late Middle English (and has, in fact, continued).
Such pronunciations as /yIs/ (yes) and /yist at rdI/ were common
(standard) in older varieties of Brit. Eng. and certainly not unknown
on this side of the pond


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: "nayger" [WAS: Re: Rastus (was: "Jazz Means Happy and Loose
>               Like" (1917))]
>Can anyone explain the relationship between the spelling "renege"
>and the (standard) pronciation of the final syllable as [-nIg]?
>---- Original message ----
>>Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2007 10:02:53 -0800
>>From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>>"Niger" was apparently pronounced / i / until, perhaps, it became
>>an archaic form learned from print.
>>   JL
>>"Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU> wrote:
>>I don't understand the concept of levelling here. If "Niger" was
>>pronounced /ay/ (LIGHT) (forget the quality of the 'g') and "Neger"
>>was pronounced /ey/ (FACE) or /e/ (BET), what is the levelling
>>process that yields /I/ (HIT)?
>>>"Nayger" is a dial. remnant of 16th C. "Neger."
>>>  I once did a good deal of research on these forms. Some of the
>>>results are in HDAS. Some further upshots:
>>>  1. "Nigger" is not a variant pronunciation (or mispronunciation")
>>>of "Negro."
>>>  2. a. "Niger" (one "g") was until the early to mid 18th C. a
>>>mostly neutral term.
>>>  b. "Nigger" results from a leveling of both "Neger" and "Niger."
>>>  3. Runaway slave notices, slave auction ads, etc., which would
>>>not seem to require euphemisms, uniformly employ "Negro," as
>>>though "nigger" were inappropriate for polite use..
>>>  4. The earliest printed exx. of "nigger" as a term of
>>>white-against-black abuse are from the early 19th C.
>>>  JL
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
15C Morrill Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
preston at msu.edu

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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