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

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Dec 10 14:40:51 UTC 2007

At 9:16 AM -0500 12/10/07, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>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

Besides the vowel height issue, I suspect Charlie was also puzzled,
as I always have been, about why /nEg/ or /nIg/ would have been
represented by <-ege> with that final vowel, which is usually (but
not here) symptomatic of velar softening.  Are there other cases of
<-ege> with a velar stop?


>>---------------------- 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

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

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