[Ads-l] [Non-DoD Source] "Niger" or "Niger"?

Salikoko S. Mufwene mufw at UCHICAGO.EDU
Fri Oct 20 18:29:15 EDT 2017


Thanks to JL and WB (whose full name I've never seen) for their 
informative responses. I must point out that the connection (apparently 
accidental) between /Niger /and the N-word is only in the written 
modality, not in the spoken forms heard on TV or radio broadcasts. I 
found it a little bit bizarre that some connection was established at 
all between the two words. Of the etymologies I just googled, the Tuareg 
alternative (related to the perhaps indigenous name for the Niger River) 
sounds more plausible historically than that tracing it to Latin. (If 
this were the case, the French could have named many of their African 
colonies likewise!) There's even one that goes to Greek, through 
Ptolomy's writing, although I wonder whether Ptolomy knew of the region. 
Well, curiosity can take us in all sorts of directions.

Below is the etymology passage from Wikitionary:
Commonly linked by folk etymology to Latin niger (“black”), which likely 
influenced the modern spelling. Some sources give the term to Tuareg 
roots, deriving it from a claimed gher n-gheren or egereou n-igereouen 
(“river of rivers”).[1][2] Older sources derive Niger via a series of 
mistranslations and geographic misplacements by Greek, Roman and Arab 
geographers, from Ptolemy's descriptions of the valley Gir (a wadi in 
modern Algeria), and the "Lower Gir" (or "Ni-Gir") to the south.[3]

On 10/20/2017 4:16 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> Dear Sali,
>
> As soon as I recognized the phonetic near-identity of "Nee-jur" and
> "knee-jerk" (which was immediately), I thought it would be trivially
> amusing (and marginally clarifying) to point out the meaningless
> similarity.
>
> I promise I had no ulterior motive except a spirit of fun. More seriously,
> I find the surprisingly various attempts to pronounce "Niger" correctly in
> English fascinating.  At one point I was aware of only one version. Then
> there were two. Now there are several. Which one will have the most staying
> power?
>
> I can think of several likely pronunciations of "Nigerien" (which looks
> very odd in English) but must admit I've heard only two (both in the last
> 24 hrs.):
>
> Nee-ZHAIR-iun
>
> Nye-ZHEER-iun
>
> The latter differs by only one phoneme from "Nigerian."
>
> JL
>
> On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 3:58 PM, Salikoko S. Mufwene <mufw at uchicago.edu>
> wrote:
>
>> Dear JL:
>>
>> I suspect that for a lot of Americans this is the year when Niger is
>> discussed on TV for, let's say, the first time and when they can try to
>> situate on the map. There's variation in perception and reproduction of
>> unfamiliar names, isn't there? When you also add the comparison with
>> "knee-jerk," I start wondering whether you are making fun of the
>> French-based pronunciation or of  the speaker's pronunciation. At the
>> beginning of this thread, I had the impression that people were just
>> interested in the non-Anglo pronunciation of the country name... and we
>> have long come past that academic discussion!
>>
>> Sali.
>>
>> On 10/20/2017 12:12 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>
>>> Pronunciation by WaPo journalist Karoun Demirjian on CNN:
>>>
>>> NEE-jur.
>>>
>>> Cf. "knee-jerk."
>>>
>>> JL
>>>
>>> On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 9:22 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com
>>> wrote:
>>>
>>> April Ryan, award-winning White House correspondent.
>>>> BTW, the given name "Ryan" is now unisex: (Ms.) Ryan Manion (b.
>>>> ca.1977?):
>>>>
>>>> <http://goog_153042178>
>>>> http://www.travismanion.org/our-story/tmf-staff-and-board/
>>>>
>>>> board-of-directors/ryan-manion-board/
>>>>
>>>> JL
>>>>
>>>> On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 3:59 AM, Stanton McCandlish <
>>>> smccandlish at gmail.com
>>>>
>>>>> wrote:
>>>>> I've never encountered "Nigerian" for "a native of Niger", only for "a
>>>>> native of Nigeria"; I would think trying to use it for both would be
>>>>> fatally ambiguous, thus "Nigerien".
>>>>>
>>>>> I've lately heard (in the US anyway) a lot of radio and TV people taking
>>>>> extra care to try (often farcically) to approximate French and Spanish
>>>>> proper name pronunciations, starting in the 1990s (and probably
>>>>> radiating
>>>>> out from the American Southwest).  This has included pronunciations of
>>>>> the
>>>>> names of some other former French colonies, e.g. Montserrat without the
>>>>> "t"
>>>>> sounds and with a nasalized "n".  I would think that eagerness to avoid
>>>>> anything like the pronunciation of the N-word is behind rapid
>>>>> re-adoption
>>>>> of "knee-ZHAIR" in English, but it's actually part of a broader pattern
>>>>> (cf. someone else's comment about Côte d'Ivoire).
>>>>>
>>>>> See also ready Western adoption of Beijing, Mumbai, and other changes to
>>>>> some Asian placename transliterations to be more accurate, and increased
>>>>> appearance of the proper diacritics on many names in modern newspapers
>>>>> which used to eschew them entirely or almost entirely (I remember one
>>>>> journalism style guide permitted them for Spanish and French but no
>>>>> others).  Also been seeing a lot of Dao De Jing (even Daodejing), Mao
>>>>> Zedong, Laozi, etc., where once we had Tao Te Ching, Mao Tse Tung or Mao
>>>>> Tse-tung, and Lao Tzu or Lao Tze.
>>>>>
>>>>> All of these proper-naming shifts seem to have happened over a single
>>>>> generation, from the 1980s to 2000s, and are being pushed top-down by
>>>>> publishers, not bottom-up by "the common folk". Most of the shifts I
>>>>> notice
>>>>> are bottom-up ones, like turning "e-mail" into "email", inverting the
>>>>> meaning of "comprise", accepting "less" as applying to count nouns ("15
>>>>> items or less"), and treating "bad" and "good" as synonymous with "poor"
>>>>> and "well", respectively, in the performance senses ("She speaks English
>>>>> really good").
>>>>>
>>>>> On the other hand, the British war against punctuation, especially the
>>>>> period and comma, is a two-way affair, pushed aggressively by the UK
>>>>> newspaper industry and also loved by youths, who hate all those fiddly
>>>>> punctuation rules and were already ignoring them. It's resisted by
>>>>> British
>>>>> academic publishers and by regular people over about 35.  But I digress.
>>>>>
>>>>> --
>>>>> Stanton McCandlish
>>>>> McCandlish Consulting
>>>>> 4001 San Leandro St
>>>>> Suite 28
>>>>> Oakland  CA 94601-4055
>>>>>
>>>>> +1 415 234 3992
>>>>>
>>>>> https://www.linkedin.com/in/SMcCandlish
>>>>>
>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>> --
>>>> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the
>>>> truth."
>>>>
>>>>
>>>
>> --
>> **********************************************************
>> Salikoko S. Mufwene                    s-mufwene at uchicago.edu
>> The Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics and
>> the College
>> Professor, Committee on Evolutionary Biology
>> Professor, Committee on the Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science
>> University of Chicago                  773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924
>> Department of Linguistics
>> 1115 East 58th Street
>> Chicago, IL 60637, USA
>> http://mufwene.uchicago.edu/
>> **********************************************************
>>
>>
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>>
>
>

-- 
**********************************************************
Salikoko S. Mufwene                    s-mufwene at uchicago.edu
The Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics and the College
Professor, Committee on Evolutionary Biology
Professor, Committee on the Conceptual & Historical Studies of Science
University of Chicago                  773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924
Department of Linguistics
1115 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637, USA
http://mufwene.uchicago.edu/
**********************************************************


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


More information about the Ads-l mailing list