McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Thu Jan 21 19:45:00 UTC 2010

Regarding the pronunciation /nIgr@/, if I might quote myself, from _American Speech_ 56 (1981) 154-55:

<< Uncertain as the historical development and regional and social distribution of the form may be, native white Southerners of middle years know in their hearts and in their deep structures that /nIgr@/ is spelled _Negro_, and would be spelled _nigra_ only to derogate the Southern pronunciation, which in fact is found elsewhere too.  The _OEDS_ entry for _Nigra_ does a remarkable job of confusing spelling with pronunciation:  "Variant form of 'Negro', used principally in the Southern States."  What is "offensive" about _nigra_ (to use the lable in _Webster's Third_) is not the intent of the pronunciation but the intent of the spelling, which is a literary device to elicit contempt for a speaker to whom the form is attributed. >>

Having said all that, I will add that once I realized that the pronunciation /nIgr@/ is found offensive by many people, I avoided using the pronunciation!


---- Original message ----
>Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:57:51 -0500
>From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> (on behalf of Seán Fitzpatrick <grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET>)
>Perhaps, in  the sense that "Negro" was pronounced nigra, which did double duty as the dialectically and socially acceptable mincing of nigger.
>Sean Fitzpatrick
>Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
>I blame Global Warming.

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