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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 20 21:16:28 UTC 2017

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

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

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.):



The latter differs by only one phoneme from "Nigerian."


On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 3:58 PM, Salikoko S. Mufwene <mufw at uchicago.edu>

> 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

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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

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