Date: Tue, 25 Oct 1994 13:37:40 CST


Subject: Re: offending idiot

In Message Mon, 24 Oct 1994 21:32:23 -0400,


Most ADS-L readers probably don't need the reference, but in 1991

American Speech ran two excellent articles on the subject of terms

of group self-reference by African Americans (or "American Slave

Descendants" in Baugh's neutral term), by Geneva Smitherman and John

Baugh. Baugh's article gives a detailed breakdown of preferences by

age among ASD for such terms as "black, colored, negro, nigger" etc.

It's quite evident from this that "nigger" is not a neutral term for

anyone in the African American community today.

Thanks, Peter, for adding the references to the discussion. The article by

Geneva Smitherman actually provides a chronology of the terms. On p. 118 (AS

66, 1991), she observes that "nigger" was a term used by "Europeans in

Colonioal America" as a racial label, not as an epithet, to refer to African

Americans "when the enslavement status was unknown, or where there was

occasion to use a collective term for all Africans [in North America?]." In

the next paragraph (second on the same page, she says that the most

frequently used label by Africans to refer to themselves was "African."

Having lived in the South for 10 years with African-American and White

American friends, I have a hard time contextualizing Roger Vanderveen's

claim that the term "Nigger" is acceptable and used by lots of people in

the South. As this discussion began, I didn't question that it was used. I

admitted that it is used among African Americans with special pragmatic

effect. So, some African Americans insult or tease one another using the

term "Nigger." I don't think it as a neutral term. My wife is AA and she

takes serious offense at the term. One of her aunts often uses it to put down

other AAs she despises, which iritates my wife a lot. I suppose Roger will have

to be

more specific in his claim. On the other hand, Chuck Coker sounds accurate

in describing some of the pragmatic constraints on the usage of such


I hate to use this addition to Peter's note as a way of replying to some

parts of Roger's intervention. What one says in the privacy of their home is

more or less like what one thinks in the privacy of their minds. There are

things that are considered tasteless by others which some of us may like.

Everybody does not like everybody, and that's fine though not ideal; but

that does not mean that society allows them to abuse or offend everybody

they do not like. Why should I even bother discussing this anyway?


Salikoko S. Mufwene

University of Chicago

Dept. of Linguistics

1010 East 59th Street

Chicago, IL 60637


312-702-8531; fax: 312-702-9861