Posted in Current Affairs, Opinions

“Nigga”

Pragmatic competence refers to the ability to use language appropriately in different social situations, this can be determined by different situational factors including but not limited to: the purpose of speech (rule one), and the relative status of the people speaking (rule two). Different circumstances warrant different word choices, for example if you want someone to stop talking you would have the ability to choose between “shut up” and “please can you be quiet”, to someone of an equal status the former would be socially appropriate, however it wouldn’t be appropriate to say the same thing to a stranger, colleague, or person of authority. This can be seen in other modern foreign languages such as French and many others that have polite and impolite versions of address (Vouz vs Tu). Although the purpose of the speech may be perfectly innocent, if the rule of status is being flouted than the other person in conversation may be offended by the informality or contents of what has been said. This is partially due to the intention of speech not corroborating perception of speech, therefore it is important to adjust the speech so that intention and perception match up disallowing for miscommunication and pragmatic barriers.

When taking social inequality into account the importance of intention and perception becomes heightened. I’ll give you a few examples, two homeless individuals joking around can call each other hobos as they belong to the same financial and social minority, however if someone of wealth addressed a homeless man saying: “what’s up hobo” of course it would be offensive. This is due to the social gap between the two people as they do not hold a similar status (rule 2), and even if the wealthy person was intending to have ‘banter’ with the homeless man (meaning the purpose was innocent) the perception didn’t align with the intention. Another common example is the word “faggot”. Two gay men may be perfectly comfortable calling each other faggots due to their sexual identities and the boundaries of their specific relationship, that does not however mean that they are comfortable being called faggots by anyone.

As with most topics opinions on this do vary, some people believe that members outside of a targeted derogatory group shouldn’t use the derogatory word at all, others believe that if members of a minority do not want a word to be used not even they should use it. Furthermore some people believe that members outside of the group can use the derogatory word if the intention is good, or if they are with a familiar audience as they are obeying the first rule of pragmatic competence, however they are breaking the second and that is what needs to be returned to. Word selection is contingent on the relative status of speaker and listener, and so even if a member of a derogatory minority group is okay with you using a derogatory word with them, you cannot go out and use it with other members of the same group on principal that: “your friend didn’t mind” as they do not have the authority to speak on behalf of all of those in their group. In terms of the word “nigga” there are specific social and historical connotation that come with it, and whilst your black friend may not mind, other people of colour might and are well within their right to do so. Essentially licensing your word use in one circumstance does not give you the right to use it under any circumstance possible.

On to historical context, and try to leave your white entitlement behind here. “Nigger” was not always a derogatory word, it is almost a loan word from Spanish being use denotatively for the colour black, however its english/white origins were intended to reference black people rather than black itself, therefore “nigger”=black. Over many years with apartheid, segregation, racism, SLAVERY and such nigger became a word that carried a lot of hatred and negativity that was directed at black people, changing the relative status of people (second rule of pragmatic competence). Despite there being racial slurs for many different groups, and probably all but I have not research thoroughly enough to say that, black people had to endure the most variety in words used against them for example “coon”, “mammy”, and “buck” but the n-word was widely the worst in intent of use (rule 1). It went beyond being an adjective to being a noun and a verb too, people were reduced solely down to their colour, all other qualities were ignored because they were ‘just’ a “nigger”. “Nigger” would even be used as an insult to a disliked white person, showing how caucasians oppressed a group of people based upon an unchangeable characteristics.

RECLAIM TIME. As “nigger” already meant black, between two black individuals it could mean a variety of things from laziness to irrelevance, so intra-racially the word essentially meant “yeah white people were right about you”, but whilst this breaks the rule of intention, the rule of status is left untouched. Over time diminutive affixes allowed the term to become more light hearted, but due to the social state of the world this was only the case intra-racially, and this is still the case now because history doesn’t change. Diminutives are used to add depth to a word and make it, in some way, cuter almost, for example “kitten” to “kitty”. So when the “er” on “nigger” was removed and the “a” was added to make “nigga” the words meaning changed and it became reclaimed in a diminutive form. This only happened in a rhetorical way though so, particularly in speech, tone comes into play a lot, the same way “bitch” can be used between a group of girls in different voices to mean different things. The meaning is only rhetorically diminutive if used by the target group of the derogatory word, plot twist, so in the example of bitch men can never use the word towards women without it being offensive as historically the word was used by men to put women down. SO in the same way if people not of colour try to use the n-word in any form or variation it can never be rhetorically diminutive and therefore is offensive. This is because the word was always intended (rule 1) by white people to dehumanise black people, who are already of a lower social status (rule 2), concluding that any use of the n-word by white people breaks both rules of pragmatic competence, and is fundamentally racist. Language is circumstantial and so no matter what your intentions of using the word are the word will mean something different due to your relative status. As a non-black person you cannot use the n-word as a rhetorical diminutive, and therefore you cannot use it without being racist as it doesn’t work inter-racially.

To conclude:

  • Intentions don’t matter when it comes to perception
  • Relative status changes the meaning of speech
  • “Nigga” is rhetorically diminutive intra-racially
  • It is offensive inter-racially
  • Knowing this, you should not use it inter-racially
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I travel and go on as many adventures as possible, and if nothing else this is a place to store my memories and thoughts.

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