Nigger

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Miguelillo 87

Senior Member
México español
I know this is an offensive word, but Why? I mean once was it use in order to insult black community?
What is it its origin?
It's is an offense in all English speaking countries, or it's only offensive in US?

Thanks in advance!!!
 
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Hi Miguelillo,

    As to etymology, it's from the Spanish 'negro'. Here's part of what Online Etymology Dictionary says:
    1786, earlier neger (1568, Scot. and northern England dialect), from Fr. nègre, from Sp. negro. From the earliest usage it was "the term that carries with it all the obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks" [cited in Gowers, 1965]. But as black inferiority was at one time a near universal assumption in Eng.-speaking lands, the word in some cases could be used without insult.
    About four decades ago, Blacks in the US began to use it among themselves, thus taking an insult, and converting it into a positive word, but only when used by one black person to other black people.

    All of the above is for the US. I don't know the answers to your questions for other English speaking countries.
     

    Miguelillo 87

    Senior Member
    México español
    So cuchu, if a black person says Nigger to to another black person, no problem.
    But if a white man use it, it'a offensive!!!

    Am I right?

    Interesting point
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Also 'negro' is considered offensive, and nowadays even 'black' should be avoided. Only 'African' and 'African-American' are allowed.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    So cuchu, if a black person says Nigger to to another black person, no problem.
    But if a white man use it, it'a offensive!!!

    Am I right?

    Interesting point
    You are mostly correct. Black people sometimes use the word to one another, but it might not be taken as friendly all the time. It depends on circumstances and context. I've heard Black people use it to insult other Black people.

    A non-Black should never use it to describe or address a Black person. It's insulting. Full stop.
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    ...and nowadays even 'black' should be avoided. Only 'African' and 'African-American' are allowed.
    I disagree with this.

    I know several African Americans who are offended by the "political kerrektitude" of this euphamism. They claim that they are American, period, and black. Some prefer the term black Americans.

    I have never heard a black American/African American cite a preference to be called only "African," despite what their familial heritage might claim.
     

    Fat Bahstard

    Senior Member
    United States, English
    Seriously, never refer to anyone as a nigger. It takes African American people back to the times where they were slaves or before civil rights were granted to them. America has come too far to use this word.
     
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    birdman

    Senior Member
    Taipei, Taiwan
    Also 'negro' is considered offensive, and nowadays even 'black' should be avoided.
    I totally agree with that as we Asians do not like to be called “yellow” either. Fortunately, I have never been called that way. This world is getting more harmonious, isn’t it? Especially in this news group.
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    I disagree with this.

    I know several African Americans who are offended by the "political kerrektitude" of this euphamism. They claim that they are American, period, and black. Some prefer the term black Americans.

    I have never heard a black American/African American cite a preference to be called only "African," despite what their familial heritage might claim.
    I agree with GenJen54!
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    Black is perfectly acceptable unless you are addressing a particularly offendable black person. In fact, my black friends prefer black, and agree with the sentiment that they call me white, and saying "caucasian" or "African-American" is not only misleading, but annoying to say.

    As pointed out by birdman, however, words like yellow in reference to Asians or red in reference to American-Indians is rather offensive and it gets to the heart of the issue: the most defining characteristic of an Asian isn't his skin color, and his skin color isn't really yellow. Nor is an American-Indian's skin color red. I think black and white are acceptable because they refer to the difference in contrast between white and black harking back to a time when there were essentially only two primary races in the United States.

    It's kind of complicated. In the end, just don't say nigger. It's one of the most offensive words in AE.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Black is perfectly acceptable unless you are addressing a particularly offendable black person. In fact, my black friends prefer black, and agree with the sentiment that they call me white, and saying "caucasian" or "African-American" is not only misleading, but annoying to say.

    As pointed out by birdman, however, words like yellow in reference to Asians or red in reference to American-Indians is rather offensive and it gets to the heart of the issue: the most defining characteristic of an Asian isn't his skin color, and his skin color isn't really yellow. Nor is an American-Indian's skin color red. I think black and white are acceptable because they refer to the difference in contrast between white and black harking back to a time when there were essentially only two primary races in the United States.

    It's kind of complicated. In the end, just don't say nigger. It's one of the most offensive words in AE.
    I agree with everything you said, especially the first paragraph and the point about the complicated "made-up" terms being misleading and annoying to say. This "African-American" bullshit is a language issue, especially for someone my age, who remembers when the term didn't even exist.

    I agree that "yellow" and "red' are offensive where black and white aren't-- I'm not sure I understand why, but your explanation works fine for me.

    But the part about a time when there were "essentially only two primary races in the United States?" You forgot about the Indians!
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    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Hi Miguelillo,

    As to etymology, it's from the Spanish 'negro'.
    Note that while nigger and Negro are both ultimately from the Spanish negro, the word Negro was adopted directly from Spanish while negro, entering French and becoming negre (now nègre), then entered English and became nigger.

    In French, nègre, which at one time was equally as acceptable as the English Negro once was, is now considered highly offensive, as is négro, a later borrowing into French from Spanish. The acceptable terms in French are Noir (literally, "black"), and, in slang, Black (borrowed from English).
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    I agree with everything you said, especially the first paragraph and the point about the complicated "made-up" terms being misleading and annoying to say. This "African-American" bullshit is a language issue, especially for someone my age, who remembers when the term didn't even exist.

    I agree that "yellow" and "red' are offensive where black and white aren't-- I'm not sure I understand why, but your explanation works fine for me.

    But the part about a time when there were "essentially only two primary races in the United States?" You forgot about the Indians!
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    In Oklahoma, yes. :( Another sad point in this country's history.
     

    Hockey13

    Senior Member
    AmEnglish/German
    A white English speaker recently told me that the term 'black' should be avoided. That's all I know about it.
    And here's one telling you that it doesn't have to be. :) I think it's gotten that so many white people in the US come to the point where they've been accused of being racist so many times that they just go with the most apparently politically correct term. However, as has been pointed out in other posts, even Native-American isn't preferable to many "Native-Americans." Instead, they like to be called "American-Indians," "Indians," or simply a member of the tribe to which they belong.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I agree with everything you said, especially the first paragraph and the point about the complicated "made-up" terms being misleading and annoying to say. This "African-American" bullshit is a language issue, especially for someone my age, who remembers when the term didn't even exist.

    .
    It's impossible for anyone now living to remember a time when the term didn't exist!

    Afro-American dates to 1853 and African-American to 1855. Source: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.

    African-American is no more "made-up" than Italian-American or Swedish-American. In fact, according to the American Heritage Book of English Usage it's because of the existence of such terms that African-American is a now a favored term, especially in print.

    (Once upon a time, an Italian-American and a Swedish-American would have generally been referred to, respectively, as an Italian and a Swede.)
     

    almostfreebird

    Senior Member
    Born and raised in Japón, soy japonés
    but only when used by one black person to other black people.
    I've heard that phrase in a movie titled Black and White:http://amazon.imdb.com/title/tt0165643/

    I think a lot of people who are into hip hop culture or rap music, whatever nationality they are, are using the word as fashon or life style,

    << YouTube links are not allowed. >>
     
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    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    It's impossible for anyone now living to remember a time when the term didn't exist!
    You really don't know what I mean? I mean that people didn't use these terms. Nobody did.

    I was a part of the Counterculture, including Civil Rights, and I was an undergrad in an Afro-American Studies class when this new term was carefully explained. I don't mean it had never seen print, somewhere, at some time. I mean it was settled on and promoted as the preferred term-- in exactly the same way leaders of the Movement came to a pretty solid concurrance that Negro ought to be scrapped in favor of black.

    Classes like the one white kids like me signed up for in universities all across the country were offered by Afro-American Studies programs, and these sprung up all at once and in great profusion-- they were part of an ongoing effort to make terms like Afro-American (and "black," let's not forget) part of the mainstream vocabulary.

    The idea was that if you can change what people say, you can change what they think-- and the goal was to fight bigotry. To some degree this approach works-- but I have lived long enough to see its limitations and to sense the threat of backlash-- and so have you.

    These departments and programs didn't exist until the very end of the 60s. Until then well-meaning and respectful people, including Civil Rights activists, had only one term of respect for people of African descent-- Negroes. Oh, and "colored people," which was also dropped and disregarded-- only to be resurrected as "people of color" when it became obvious that the term had filled a need.

    I defy you to find a single instance, in writing or speech, where Martin Luther King ever said "Afro-American"-- much less "African-American."

    That goes double for Malcolm X, who championed the use of black instead of Negro, and was definitely a pioneer in that regard.
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    Mike

    Senior Member
    Australia, English
    Here's an interesting point made by Maddox on the matter.






    The label “African American” is the dumbest, most persistently used phrase in our vernacular. Every time you call someone an “African American,” you’re making at least two assumptions about the person:
    1. That the person is an American. For example, if you saw this guy walking along a street you would probably think:
    http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/images/african_american_lol2.jpg
    …which is fine, except for one small detail: this man is British, which makes you a presumptuous cock.
    2. That the person is African (because it’s inconceivable that black people could come from Haiti, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Australia, or Jamaica).
    Not to mention that every time you give a black person the distinction of being “African American” out of a mixed group, you’re making an assumption about an entire continent; not everyone from Africa is black. I guarantee all you politically correct morons out there have never called a white person an African American.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    You are right.

    I have heard a lot, but one thing I have never heard is:

    African-Canadian - and I am pretty sure I am never going to unless they really mean a Canadian citizen who really came from Africa.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Moderator note: This really did begin as a linguistic thread. Please, let us keep it suitable for the English forum. The questions are:

    Why is the word nigger offensive?
    What is it its origin?
    Is it offensive in all English-speaking countries?

    The question does not require a discussion of the many other words and names people call other people of various races and ethnicities, except as a way to clarify your view of the subject word.

    Thanks.
     

    Heba

    Senior Member
    Egypt, Arabic
    A white English speaker recently told me that the term 'black' should be avoided. That's all I know about it.
    I am not sure if my post will be off-topic. If it is, please delete it.

    I just wonder how I can describe black people in Europe without insulting them . Certainly, I would not use African American.
    An Englsih friend usually used the word ''coloured'', but I do not know if it could be offensive if I use it talking to a black person in UK.
     

    nay92

    Member
    English, England
    hey this is not just ofensive in US all over the place. I know it is ok is a black person says it to another black person but rude if a white person says it to a black person. I dont know why though?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Moderator note: This really did begin as a linguistic thread. Please, let us keep it suitable for the English forum. The questions are:

    Why is the word nigger offensive?
    What is it its origin?
    Is it offensive in all English-speaking countries?

    The question does not require a discussion of the many other words and names people call other people of various races and ethnicities, except as a way to clarify your view of the subject word.

    Thanks.
    The origin of nigger has already been discussed. Why it is offensive, while Negro is acceptable under limited circumstances and black is widely acceptable—even though all have the identical etymological meaningis a complicated question that depends upon the history of the word. This is often the case with terms involving ethnicity, nationality, and race: Compare the question of why the shortened forms Jap and Nip (from Nipponese) are deeply offensive while the shortened forms Brit and Yank (from Yankee) are widely considered to be acceptable terms.

    From a practical matter, it's best to remember that nigger is deeply offensive in most situations. And while it is indeed used as a neutral term by some black Americans, it should be pointed out that there are blacks who despise the term no matter who uses it and would not, for example, permit its use their own home.
     

    Miguelillo 87

    Senior Member
    México español
    O.k Thank you all, You solved my doubt about the origin and why it's offensive, and that I will never have to use it.

    BUt I could notice that almost all the answers came form people who lives on the US, and just one Australian answer to that, but he didn' say if It was offensive in Australia to call Niggers to Black people, Also I get interested in the answer of the guy form Finland,which said that a bRitish friend told him Black it's also offensive nowadays.
    So in UK it's offensive the word, Does the word exist in BE or it's an exclusive AE term?

    I think it's the only question i dont have clear yet.

    Thank you all
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    While I cannot speak for other country / cultural preferences, my guess is that hatred for the word has swelled well past U.S. borders, and into other English-speaking countries.

    While it may be acceptable in "certain" circles, I would still avoid it, no matter where you are.

    I cannot speak to the acceptance of "black" in other English-speaking countries.
     

    sunnyme

    New Member
    English, Barbados
    hey maybe i can help a bit more........i'm from the caribbean and in the slave period they used that term to say that a person was useless or a beast of burden. It often meant that they were lower in personal worth than the dirtiest animal. That's what it really means. A lot of people use that word now as a salutation, to describe a close friend, but it is still a very offensive term and should not be used at all. Because people can get very offended if somebody of another race especially a white person uses that word against them regardless of the fact that a lot of people, especially young people today use it. And that goes for all countries whether black people live there or not.
     

    sunnyme

    New Member
    English, Barbados
    I am not sure if my post will be off-topic. If it is, please delete it.

    I just wonder how I can describe black people in Europe without insulting them . Certainly, I would not use African American.
    An Englsih friend usually used the word ''coloured'', but I do not know if it could be offensive if I use it talking to a black person in UK.
    Hi, coloured is an offensive term for some people as well while other people embrace it. Its probably safest to just call the person black or perhaps mixed race if they look as though they have origins of another race in their features. I think its the same as calling a standard European white. Hope this helps :)
     

    Miguelillo 87

    Senior Member
    México español
    hey maybe i can help a bit more........i'm from the caribbean and in the slave period they used that term to say that a person was useless or a beast of burden. It often meant that they were lower in personal worth than the dirtiest animal. That's what it really means. A lot of people use that word now as a salutation, to describe a close friend, but it is still a very offensive term and should not be used at all. Because people can get very offended if somebody of another race especially a white person uses that word against them regardless of the fact that a lot of people, especially young people today use it. And that goes for all countries whether black people live there or not.
    Graet explanation!!! and It helps a lot, now you give ma anothe point of view which it's very interesting, Now I can see the origin clearer.
    Thank you very much
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I defy you to find a single instance, in writing or speech, where Martin Luther King ever said "Afro-American"-- much less "African-American."

    That goes double for Malcolm X, who championed the use of black instead of Negro, and was definitely a pioneer in that regard.
    In fact, I don't remember MLK using "black". If you check his speeches, I believe he always used "Negro". This was abandoned very close to the time of his death, and "black" replaced it.

    What amazes me the most is how seldom ask people what people themseles preferred to be called.
     

    Heba

    Senior Member
    Egypt, Arabic
    Hi, coloured is an offensive term for some people as well while other people embrace it. Its probably safest to just call the person black or perhaps mixed race if they look as though they have origins of another race in their features. I think its the same as calling a standard European white. Hope this helps :)
    Of course it helps. Thanks for the expalantion:)
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    In fact, I don't remember MLK using "black". If you check his speeches, I believe he always used "Negro". This was abandoned very close to the time of his death, and "black" replaced it.
    Yes is was, and I was tempted to make this point-- but I wasn't sure MLK didn't juxtapose black and white in his "I have a dream" speech. Something about little white kids and little black kids joining hands.

    Well, I guess that's easy enough to google, and sure enough here it is:

    I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

    But this was a late speech, and something of an exception-- and your point about "Negro" is well taken.
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I learned a great phrase from my son when he was little, and it seemed so obvious. He was talking about a new friend he had made at school and he said, "His skin is black." It made so much more sense to me than "he is black." He was describing what he saw.
     

    Julito_Maraña

    Banned
    Foo-Bar
    About four decades ago, Blacks in the US began to use it among themselves, thus taking an insult, and converting it into a positive word, but only when used by one black person to other black people.

    All of the above is for the US. I don't know the answers to your questions for other English speaking countries.

    I think black people in the country started using that word as soon as they learned it from whites. It was first used as a way of putting another black person in their place, or knock them down a peg. Then it just became a synonym for black among blacks. I think what makes it most offensive when used by a white person is that implies a common fate. It's sort of a "we are on the same boat" word. The black people I know don't object to me saying "What's up my nigga?" because as a latino, they kind of see us on the same boat.

    I would feel patronized too. Just as I would if I were an Italian American and some Anglo-American came up to me and said, in an Italian accent: "Hey, paisan'! Wou you lika soma spicy meat-a-balls?" It's not a nice thing to do.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    Yes is was, and I was tempted to make this point-- but I wasn't sure MLK didn't juxtapose black and white in his "I have a dream" speech. Something about little white kids and little black kids joining hands.

    Well, I guess that's easy enough to google, and sure enough here it is:

    I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

    But this was a late speech, and something of an exception-- and your point about "Negro" is well taken.
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    Interesting. I just checked myself. "Negro" appears about 14 times in the "I Have a Dream" speech, "black" three times.

    However, I think all three times "black" is either used for "black men" (twice) or "black boys" (once). "Blacks" had not yet appeared, it seems.

    Obviously there was an evolution or at least a change going on in language at that time.
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    So, if you can't use the N-word unless your skin is black, negro is no longer acceptable, and black is offensive in parts of Great Britain--what do you call dark-skinned people that are obviously not from India--without offending them? I'm not sure "of mixed blood" would be acceptable --at least not in the Americas...
    Half-breed mestizo, and mandango are all derogatory as well.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    So, if you can't use the N-word unless your skin is black, negro is no longer acceptable, and black is offensive in parts of Great Britain--what do you call dark-skinned people that are obviously not from India--without offending them? I'm not sure "of mixed blood" would be acceptable --at least not in the Americas...
    Half-breed mestizo, and mandango are all derogatory as well.
    What situation are you picturing where you would need to call them anything?
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    What situation are you picturing where you would need to call them anything?
    I have the same question. :)

    IF I had the need to use a label for any group—and I would need a very good reason—I would ask various members in the group what they perferred!
     

    mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    Point in question. About 10 years ago a Black literacy coach (sorry if I've offended you) was observing my classroom. It was February--Black History Month in the US, and we were going through books written in Spanish for good examples of 5-paragraph model writing. I was reading for her the children's books which were written in Spanish, and translated for her as I read. When we got to the word negro, I didn't know whether negro or black was correct. It was one of those situations where you've already started on the trek and you're not quite sure how appropriate it is even asking what term is appropriate for the climate at whichever juncture of history we were in at the time. I said negro--as that is how it is written--knowing that both she and I had lived in a world where the word meant no harm when spoken among mixed and civilized company. My daughter informed me when I returned home that I should have translated it African-American. She has now since been dating a young man possessing all of the features of the aforementioned people about which we speak (I do wish not to offend!) and I had been informed a few years ago that it's not African-American, that her boyfriend and his family are Black. As of late, she is saying that Black is becoming passe, and she'll give me a heads-up on the next acceptable term that will not offend some and keep communication going--as soon as she knows it herself!

    That's why I like this forum so much--You can ask cultural questions without offending people or making them think you're prying into something that you will then judge against the Great White Standard--or some other phantom ideal that doesn't exist. It's good to share openly without fear of judgment, and it's good to know other peoples' experiences, fears and judgments....But it is hard to do that without communication, and it's hard to communicate without knowing what's "in" as far as naming people of color.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    Point in question. About 10 years ago a Black literacy coach (sorry if I've offended you) was observing my classroom. It was February--Black History Month in the US, and we were going through books written in Spanish for good examples of 5-paragraph model writing. I was reading for her the children's books which were written in Spanish, and translated for her as I read. When we got to the word negro, I didn't know whether negro or black was correct. It was one of those situations where you've already started on the trek and you're not quite sure how appropriate it is even asking what term is appropriate for the climate at whichever juncture of history we were in at the time. I said negro--as that is how it is written--knowing that both she and I had lived in a world where the word meant no harm when spoken among mixed and civilized company.
    Ah, I see your point. Tricky problem in one language, even trickier when translating, and a mess when trying to figure out how to translate words that have changed from period to period. Not easy!!!

    Gaer
     

    haywire

    Senior Member
    US - English
    In theory part of this could go into culture, part of it not... but to comment here on an issue that's been raised:

    While I feel ridiculous even typing this, here goes...

    There seems to be some confusion, black people don't call other black people "niggers" (at least in Louisiana and California, that I've ever heard) unless they're refering to someone who's stupid / lazy / or otherwise sub-par.

    They say "nigga." It may not seem like it, but that softened R makes a world of difference. Even "nigga" can be, and often times is between black people, used as an insult. Don't get confused, you won't hear the word "nigger" used in a good way anywhere between, black, white, yellow, red, orange, green or purple. So as a student of English it's probably your best bet to avoid it in all English speaking countries if you have any doubt in your mind as to the words appropriatness.

    This part may belong in the cultural section, but who knows...

    I've never heard any non black person refer to someone as a "nigga" as an insult, the person who says it is usually pretty aware and makes sure that the R is hard; to inflict the most "damage."
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    They say "nigga." It may not seem like it, but that softened R makes a world of difference.
    This is like saying the English don't say rather, they say "rawthuh." You aren't talking about two different words here, just the rhotic form used by Yankees and the non-rhotic form (what you call a softened r) by speakers of the Southern AE variant-- which includes the speech of black people.

    That's the linguistic issue. Matters of style and usage and the way the word is affected by changing societal trends-- that's a larger and much murkier topic. Everybody in the country is seriously confused about it, and you can't say anything definitive about what the word means or how it's used in general, beyond this or that small circle of people.
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    Earth Dragon

    Member
    USA- English
    It varies from person to person. As a general rule, if it feels uncomfortable to say it, don't.

    Where I like live, you have change your speech patterns for almost every black person you talk to. Some get really offended if I so much as acknowledge that they are black, while others invite me to put nigga (this is rare though) in front of their name and are offended if I don't.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    This is like saying the English don't say rather, they say "rawthuh." You aren't talking about two different words here, just the rhotic form used by Yankees and the non-rhotic form (what you call a softened r) by speakers of the Southern AE variant-- which includes the speech of black people.

    That's the linguistic issue. Matters of style and usage and the way the word is affected by changing societal trends-- that's a larger and much murkier topic. Everybody in the country is seriously confused about it, and you can't say anything definitive about what the word means or how it's used in general, beyond this or that small circle of people.
    .
    .
    The claim, however, was that American blacks use nigger, with the r pronounced, as an insult and nigga, with a terminal schwa, as a neutral term. An interesting distinction, if true.

    I know that Chris Rock, who has the ability to codeswitch between African American Vernacular English and Standard American English, has a stand-up bit where he uses nigger--or is it nigga?--in an obviously disparaging way, contrasting niggers with other blacks. If we could find a sound file of that bit we might have an answer to the question.
     
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