Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

By Irving Lewis Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
SLY SLURS: MISPRONUNCIATION AND DECAPITALIZATION OF GROUP NAMES

DEROGATORY, GENERIC NAMES for ethnic groups in historical American English, or in the language of any plural society, serve social uses of informal social control in the speech community similar to those that personal nicknames serve in smaller groups. Most nicknames for outgroups attempt to stratify groups in the local community, or to protest the ranking, by replacing the proper, preferred name of a group with an altogether different name with negative semantics. But sometimes name-callers grudgingly concede the accepted, standard name for a group, including its spelling, and then deliberately alter the conventional or polite pronunciation of the name. The slur is connoted by denying the standard of the target's speech community. Printed representations of these phonetic alterations usually appear later, which conventionalizes the slur, print reinforcing speech and the converse. A second, slyer technique of pejoration gives lip service to the preferred, proper name of the group in speech and in spelling, but in writing denies the conventional capital initial to the group name in order to connote the slur.

Both devices are, of course, well known, but are of addi

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