Contextual determinants on the meaning of the N word

Allan, Keith (2016) Contextual determinants on the meaning of the N word. SpringerPlus, 5 1: 1141. doi:10.1186/s40064-016-2813-1


Author Allan, Keith
Title Contextual determinants on the meaning of the N word
Journal name SpringerPlus   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 2193-1801
Publication date 2016-06-20
Year available 2016
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1186/s40064-016-2813-1
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 5
Issue 1
Start page 1141
Total pages 11
Place of publication Heidelberg, Germany
Publisher SpringerOpen
Language eng
Subject 1000 General
Abstract Use of the word nigger is very often castigated as slurring the referent, but this ignores the context of use. For many people the word itself is a slur no matter what the context, and such people argue for its eradication from the English language. Eradicationists confuse the form of the word with its frequent use as a slur that discredits, slights, smears, stains, besmirches people of black African descent. In this paper I discuss several occurrences of the N word in Quentin Tarantino’s film ‘Pulp Fiction’. At least one is a slur. As with many slurs, in-group usage by people who might themselves have been slurred with the term by out-groupers, nigger is used among African Americans to express camaraderie. Three instances of this are examined. Another instance is where black gangster millionaire Marcellus Wallace, after handing white boxer Butch Coolidge money to go down in the fifth round, tells him ‘You’re my nigger’ to which Butch replies ‘Certainly appears so’. Lastly I consider the tricky situation where a white uses the term nigger to a black friend, not as a term of address and not as a slur either, I argue. I discuss the composition of context and the semantics and connotations of nigger. I examine the place and function of the uses of nigger within the context of the film, ‘Pulp Fiction’, to demonstrate that the affective quality of a linguistic expression should never be judged without taking account of its intended perlocutionary effect within the context in which it is uttered. We see that the basic semantic content invariably contributes to the functional (compositional) meaning, but that pragmatic input from connotations is essential in determining the truth value of the utterance in which nigger appears.
Formatted abstract
Use of the word nigger is very often castigated as slurring the referent, but this ignores the context of use. For many people the word itself is a slur no matter what the context, and such people argue for its eradication from the English language. Eradicationists confuse the form of the word with its frequent use as a slur that discredits, slights, smears, stains, besmirches people of black African descent. In this paper I discuss several occurrences of the N word in Quentin Tarantino’s film ‘Pulp Fiction’. At least one is a slur. As with many slurs, in-group usage by people who might themselves have been slurred with the term by out-groupers, nigger is used among African Americans to express camaraderie. Three instances of this are examined. Another instance is where black gangster millionaire Marcellus Wallace, after handing white boxer Butch Coolidge money to go down in the fifth round, tells him ‘You’re my nigger’ to which Butch replies ‘Certainly appears so’. Lastly I consider the tricky situation where a white uses the term nigger to a black friend, not as a term of address and not as a slur either, I argue. I discuss the composition of context and the semantics and connotations of nigger. I examine the place and function of the uses of nigger within the context of the film, ‘Pulp Fiction’, to demonstrate that the affective quality of a linguistic expression should never be judged without taking account of its intended perlocutionary effect within the context in which it is uttered. We see that the basic semantic content invariably contributes to the functional (compositional) meaning, but that pragmatic input from connotations is essential in determining the truth value of the utterance in which nigger appears.
Keyword Camaraderie
Context
Derogation
Perlocutionary effect
Perlocutionary intention
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: HERDC Pre-Audit
School of Languages and Cultures Publications
 
Versions
Version Filter Type
Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 0 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article
Scopus Citation Count Cited 0 times in Scopus Article
Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Sun, 11 Sep 2016, 10:21:37 EST by System User on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)