Saturday, 20 February 2010


In response to my musings on the English word Nigerien, meaning “of or from Niger”, a friend suggests “Nigerois”. This would indeed be less confusing than Nigerien, and is fairly well attested on the Web, though not in any dictionary I can find apart from Merriam Webster Online.

A blogger “siphoning off a few thoughts” has a nice take-down of what s/he calls this “tricky English fake word of the day” here. “Nigerois is tricky because not only do we not refer to people as they refer to themselves [Nigérien], we went to the trouble of creating a word that sounds to an English speaker as if it were French.” A very good point: the tendency to deliberately foreignise English words, sometimes in order to show off an over-confident and sadly incomplete linguistic awareness, can lead to some grotesque results.

Two pet hates of mine are “Galician”, when pronounced with an affected lisp to seem more Spanish, and even worse the nonsense word “Andalucian” (again with the lisp that paradoxically isn’t even characteristic of the Spanish of that area). The adjective Galician (in Spanish, gallego, in Galician, galego), referring to Galicia in northwest Spain, is pronounced “ga-LISS-ian”; to add the lisp is like missing off the s in Parisian — “pa-REE-an” — in order to show off the fact you know the s is silent in French in the word Paris (“pa-REE”), although the French word is of course parisien.¹ Meanwhile we have a perfectly good English word for the region known in Spanish as Andalucía: it’s Andalusia (“anda-LOOSE-ia”²), and the adjective is Andalusian (“anda-LOOSE-ian”). But as so often, a little learning is a dangerous thing. The Spanish adjective is andaluz (“anda-LOOTH”). The ridiculous invention “Andalucian”, or even “Andalucían” (“anda-looth-EE-an”), is neither English nor Spanish, but gets hundreds of thousands of hits on Google.

It makes you think. Maybe there is a role for properly-compiled dictionaries after all? Maybe we can’t always rely on muddling through with Google, the lexicographical equivalent of “ask the audience”.

¹ And in the same vein we might add Munich, when pronounced with an affected German-style fricative “ch”, forgetting the fact that in German it’s not Munich anyway but (as you know, gentle reader) München.
²I gather it comes out in US English as “anda-LOOZH-a”. Yuck.


  1. I first encountered the term "Nigerois" in the NY Times (online) while living in Niger. Incredulous. Of possible interest - NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof's discussion of "Nigerois" vs. "Nigerien, and a brief discussion on the scholarly list, H-West-Africa.

  2. Ok, I agree there was no need to make up new words to replace Andalusian, Galician, Munich etc. since these are all perfectly workable English words which aren't being confused with anything else.

    But, in the case of 'Nigerois', I think the reason for creating this strange word, is to distinguish the genitive form of Nigeria from that of Niger in English. Currently they are Nigerian and Nigerien respectively (the latter correctly following the local French form).

    However, Nigerian and Nigerien are so hard if not impossible to tell apart when spoken in English!

    The French have it easier. Someone or something
    from Nigeria is Nigérian or Nigérianne and this is pronounced something like 'Knee-Jerry-Yawn' (masc.) and 'Knee-Jerry-Yann' (fem.). Someone or something from Niger is Nigérien or Nigérienne and pronounced 'Knee-Jerry-Yehn' (masc.) and 'Knee-Jerry-Yenn' (fem.).

  3. I agree with Anonymous that it can sometimes be a good idea to make up a new word, though it should be done consciously and not out of ignorance. However, since we call the country nee-ZHAIR in English, roughly as in French, as opposed to NYE-ger which is the river, the adjective is pronounced nee-ZHAIR-ian, which to my mind is at least as distinct from nye-JEER-ian as the two French adjectives nigérian and nigérien are from one another. But of course plenty of people would look at Nigerien in English and pronounce it "Nigerian". Something more visually distinct might well be a good idea; I just wish it didn't have to be faux French. What about Nigerese? That seems to be a real Dutch word. Whether it ended up being pronounced nee-zhair-EEZ or even nye-jer-EEZ, it would help avoid confusion with things Nigerian.