Mark Liberman has a post on the use of the word ‘nigger’ to describe shades of colours, most frequently brown. Obviously the term has ceased to be used on account of its clear offensiveness, but pervades in Chinese use of English.

It reminded me of the case of the mandarin ‘um’. Since learning (from Laurie – whose blog, it appears, is for all intents and purposes dead) that the mandarin word for ‘um’ is /nəgə/, I’ve been hearing it everywhere, especially in Chinatown and on the bus from uni in the evening.

It isn’t uncommon, when you’re attending to it at least, to hear someone begin their sentence with what sounds like “Nigger, nigger, nigger…”

[Is there a term in the linguistic nomenclature for this sort of thing, one that perhaps ends in -ive? If not, can I propose hesitative?]

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Having just had a brief chat with my maliyi, who is looking at conversational analysis, I’ve realised that hesitative is not a good label for this sort of thing. While hesitation is often a part of the function of these sorts of words, um, ah and so on, they are more saliently turn-holders in a conversation, so that you don’t get interrupted while trying to think of the right words to employ. So, it is okay to speak of their function as hesitative (where it is in fact hesitative), this kind of thing shouldn’t always be referred to a hesitative.
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