Friday, 3 July 2009


It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. When the Russian energy giant Gazprom set up a joint venture with a Nigerian company to develop natural gas resources in Nigeria, they chose a name that from the point of view of Russian seems obvious and unexceptionable: Nigaz, i.e. Nigeria + Gaz. They would have expected to pronounce it in Russian as ˈnʲiɡas, -ɡəs and in English as ˈnaɪɡæz.
As commentators pointed out, it seems unlikely that an English speaker was in the room when they chose it — even though all educated Nigerians speak English.
Because the natural way to read this spelling in English is as ˈnɪɡəz, just like niggers. And that is not a respectful way for the Russians to refer to their African partners.
‘Nigaz’ is yet to feature on Gazprom’s website, which does confirm the formation of its partnership with NNPC but interestingly, offers no name for the new enterprise.

I blame the ambiguity of the English spelling system, where the letter i can often arbitrarily stand for or ɪ. Just like in the word(s) wind.

11 comments:

  1. Evidently originally short [ɪ] was lengthened before [nd], but why only in some words? Is the answer known?

    Regularized Inglish adds a new final -e to these words, writing childe, finde, blinde, minde, and winde alongside wind.

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  2. What a problem!

    Are Nigerians aware of the fact that black people are derogatively called "niggers" in some places?

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  3. According to letter-to-sound rules, the 'i' in Nigaz is in free position, that is it should be pronounced /aɪ/. Or am I wrong? Just because it shouldn't be ambiguous this way...

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  4. I agree with Custos. "niggers" can be regularly written "niggas" but not "nigas".

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  5. "ig" is also ambiguous. Cf "tiger" and "bigot"

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  6. @Custos: yes, you're wrong. For the spelling -igV- we have ɪ in bigot, brigand, frigate, rigo(u)r, spigot, vigo(u)r, Wigan, but aɪ only in tiger.

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  7. Well, I didn't know that. It must be a type of tenseness revearsal (second-last syllable becomes lax).

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  8. Custos, you aren't from Hungary, are you?

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  9. :) I'm from Hungary, too. I thought you were, because only Hungarians have to learn crap like "tenseness reversal". And they live in the illusion that English spelling is regular :)

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  10. True. :) But it is regular... in its own way. :)

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