I have always pronounced Niger as NY-jer. Recently I have heard most radio and TV reporters pronouncing it as nee-ZHAIR. My Webster’s new Collegiate from 1975 and my American Heritage from 1985 both show NY-jer as the only pronunciation. However, Webster’s New Collegiate 10th edition from ca. 2003 shows NY-jer as primary and nee-ZHAIR as an alternate. Judging by the dates of publication the alternate pronunciation seems to have been a recent development.
How did this alternate pronunciation come about? Is that the way natives of the country pronounce it? Was someone affecting erudition and others picked it up, or did someone just mispronounce it from ignorance but sounded convincing?
I can’t help it - this crap bugs me.