Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
“Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored” (Hurston 1928). Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist foremother, demonstrated early the complex affective positioning of sonic arts in Black-American cultures. However, linguistic structuralism has long obscured the ways in which meaning-making in interaction is – in addition to syntax, phonetics, et cetera – a product of embodiment, affect, context, history, and epistemology (Goffman 1981; Bauman & Briggs 1990; Duranti & Goodwin 1992; Mondada 2016). Though African Diasporic oral traditions have been noted to draw upon the performative function of verbal art toward myriad ends including political resistance (Morgan 2009; Britt 2011; Jolaosho 2013), literature on the topic remains relatively scant – especially as it intersects with gender, “a structuring practice in all human societies” (Moore 1988). In addressing this gap, I attempt to voice the margins, to borrow from Crenshaw (1991), by turning to spoken word poetry – a complex multi-modal verbal art form that weaves linguistic dexterity with subaltern modes of knowledge production as meaning-making practice. Focusing on performances of three Black femme artists, I offer an analysis of deixis as active contextualization and dialogic intertextuality as generic structure, with additional recourse to the salience of prosody and rhythm in accomplishing the performers’ communicative goals.