Black Langue and White Parole

Signifiers and Signifieds in the Grammar of Racism


  • Luisanna Fodde
  • Alessio Pisci



hegemony, modality, AAVE, coloring ear, multilingualism


Our paper aims to carry out a stylistic and linguistic study of the representation of cultural, racial and linguistic hegemony (Gramsci 1975) in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (2016). First of all, we will use Simpson’s (1993) point of view framework to analyse the representation of the slave identity through the eyes of the protagonists as filtered by the narrator but also that of the white masters, especially in their dialogical contacts with the black characters. Point of view will be studied in particular with reference to the characters’ perspectives in moments of doubt, to illustrate how they question the American society of the time. Secondly, we will discuss Whitehead’s linguistic depiction of white oppression and black subordination. The author normally translates the slaves’ dialect into standard English (leaving, nonetheless, some occasional vernacular elements to preserve the ‘spirit’ of the original) apparently disregarding linguistic ‘authenticity.’ However, he shows episodes where there is a
contrast between the idiolects of the characters who take part in a dialogue (generally in conversations between black characters and the white man) and instances where such contrast is absent (usually in dialogues between black characters only). Our twofold hypothesis is that the overwhelming prevalence of white over ‘incorrect’ black parole not only makes the text more comprehensible to a wider public, but it also shows how, by delegitimizing black speech, the white master enforces his hegemony, which, according to Gramsci (2014), can be more effectively sustained “through cultural leadership” (Dale Parker 2008, 218). All in all, our analysis will attempt to show how the racism issue addressed through the stylistics and dialect theoretical frameworks manages to show the impact of hegemonic forces on social and cultural relations.


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