Performing "Truth": Black Speech Acts

By Brown, Antonio | African American Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Performing "Truth": Black Speech Acts


Brown, Antonio, African American Review


Wai' a minit, wai' a minit. Hol' up! Speak one at a time. This is not The Jerry Springer Show. (Oprah Winfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show [1998])

Let a Black sistah break it down fo' ya. (RuPaul, Foxy Lady [1996])

Introduction: Dialogic, Dialect, and "truth"

"Wha' choo mean, y'all ain't got no heat?!"

"How come y'all ain't ha' no heat?!" I inquired, invoking my best Black dialect, as a friend explained that his family had recently installed central heating. Previously, a wood stove had been the family's sole source of fire. As quaint as it seems, my urban sensibilities, and those of my other dinner companions, could not grasp the intentional immersion in Midwestern winters without the benefit of a modern heating system. We, university colleagues and children of the diaspora, laughed heartily at the honesty and wonder that the invocation of Black Speak conveyed. The questions were, of course, rhetorical. But the performance was unquestionable: Black speech acts.

Living in the two worlds that constitute the America detailed by Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk has equipped me (and others) not only with dual consciousness (or, as Du Bois dubs the duality, "twoness") but also with multiple languages. Among the languages is a dialect that I title Black Speak. It is a language that resonates a "truth."

I posit that the form of "truth" asserted by the invocation of Black Speak is based in the sense of community evoked by and attributed to the cultural/communicative form. Black Speak communicates a "truth" by infusing its messages with the linguistic style that formulates and informs cultural identities and communities.

Americans of African descent share a unique relationship with Western culture. The experiences related to slavery, subjugation, and discrimination have blended to produce the duplicitous effect on the development of Black consciousness noted by Du Bois. The simultaneous inclusion in and exclusion from the mainstream places peoples of African descent at the precipice of American culture. This precarious position provides a distinctive vantage point from which to observe the mechanisms and machinations of culture. The history of the denial of freedom and discriminatory applications of rights and privileges cultivate a Black Speak (and a Black consciousness) that delves for a "truth" beneath the surface of standardized, legitimized mainstream culture. Such a "truth" resonates from the shared social identity and heritage that permeate and necessitate the construction of Black Speak, linking its interlocutors to the socially constructed and historically transmitted patterns of meaning that define culture (see Gee rtz).

Multiple experiences have constructed a combination of communal and private spaces in which Black Speak has become encoded by what Henry Louis Gates calls an authenticated sign of Blackness. These shared experiences imbue the conscious articulation of Black vernacular with "soulful" qualities which resonate as the message is transmitted from the orator to the receiver. The invocation of Black Speak evokes a "meta-discourse" of discemable significations, connotations, and denotations (see Gates) that transcends the oratory and signals "true" communication.

That is, Black Speak is invoked to communicate clearly and concisely a "truth" to another or others who have shared the cultural history and who are conversant in the vernacular form. The purposeful invocation of the dialect and manipulation of standardized English suggest that the orator is in command of all the languages involved. For those individuals whose daily demands require a reliance on "mainstream," standardized speech acts, the purposeful invocation of Black Speak can be a powerful statement about identity, community, connectedness to the counter/alternative culture, and the oration as well as the perception of a "truth. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Performing "Truth": Black Speech Acts
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.