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Circulations, Accumulations, and Superdiversity

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Language, Gender and Sexuality book series (PSLGS)

Abstract

This chapter traces evidence for the “confluences of scripts” linking language and sexuality before Stonewall: Forms of linguistic practice expressed sexual references within geographic, racial, ethnic, and other social boundaries, as well as across them, frequently taking the form resembling what Blommaert and Rampton term superdiversity (2011). The chapter considers examples from several dictionaries of homosexual language and also traces how regulatory assumptions (the ideologies) orienting language and sexuality limited the presence of language other than English in these dictionary-based discussions of sexual sameness. A rich example of language, sexuality, accumulation, and its social inflections can be found in early twentieth-century Harlem (the area of New York City which, at that time, may have had the largest, greatest concentration of African Americans per square mile in the world [Johnson 1930]). Harlemese, Harlem’s everyday vernacular, had its sexual (and homosexual) varieties, too, but all forms of Harlemese were very different from the English usage expected from the elite group—the “Talented Tenth” (DuBois 1903)—who were to lead African American people up the mountain path to the new Canaan. And the comments of proponents of “Talented tenth” were very clear: Speakers of Harlemese, and (homo)sexual Harlemese in specific, were not welcome to join the leadership team and would be expelled if they did. Meanwhile, other studies praised Harlemese for demonstrating the artistic skills of the “Negro furthest down” (in Zora Neale Hurston’s phrasing, 1938). Those studies did not make opportunity dependent on assimilation, but they did acknowledge that linguistic practices embodied conflicts over race and class, opportunity and sexuality in the 1920s Harlem, and the legacies of those conflicts still haunt discussions of Harlemese today.

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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies ProgramFlorida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyAmerican UniversityWashington, D.C.USA

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