Sambo Dialects: Defining National Language Boundaries via Early Representations of Stereotypically Black Speech

  • Robert Hornback
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


Taking up the origins of another feature of the stereotype of foolish blackness or purported black irrationality, the fourth chapter explores the cultural work enacted by a long history of estranging idioms spoken by blackfaced fools. On the one hand, the invitation to laugh at the misspeaking of pan-European performers in blackface contributed to proto-nationalist projects standardizing different vernacular languages across Western Europe. On the other hand, the spreading stereotype of the black misspeaker defined a transnational meta-discourse voicing early modern proto-racist ideology defining black peoples as inherently irrational and hence inferior. In particular, the type of the childish, Sambo-like, broken-speaker can be found, alongside the spread of African slavery, in drama across Western Europe from the fifteenth century on.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Hornback
    • 1
  1. 1.Oglethorpe UniversityAtlantaUSA

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