Counterlanguage powermoves in African American women’s language practice


  • Marcyliena H Morgan Harvard University



African American, counterlanguage, intersectionality, gender, racism, sexuality, speech community


This essay considers some of the insight we have gathered about language, feminism, racism and power. In many respects, it celebrates the linguistic power of the many theories about how Black women navigate intersectionality where racism and sexism intermingle, suggesting that our analyses should always recognise that a lethal combination of factors are in play. Black women, in particular, actively insist on forms of language and discourse that both represent and create their world through words, expressions and verbal routines that are created within and outside of the African American speech community to confront injustice. One example involves the verb ‘play,’ which I argue often functions as a power statement or ‘powermove’ that demands respect while presenting a threat to the status quo. This use of ‘play’ is the opposite of inconsequential games of play or joking.

Author Biography

Marcyliena H Morgan, Harvard University

Marcyliena H. Morgan is the Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Founding Director of The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute (HARI) at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. She is the author of many works that focus on youth, gender, racism, language, culture, philosophy, identity, sociolinguistics, discourse and interaction. Her prominent book publications include Language, Discourse and Power in African American Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2002), The Real Hiphop: Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the Underground (Duke University Press, 2008) and Speech Communities (Cambridge University Press, 2014).


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How to Cite

Morgan, M. H. (2021). Counterlanguage powermoves in African American women’s language practice. Gender and Language, 15(2), 289–299.



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