cover image Articulate While Black: 
Barack Obama, Language, 
and Race in the U.S.

Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman. Oxford Univ., $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-19-981298-1

Sociolinguists Alim and Smitherman bring dual backgrounds as educators and activists to this metalinguistic analysis of “racially loaded cultural-linguistics controversies” about Obama, or as they so deftly say, “we’re gonna talk about the talk about the way Barack Obama talks.” Even as their style and tone reflect their command of and respect for the vernacular, their substantial research reflects an equal affinity for the professionally academic; thus, for example, Obama “knows how to ‘drop it [my to mah] like it’s hot’ ” and, in linguistic jargon, “monophthongize his diphthongs.” They are particularly informative in placing Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon in the context of both Puritan jeremiad and traditional African-American sermons; in examining Obama’s uses of and departures from that genre in “A More Perfect Union,” (the race speech); in elucidating the fist pound (not the fist bump: “But first, y’all, before we go anotha fuhtha, let’s git the nomenclature right”) and hip-hop controversies; and reviewing the swirl around the term “articulate.” It takes some patience to hang in with the authors’ own vernacular, but the reward is a heightened sense of “the complexity and richness of Black language” and significant insight into Obama’s “mastery of Black cultural modes of discourse” that were “crucial to his being elected... president.” (Oct.)