Course Spotlight | #BlackLanguageMatters

“The course #BlackLanguageMatters is about African American Language spoken by African Americans and the African Diaspora more generally in the United States,” described Professor Renée Blake, Associate Professor of Linguistics and Social & Cultural Analysis. She aimed to expose first-year students to the role of language and culture, focusing on how language’s “formation and origins for Black people in the United States is the state of African Americans through time, place and space.”

Professor Blake’s Fall 2017 course, #BlackLanguageMatters, was offered as a seminar for first-year students in NYU’s College of Arts & Science. Professor Blake’s course also participated in the Center’s On Being Human seminar program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Through this program, Professor Blake enriched the course by inviting two guest speakers and taking the class on a neighborhood tour offered by the Black Gotham Experience called The Other Side of Wall Street.

Students had the opportunity to interact with practitioners who think deeply about how language in its many forms communicates the human experience.

Renée BlakeAssociate Professor of Linguistics and Social & Cultural Analysis

The first speaker was “DJ Journey,” a DJ, songwriter, producer and film composer. The second speaker was Dr. Jamila Lyiscott, whose research and activism focuses on the intersections of race, language, and social justice in education. She is also known for her TED Talk 3 Ways to Speak English.

“These two speakers added dimension to my course,” reflected Professor Blake. “[They] were the embodiment of the Human Condition through music, the creation of music through one’s hands and mouth and the spoken word.”

Photo: The class on the Other Side of Wall Street walking tour. Courtesy of Renée Blake.

Video: Guest speaker Jamila Lyiscott’s TED Talk, 3 Ways to Speak English.

Outside of the classroom, students took a unique walking tour around downtown Manhattan. Part of the Black Gotham Experience, the Other Side of Wall Street walking tour offers a critical historical perspective to the Black experience in New York City. “It was especially meaningful to the NYU freshman, all of whom knew nothing about the historical impact of Africans and African Americans in New York, particularly in and around the NYU area,” said Professor Blake.

Learn more about the On Being Human seminar program.