The Black Side of the River

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242 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781647121525 ()

ISBN: 9781647121532

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February 2022
Sales Rights: World


Table of Contents

The Black Side of the River
Race, Language, and Belonging in Washington, DC
Jessica A. Grieser

An insightful exploration of the impact of urban change on Black culture, identity, and language

Across the United States, cities are changing. Gentrification is transforming urban landscapes, often pushing local Black populations to the margins. As a result, communities with rich histories and strong identities grapple with essential questions. What does it mean to be from a place in flux? What does it mean to be a specific kind of person from that place? What does gentrification mean for the fabric of a community?

In The Black Side of the River, sociolinguist Jessi Grieser draws on ten years of interviews with dozens of residents of Anacostia, a historically Black neighborhood in Washington, DC, to explore these ideas through the lens of language use. Grieser finds that residents use certain speech features to create connections among racial, place, and class identities; reject negative characterizations of place from those outside the community; and negotiate ideas of belonging. In a neighborhood undergoing substantial class gentrification while remaining decisively Black, Grieser finds that Anacostians use language to assert a positive, hopeful place identity that is inextricably intertwined with their racial one.

Grieser's work is a call to center Black lived experiences in urban research, confront the racial effects of urban change, and preserve the rich culture and community in historic Black neighborhoods, in Washington, DC, and beyond.

Jessi Grieser is an assistant professor of rhetoric, writing, and linguistics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a sociolinguist who specializes in discourse analysis, geosemiotics, and sociophonetics.

"In The Black Side of the River, Jessi Grieser combines careful sociolinguistic analysis with impressive argumentation about the nature of race and place in urban America, all conveyed in a vivid, accessible style. The book is bursting at the seams with telling details from the linguistic practices of Black residents in Washington, DC's Anacostia neighborhood, creating a richly rendered portrait of lived experiences in a rapidly shifting cityscape."—Ben Zimmer, language columnist for the Wall Street Journal

"Grieser's The Black Side of the River is one of the most thoroughly socio-linguistic books I've seen. The perspectives of community members are generously represented, and the author's theorizing about social factors is unusually rich. This book may well establish place identity, and its intersections with race and class, as the most promising perspective from which to understand sociolinguistic variation in many communities. I can think of several to which it would very well apply."—John R. Rickford, Stanford University, coauthor of Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English, and author of Variation, Versatility and Change in Sociolinguistics and Creole Studies

"The Black Side of the River presents a much-needed Black-centered approach to linguistic discourses about race and place. The book deftly illustrates the impact of gentrification on identity and language. Grieser expands our knowledge about the linguistic expression of gentrification and introduces a fresh perspective on the sociolinguistic concept of displacement as expressed through linguistic style."—Anne H. Charity Hudley, professor of education, African and African American studies, and linguistics, Stanford University

"Jessica Grieser weaves a vivid intersectional tapestry of language and life among residents in DC's Anacostia neighborhood, drawing upon historical evidence, extensive interviews, and a keen sense of place in sociological and geographic terms where rivers frame literal and metaphorical dividing lines in a city built by slaves that is now occupied by their proud descendants."—John Baugh, professor of linguistics and African and African American studies, Washington University

Table of Contents
List of Illustrations


Introduction: "I Expected the Streets to Be Paved with Gold": Anacostia and Washington, DC, in the Black Imagination

1. Racializing Gentrification through Discourse

2. Repositioning Anacostia: Circulating Insider Discourses to Counteract Outsider Views

3. "They Ain't Make Improvements for Us": Place-Making with African American Language

4. Race, Geography, and Agency East of the River

Conclusion: Bridging the River



About the Author



1. Map of the District of Columbia and Surrounding Counties

2. "Black alone" Population, District of Columbia, 2000 and 2010 Censuses


1. AAL Morphosyntactic Features

2. Density Measure by Topic

3. Chi-Square Residuals