Double Talk: Dialect, Multilingualism, and Coded Language in American Literature

deadline for submissions: 
April 29, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Andy Harper / Midwest Modern Language Association
contact email: 

In Strange Talk (1999), Gavin Jones argues the ambivalence of late-nineteenth-century American texts’ incorporation of accents, dialects, and foreign tongues, suggesting its tendency both to reinforce and to resist white hegemonic control of the English language. Writing around a decade earlier, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1988), Houston A. Baker (1987), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1986) theorize the radically subversive and “deterritorializing” politics of African American English. Today, American writers Junot Díaz and Esmé Waijun Wang incorporate untranslated Spanish and Chinese, respectively, into their work. This session invites papers exploring the politics of dialect, multilingualism, and coded language in American literature. Topics might include but should not be limited to the following: 

  • Coded Artifacts in texts such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves;
  • Dialect Poetry, such as that of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes;
  • Dialect Tales, such as those of Sherwood Bonner, Charles Chesnutt, and Mark Twain;
  • Immigrant Narratives thematizing language, such as The House on Mango Street;
  • Junot Díaz’s Dominican Spanish, as in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao;
  • Local Color/Regionalism and its treatment of dialect and interethnic integration;
  • Signifyin(g), as theorized by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Houston A. Baker, and others;
  • Slave Narratives featuring coded messages, such as Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy.

Please submit an abstract or proposal not exceeding 500 words to on or before April 29, 2019. The Midwest MLA 2019 Convention will be held November 14-17 in Chicago, Illinois.