Dr. Krystal A. Smalls

Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Assistant Professor of African American Studies

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Specializations / Research Interest(s)

  • Linguistic Anthropology, Sociolinguistics, African Diaspora Studies
  • Race, Semiotics, Personhood, Language Ideology, Digital Sociality, Hip Hop, Gender

Research Description

  • My research revolves around semiotics of race in young people's lives.  I conduct ethnographic research in different locations of the "African diaspora" (mostly digital or urban) to better understand discourses and practices of blackness and antiblackness.I've worked with young urbanites in Liberia, Kenya, and the US (Philadelphia), and I've recently begun work in Johannesburg, South Africa and with my own cultural community, the Gullah/Geechee of coastal and insular South Carolina.


  • PhD, University of Pennsylvania (2015)
  • BS, Cornell University (2000)


Book Contributions

  • "“Languages of Liberation: Making Black Lives Matter Through Digital Discourse”." Language and Social Justice: Case Studies on Communication and the Creation of Just Societies . Routledge, 2018.

  • Smalls, Krystal A. "The Proverbial Monkey on Our Backs: Exploring the Politics of Belonging among Transnational African High School Students in the US." US Education in a World of Migration. Ed. Jill Koyama and Mathangi Subramanian. Routledge, 2014.

Journal Articles

  • Smalls, Krystal A. "'We Had Lighter Tongues': Making and Mediating Gullah/Geechee personhood in the South Carolina Lowcountry." Language & Communication 32.20 (2012):

  • "“Flipping the Script: (Re)constructing Personhood through Hip Hop Languaging in a U.S. High School." Working Papers in Educational Linguistics 25.2 (2010):

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