New York City Bitch: Linguistic Appropriation and Awkwafina’s Negotiation of Ethnic Identity Through Rap




Kung, Caitlyn

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Chinese-American actress and musician Awkwafina has operated in a novel cross-cultural language space due to her unique position as a non-Black person of color who grew up familiar with African American English (AAE). Previous works have evaluated the authenticity of AAE by white and immigrant speakers, but so rarely has its usage by American-born people of color been examined. Awkwafina’s entire discography was examined in comparison to various interviews and spoken dialogue clips in order to assess the authenticity of her employment of AAE. Phonological and grammatical accuracy were evaluated in addition to Awkwafina’s usage of AAE slang terms in order to determine whether her on-stage persona was simply a face put on at the expense of African American culture or if her intimate knowledge of AAE in conjunction with her engagement with her Asian American identity provides new understandings of multi-ethnic social spaces.


This project won third place in the 2023 Signature Course Information Literacy Award. The award recognizes exemplary student work that achieves the learning outcomes of the Signature Course information literacy requirement, that students will be able to create and execute a research strategy, critically evaluate information, and navigate the scholarly conversation. Caitlyn Kung's paper "New York City Bitch: Linguistic Appropriation and Awkwafina's Negotiation of Ethnic Identity Through Rap," was self-nominated in Almeida Toribio's UGS 303 class Language and Ethnic Identity. Her TA Drew Colcher said in support of her paper, "Caitlyn’s final essay demonstrated that she grasped the nuances of this field more than any other student in the class. Her unique project on the use of African American Vernacular English in the music of Asian-American entertainer Awkwafina included a detailed focus on specific linguistic features associated with various ethnic identities in the U.S. Her methodology, analysis, and conclusions were well-founded and flowed logically, and her references to resources beyond those read for class allowed her to situate her research in a compelling manner. I believe that Caitlyn’s paper illustrates advanced investigatory and argumentative abilities, and strong potential for future research endeavors."

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