Arthur Spears

Presidential Professor Emeritus

Main Affiliation


Additional Departments/Affiliated Programs

Black Studies Program


NAC 7/112C


(212) 650-7359

Arthur Spears


ARTHUR K. SPEARS is Presidential Professor at The City University of New York (CUNY). He is affiliated with two units of CUNY: The City College, Anthropology Department, and The Graduate Center, where he is in both the Linguistics and the Anthropology Programs.


His Ph.D. in Linguistics was earned at the University of California, San Diego. From Northwestern University, he received an M.A. in Linguistics; and, from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, he received an M.A. with Distinction in International Relations. He earned a B.A. with a triple major in French (Honors), Spanish, and Political Science from the University of Kansas.

Research Interests

Dr. Spears' research spans linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, pidgins/creoles and language contact, grammatical analysis, race and ethnicity, education, and ideology. The languages he specializes in are African American English and Haitian Creole, along with other French-related creole languages. He works in four languages (English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese) and is one of the few individuals ever to have passed the U.S. State Department's contract interpreter examination in four languages.


Di Paolo, Marianna and Arthur K. Spears, eds. 2014. Languages and Dialects in the U.S.:Focus on Diversity and Linguistics. New York: Routledge.

Spears, Arthur K.,In press. Black Language in the English-Speaking Caribbean and the United States: History, Use, and Education. Lexington/ Rowman & Littlefield.

Spears, Arthur K., ed. 2010. Language, Inequality, and Endangerment: African Americans and Native Americans. Special Issue of Transforming Anthropology 18.1. 2010.

Spears, Arthur K. and Carole M. Berotte Joseph, eds. 2010. The Haitian Creole Language: History, Structure, Use, and Education. Lexington /Rowman & Littlefield.

Spears, Arthur K.,In press. Black Language in the English-Speaking Caribbean and the United States: History, Use, and Education. Lexington/ Rowman & Littlefield.

Makoni, Sinfree, Geneva Smitherman, Arnetha F. Ball, and Arthur K. Spears, eds. 2003. Black Linguistics: Language, Society and Politics in Africa and the Americas. New York: Routledge.

Spears, Arthur K., ed. 1999. Race and Ideology: Language, Symbolism, and Popular Culture. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Spears, Arthur K. and Donald Winford, eds. 1997. The Structure and Status of Pidgins and Creoles. Philadelphia & Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Language and Speakers: An Introduction to African American English and Native American Languages. (with Leanne Hinton) In Language, Inequality, and Endangerment: African 

Americans and Native Americans,guest ed. Arthur K. Spears. Special Issue of Transforming Anthropology 18.1. 2010.

On Shallow Grammar: African American English and the Critique of Exceptionalism. In The Languages of Africa and the Diaspora: Educating for Language Awareness, ed. by Jo Anne Kleifgen and George C. Bond, 231-248. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. 2009.

Writing Truth to Power: Racism as Statecraft. In Anthropology off the Shelf, ed. by Maria Vesperi and Alisse Waterston, 93-100. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

Pidgins/Creoles and African-American English. The Handbook of Pidgins and Creoles, ed. by Silvia Kouwenberg and John Victor Singler, 512-542. Blackwell Publishers. 2008.

Bare Nouns in African American English (AAE). In Noun Phrases in Creole Languages, ed. by Marlyse Baptista and Jacqueline Guéron, 421-434. Philadelphia/ Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 2007

African American Communicative Practices: Performativity, Semantic License and Augmentation. In Talkin Black Talk, ed. by H. Samy Alim and John Baugh, 100-111. New York: Teachers College Press. 2007

Perspectives: A View of the “N-Word” from Sociolinguistics. Diverse Issues in Higher Education – Online. July 13, 2006.

Directness in the Use of African-American English. Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African-American English, ed. by Sonja L. Lanehart, 239-259. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 2001.

Ebonics and African-American English. Ebonics and Language Education of African Ancestry Students, ed. by Clinton Crawford,235-247. New York: Sankofa World Publishers. 2001

Race and Ideology: An Introduction. Race and Ideology, ed. by Spears, 11-58. 1999.

Teaching "Minorities" about Language and Culture. Race and Ideology, ed. by Spears, 61-82. 1999.

African-American Language Use: Ideology and So-Called Obscenity. African American English: Structure, History, and Usage, ed. by Salikoko S. Mufwene, John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey, and John Baugh, 226-250. New York: Routledge. 1998.

Foregrounding and Backgrounding in Haitian Creole Discourse. Focus and Grammatical Relations in Creole Languages, ed. by Francis Byrne and Donald Winford, 249265. John Benjamins. 1993.

Stem and So-Called "Anterior" Verb Forms in Haitian Creole. Atlantic Meets Pacific:A Global View of Pidginization and Creolization, ed. by Francis Byrne and John Holm, 261275. Amsterdam:John Benjamins. 1993.

Tense, Mood, and Aspect in the Haitian Creole Preverbal Marker System. Pidgin/Creole Tense, Modality, Aspect Systems (Creole Language Library, Pieter Muysken, series editor), ed. by John Victor Singler, 119142. Amsterdam:John Benjamins. 1990.

The Black English SemiAuxiliary Come. Language 58.4:85072. 1982.Reprinted in Readings in African American Language: Aspects, Features, and Perspectives, ed. by Nathaniel Norment, 173-201. New York: Peter Lang. 2002.


Additional Information

Prof. Spears is the founder and first editor of Transforming Anthropology, the journal of the Association of Black Anthropologists, a unit of the American Anthropological Association. He was the President (2007-2009) of the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, the largest international body devoted to promoting the study of contact languages and their speakers.


Dr. Spears serves on the editorial panels of leading journals and the Creole Language Library of John Benjamins Publishing Co. He has served also as legal expert in court cases involving race, speech analysis, and the use of controversial words and symbolism.
Believing in the importance of disseminating scholarship, he has presented information connected with his areas of specialization through media appearances on the British Broadcasting Corporation ("The Story of English"), Réseau France Outre-Mer (Groupe France Télévisions), Black Entertainment Television, Gil Noble's current events talk show on ABC, National Public Radio, WBAI, and Inner City Broadcasting's WLIB, among other media organizations.

His biography appears in The African American National Biography (edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Oxford University Press).