Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Many people’s first encounter with Africa may be through popular media that sounds vaguely ‘African.’ Swahili is often used for this purpose, from Jordan Peele’s film Get Out to the Resident Evil videogame franchise. The use of Swahili in these zombie horror sagas points to language as a powerful agent of (de)humanization, and media as a tool for promoting Global Africa. Even as this appears to fulfill a longstanding goal of Pan-Africanism, Africa is not monolingual, and neither is Blackness. But these media also reflect the legacy of African(a) Studies models that have long promoted Swahili as representative of an entire world region. What can area studies learn from survival horror? Should zombies be speaking Swahili?
Author of the forthcoming book, Zombies Speak Swahili, Jamie A. Thomas examines the undead through the eyes of a linguist. Her research on zombies concerns the interplay of race, identity, and media in language learning and study abroad, from Mexico to Tanzania. She incorporates her love of The Walking Dead into her teaching at Swarthmore College, and is a Visiting Scholar at UC Santa Barbara.