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Beyonce’s “Formation” and AAE in the Celebration of Blackness

February 7, 2016

As you may have heard, Beyonce is currently breaking the Internet with the incredible video that she posted Saturday afternoon. In case you’ve been living under a rock, you check out the video here (warning: explicit lyrics):


While several authors have already written thoughtful pieces about how “Formation” is an unapologetic celebration of blackness (see here and here), we at Word. were impressed by how Beyonce also uses clever wordplay and African American English features in the video. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, check out Bey’s use of some well-described AAE features.

Zero Copula

“Ya’ll haters corny with that Illuminati mess”

In her very first line of the song, Beyonce challenges those who might attribute her success to anything other than her simply being THAT talented. And she goes so hard that she doesn’t even need an overt copula verb. She does it again in the discussion of her roots:

“My daddy Alabama, Mama Louisiana”

Here, Bey’s use of zero copula serves to further enhance the message that she is authentically a Southern black belle.

Zero Possessive Marker

“I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros, I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”

In what is perhaps the most ZFG moment of the song, Beyonce throws some serious shade at those who have criticized the looks of her child or her husband.


Finally, let’s turn to a few of the characteristic AAE vocabulary items that Bey employs.


“I got hot sauce in my bag, swag”

“I grind ’til I own it”

“Clause I slay, slay”

Beyonce’s use of terms like “swag”, “grind”, and “slay”, which are all associated with black success, is the icing on the cake of this song. Bey uses “slay” 36 times in under 5 minutes, and she might be the only artist who slays hard enough to get away with it. Add her language use to the song’s overall encouraging message, the video’s powerful post-Katrina imagery, alongside the fact that she released it 6 days into Black History Month, and you’ve got a recipe for an pro-black anthem for the ages. #slay

3 Comments leave one →
  1. indijvisual permalink
    February 8, 2016 3:55 am


    Forgive me if this is an annoying question but have you written anything on the word “bae”? Because I find it absurd how much people hate on that word… Oh no… It’s so tempting to rhyme absurd and word… Good thing it’s nearly midnight.

  2. jay permalink
    February 8, 2016 4:15 pm

    Nothing at all about being a “Bama”? That’s the most significant word in the whole song.

    • Nicole Holliday permalink*
      February 8, 2016 4:21 pm

      Hi Jay. Bamma/bama certainly is significant in the song, but the focus of the lexical discussion was her repeated use of black empowerment terms. The variable regional meanings of bamma/bama, as well as Bey reclaiming it as empowering are certainly interesting, so hopefully we’ll be able to get to them in a future post!

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