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This entry focuses on the origins, functions, and metaphorical usage of the tale of the signifying monkey and the concept of signification, which plays a foundational role in various African American communication forms (such as the dozens, a game of insults). As a popular aspect of African American conversation and language, signification is an example of African cultural continuity within North America. First, the signifying monkey is examined in its folklore aspect. This is followed by a discussion of signification from the standpoint of literary analysis and rhetorical strategy. The entry concludes with a note on the role of signification in popular culture within the African American community.

Historical Background

Many scholars trace the origin of the main character within the tale of ...

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