The Language That Came Down the Hill: Slang, Crime, and Citizenship in Rio de Janeiro



ABSTRACT  In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the register of slang has historically been embraced to forge salient social and spatial distinctions, demarcating the physical space of the favela (shantytown) and naturalizing the exclusion of its residents. In this article, I examine the ongoing enregisterment of slang in Rio's current context of profound social inequality, democratic instability, heightened urban violence, and geographic proximity. Within this climate of fear and insecurity, newly vulnerable and newly marginalized city residents draw on and reify salient speech repertoires to negotiate rights to the city and to the nation-state that have become increasingly threatened along socioeconomic, racial, and residential lines. I argue that the enregisterment of slang constructs newly emergent citizenship categories that both challenge and reinforce Brazil's entrenched regime of differentiated citizenship, illuminating the productive role of linguistic differentiation in the modern nation-state. [Keywords: slang, crime, citizenship, marginality, Brazil]