Maya Angela Smith

Assistant Professor


Maya Smith completed her undergraduate and master’s degree at New York University in the joint MA/BA program with the Institute of French Studies. She received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in Romance Languages and Linguistics. Her scholarship broadly focuses on the intersection of racial and linguistic identity formations among marginalized groups in the African diaspora, particularly in the postcolonial francophone world. Her current book project, Senegal Abroad: Linguistic Borders, Racial Formations, and Diasporic Imaginaries, will be published with the University of Wisconsin Press in January 2019. Through a critical examination of language and multilingual practices in qualitative, ethnographic data, Senegal Abroad shows how language is key in understanding the formation of national, transnational, postcolonial, racial, and migrant identities among Senegalese in Paris, Rome, and New York. This is a book about language attitudes, how they influence people’s local and global interactions with the world, how they change through the experience of migration, and how in turn they affect migrants’ language use. This sociolinguistic perspective is an outlier in African diaspora studies but offers an important tool in understanding racial formation.

In addition to the Senegalese Diaspora, Maya is now directing her focus to how blackness is constructed in the French Caribbean. Her most recent publication looks at race and language in Martinique:

“Negotiating Martinican Identity amid French Universalism: Racial and Linguistic Considerations” (Francosphères 2018, 7:1, 49-69)

Maya is also interested in language pedagogy and has published the following:

“French Heritage Language Learning: a Site of Community Building, Cultural Exploration and Self-reflection” (Critical Multilingualism Studies 2017, 5:2, 10-38)

Maya has been the recipient of various grants including the Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty, the UW Research Royalty Fund Fellowship, and the Simpson Center Society of Scholars.


  • University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., Romance Languages & Linguistics, 2013