Hip Hop Vocabulary: A Foreign Language Learning Exercise?


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Hip Hop vocabulary – a new dialect or foreign language? Image by christopherharte

Can you learn to speak ‘Hip Hop’ by listening to popular music?

Results from recent research, published in December, 2011 by Paula Chelsey of the University of Alberta, support the hypothesis that non-African-American young adults learn African-American English (AAE) vocabulary through listening to hip-hop. How surprising are these results?

Vocabulary Acquisition Through Hip Hop Music

Chelsey questions whether vocabulary acquisition can occur through listening to music, particularly hip-hop or rap, since listeners often misunderstand lyrics, and transcribe lyrics words incorrectly.  Added problems listeners face that Chelsey lists are:

  • Album covers often lack lyrics.
  • Background music obscures words.
  • The fast pace and voice quality of the music make it difficult to understand.
  • The unfamiliar language used may contribute to errors in interpretation.

Chelsey claims that these factors create excruciatingly difficult conditions for lyric comprehension, transcription, and vocabulary acquisition, and suggests listening to Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis,” 2011, in order to appreciate the complexity involved in comprehending  the lyrics of this genre of music.

First, only listen to the song:

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