Hip Hop Vocabulary: A Foreign Language Learning Exercise?

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Next, watch the video:

Then, read the lyrics.

We acquire our first language under extreme conditions

There is another way to look at this. Despite the fact that Hip Hop is filled, as Chelsey describes, with ‘double entendres,’ ‘obscure language,’ ‘atypical syntax’ and ‘unusual lexical items,’ when children first acquire language they are exposed to ‘debilitated’ language, yet, they manage to learn vocabulary, extract the language rules from these utterances and speak correctly.

Studies and theories over the years have pointed to the fact that humans, as researcher Jill Lany puts it, seem highly attuned to finding clues from language sounds and the surrounding environment, to gain understanding of speech and sound patterns.

African-American English: a dialect or foreign language?

World-wide expert in language, Professor David Crystal, 1997, mentions that if dialects within the same language become unintelligible, the two groups using these different languages could be classed as each speaking a ‘foreign’ language. So, if AAE is, as Chelsey mentions, “a legitimate, distinct variety (or dialect) from Mainstream American English,”  then non-AAE-speakers could be said to be acquiring a foreign or second language when learning  AAE vocabulary through Hip Hop song lyrics.

When Decoded Science asked Professor Crystal how Hip Hop language should be viewed, he told us that “some saw it as dialect on strictly linguistic grounds, some as language on political grounds. There’s an element of truth in both.”

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