Edited by Azizi Powell
This post provides an excerpt from an online article about Hip Hop Language [HHL) reprinted from Language in the USA.
As such, this post is related to an ongoing pancocojams series entitled "Putting On The Black". That series explores Black people's online use of African American Vernacular English [AAVE] and/or other forms of Black English such as Caribbean Patois. I maintain that those and other forms of Black English are often purposely used on YouTube discussion threads and on other internet blogs to signal the user's Black racial identity and/or to just "kick back" (relax) and have fun being "for real" in an informal setting. Those posts can be assessed by clicking on the "Putting On The Black" tag given below.
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Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
ONLINE EXCERPT: "SEZ WHO? HIP HOP NATION: A SCHOLAR'S VIEW
"Sociolinguists are intensely interested in the language of Hip Hop Nation, a highly fluid, creative and constantly changing dialect. H. Samy Alim explains how devotees “devise innovative ways to slice the system with the syntax."
H. Samy Alim argues that language—especially Hip Hop Nation Language (HHNL)—is central to the Hip Hop Nation (the “borderless” composite of hip hop communities world-wide). He identifies ten tenets of HHNL, including its rootedness in African American language and discursive practices, its regional variability, its synergistic combination of speech, music, and literature, and its links with surrounding sociopolitical circumstances, like police brutality and the disproportionate incarceration of the African American hip hop generation.
Much of the distinctiveness of HHNL comes from its inventiveness with vocabulary, and Alim provides several rich examples of this, from “Puffy” Combs popularizing of benjamins for ‘$100 bills’ to E-40’s coinage of new slang terms like What’s crackulatin for ‘What’s happenin.’...
Hip Hop Nation Language [HHNL]
...The centrality of language to the HHN is evident in such song and album titles as the “New Rap Language” (Treacherous Three 1980), “Wordplay” (Bahamadia 1996), “Gangsta Vocabulary” (DJ Pooh 1997), “Project Talk” (Bobby Digital 1998), “Slang Editorial” (Cappadonna 1998), Real Talk 2000 (Three-X-Krazy 2000), “Ebonics” (Big L 2000), Country Grammar (Nelly 2000), and Project English (Juvenile 2001). In numerous ethnographic interviews, I have found that language is a favorite topic of discussion in the HHN,[Hip Hop Nation] and its members are willing to discuss it with great fervor—and to defend its use.
When we speak of “language,” we are defining the term in a sense that is congruent with the HHN's “linguistic culture” (Schiffman 1996), and HHNL can be situated in the broader context of African American speech:
"There is no single register of African American speech. And it's not words and intonations, it's a whole attitude about speech that has historical rooting. It's not a phenomenon that you can isolate and reduce to linguistic characteristics. It has to do with the way a culture conceives of the people inside of that culture. It has to do with a whole complicated protocol of silences and speech, and how you use speech in ways other than directly to communicate information. And it has to do with, certainly, the experiences that the people in the speech situation bring into the encounter. What's fascinating to me about African American speech is its spontaneity, the requirement that you not only have a repertoire of vocabulary or syntactical devices/constructions, but you come prepared to do something in an attempt to meet the person on a level that both uses the language, mocks the language, and recreates the language. (Wideman 1976: 34)"
Members of Tha Pharcyde actively debated the concept of HHNL:
"Booty Brown: There's more than just one definition for words! We talk in slang. We always talk basically in slang. We don't use the English dictionary for every sentence and every phrase that we talk!
Pharcyde: No, there's a lot of words out of the words that you just said which all...
Booty Brown: Yeah, but the way I'm talking is not the English language... We're not using that definition… We're making our own… (Spady et al. 1999: xix)"
...In Tha Pharcyde conversation, when the brotha says the way he is talking is not the English language, he is talking about much more than slang. He asks pointedly, “Whose definition are you glorifying?” By making up your own words, he attests, you are freeing yourself from linguistic colonization (Wa Thiongo 1992)...
The relationship between HHNL and AAL [African American Language] is a familial one. Since hip hop's culture creators are members of the broader African American community, the language that they use most often when communicating with each other is AAL. HHNL can be seen as the submerged area (Brathwaite 1984: 13) of AAL that is used within the HHN, particularly during hip hop-centered cultural activities, but also during other playful, creative, artistic, and intimate settings. This conception of HHNL is broad enough to include the language of rap lyrics, album interludes, hip hop stage performances, and hip hop conversational discourse. African Americans are on the cutting edge of the sociolinguistic situation in the USA (as evidenced by abundant recent sociolinguistic research on the topic). HHNL, thus, is the cutting edge of the cutting edge.
A revised edition of the lexicon of “Black Talk” (Smitherman 1994, 2000) begins with a chapter entitled, “From Dead Presidents to the Benjamins.” The term “dead presidents” (meaning ‘money’ and referring to American notes with images of dead presidents) has been in use in the African American community since the 1930s. In the late 1990s, hip hop group dead prez both shortened the term and made explicit its multivariate meanings (within the revolutionary context of their rhymes and philosophy, they are surely hinting at assassination—a form of verbal subversion).
The “benjamins” is a term from the late 1990s popularized by rapper Sean “Puffy” Combs (P. Diddy)...
The HHN’s linguistic consciousness refers to HHNL speakers’ conscious use of language to construct identity. Addressing the divergence of AAL from standard English, Smitherman and Baugh (In press: 20) write:
"Graffiti writers of Hip Hop Culture were probably the coiners of the term “phat” (meaning excellent, great, superb)...
although “phat” is spelled in obvious contrast to “fat,” the former confirms that those who use it know that “ph” is pronounced like “f.” In other words, those who first wrote “phat” diverged from standard English as a direct result of their awareness of standard English: the divergence was not by chance linguistic error. There is no singular explanation to account for linguistic divergence, but Hip Hop Culture suggests that matters of personal identity play a significant role...
As with the highlighting of regional vocabulary, HHNL speakers intentionally highlight regional differences in pronunciation by processes such as vowel lengthening and syllabic stress (Morgan 2001b)...
When Nelly and the St. Lunatics “busted” onto the hip hop scene, they were among the first rappers to represent St. Louis, Missouri on a national scale. Language was an essential part of establishing their identity in a fiercely competitive world of hip hop culture. For example, in a single by the St. Lunatics featuring Nelly they emphasize every word that rhymes with “urrrr” to highlight a well-known (and sometimes stigmatized) aspect of southern/midwest pronunciation (here à hurrrr; care à currrr; there à thurrrr; air à hurrrr and so on). By intentionally highlighting linguistic features associated with their city (and other southern cities), they established their tenacity through language as if to say, “We have arrived.”
HHNL speakers vary their grammar consciously
Nelly and the St. Lunatics are conscious not only of their pronunciation, but also of their syntax. On his platinum single “Country Grammar” (2000), Nelly proclaims, “My gramma bees Ebonics.” Clearly, HHNL speakers vary their grammar consciously. An analysis of copula variation in the speech and the lyrics of hip hop artists concluded that higher levels of copula absence in the artists' lyrics represented the construction of a street conscious identity—where the speaker makes a linguistic-cultural connection to the streets, the locus of the hip hop world (Alim 2002). John Rickford has suggested (in a conference comment made in 2001) that the use of creole syntactic and phonological features by many rappers supports the ability of HHNL speakers to manipulate their grammar consciously.
...Linguistic scholars of the hip hop generations (we are now more than one) are needed to uncover the complexity and creativity of HHNL speakers. In order to represent—reflect any semblance of hip hop cultural reality—these scholars will need to be in direct conversation with the culture creators of a very widely misunderstood Nation."
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