African-American Vernacular English within American ‘Gangsta Rap’


Term Paper, 2009
25 Pages, Grade: 2,7

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 What is African-American Vernacular English?
2.1 The Question of Origin
2.2 Linguistic Characteristics of AAVE
2.2.1 Absence of copula for contracted forms of isand are
2.2.2 be indicating recurring activity or state
2.2.3 aint’t for isn’t or didn’t
2.2.4 Third person -s absence in present tense
2.2.5 done indicating completed activity

3 Data Analysis
3.1 The Nature of Gangsta Rap
3.2 AAVE represented in American Gangsta Rap
3.2.1 Copula absence of is and are
3.2.2 be indicating recurring activity or state
3.2.3 aint’t for isn’t or didn’t
3.2.4 Third-person –s absence in present tense:
3.2.5 done indicating completed activity

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited

6 Appendix

1 Introduction

This abstract shall give another piece of the puzzle to what is considered to be African-American Vernacular English. With scientific aid of well-known concepts by linguists such as Green in particular but also Wolfram, Schilling-Estes, Mufwene and Poplack we want to focus on specific grammatical features of AAVE and to what extend these can be recovered in the Hip-Hop subgenre of American West Coast Gangsta Rap. A small but significant text corpus of four representative songs (added to the appendix in the shape of lyrics) cover the source for a quantitative and qualitative evaluation. The given text shall give a short overview about the origin and different theories on AAVE first and will further on primarily adapt the characteristic linguistic features L. Green and Wolfram & Schilling-Estes worked out and apply them to our little song text corpus.

2 What is African-American Vernacular English?

2.1 The Question of Origin

“African Negro Spech”, “Black English”, “African-American Language”, “Black Street speech” or “Ebonic” are only some terms used refferring to the ­- at some points considered a mere dialect and at others considered to be an independent language - variety of American English, to name but a few.[1] In this abstract we will, for reasons of simplicity and appropriateness, call the variety of English (like most linguists today do) African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).

Nowadays linguists have agreed on the grammatical, syntactical, phonological and even syntactical independence of AAVE as a “linguistic system of communication governed by well defined rules […] used by some African-Americans (though not all) across different geographical regions of the USA [which, again, differs from region to region] and across a full range of age groups”[2]. (At this point the author of the given abstract wants to hint at the opinion shared by some linguists that some features of AAVE are also being used by white speakers. This thesis will be supported later on in this scripts).

The unability of linguists to clearly define the character of AAVE is closely connected to the question of its origin. Are we dealing with a substrate, pidgin or creole? Which languages are more basic to AAVE? Did it mainly emerge from creoles, brought to the American continent by slaves, of African and Carribean Languages (Creolist View) or is even the structure of West African Languages the main basis of AAVE as a substrate like Wolfram and Schilling-Estes suggested (2006) (Substrate View)? Professional scientists like Kurath and McDavid (1949) have posed the question, whether AAVE were a result of English only and thus could be seen as a lot closer to the Anglican language than to African or West Indian languages (Anglicist/Dialectologist View). This view has been redisposed by several linguists (a.o. Mufwene, Poplack) in the late-twentieth century (Neo-Anglicism) due to new data that hinted at a suspected similarity between AAVE and other surrounding European American varieties.[3]

As every view has its own logical and traceable arguments it is not only hard to judge which one can be marked the ‘correct’ view, but also of minor interest for our following investigation for our main focus will be on present-day AAVE and its reflections in popular hip hop music. Anyway, the ‘truth’ regarding origin and development of the American dialect to be investigated might be found somewhere in the middle of all presented views.

2.2 Linguistic Characteristics of AAVE

So what are the unique features of AAVE? As we already pointed out, the variety indeed has exclusive rules on almost all linguistic levels. As linguists have discussed the certainly important topic of vocabulary quite detailed our focus will rest on grammatical, syntactical and phonological features primarily. Along the investigations of Green, Wolfram & Schilling-Estes and Mufwene we want to see whether some selected characteristics of the stated, AAVE typical features can be found within a limited selection of representative Hip Hop songs. To identify them later on we have to summarize those typical features first. Due to the lack of space and time we can only briefly denoten a limited amount of typical features relevenant for our observations.

2.2.1 Absence of copula for contracted forms of isand are

The first feature we want to introduce is very common among every-day-talk of AAVE-speakers. Mostly occuring within short statements the copula for shortened forms of is and are is left out due to economic reasons.

Examples by Wolfram & Schilling-Estes[4]:

She nice.

They acting all strange.

2.2.2 be indicating recurring activity or state

The given construction is used to express a state that has happened a long time ago but whose activity is still of importance at the time of the utterance beeing made.

Examples by Wolfram & Schilling-Estes[5]:

Sometimes my ears be itching.

She don’t usually be here.

2.2.3 aint’t for isn’t or didn’t

An often detectable feature of AAVE. It is only useable when the expression beein made occurs as a negative statement.

Examples by Wolfram & Schilling-Estes[6]:

He ain’t go there yesterday.

He ain’t do it.

2.2.4 Third person -s absence in present tense

Examples by Wolfram & Schilling-Estes[7]:

she walk for she walks

she raise for she raises

2.2.5 done indicating completed activity

The verbal marker done is not being used exclusively by speakers of AAVE (but can also be detected within varieties of Southern American English). In AAVE it is only followed by verbs, does not appear in connection with a contracted not (n’t) and semantically demonstrates a “completed activity whose resultant state holds now.”[9][8]

Examples given by Green:

He done ran. meaning ‘He has already run.’

3 Data Analysis

3.1 The Nature of Gangsta Rap

The Hip-Hop subgenre was born around the 1980’s primarily along the West Coast of the USA. Initiated by rap-icons like Ice T and NWA Gangsta Rap deals with glorifying contents of the life of black criminals (‘gangsters’). Topics such as drug-dealing, prostitution, violence, everyday life in the suburban ghettos, collusion with police, etc. are some of the main themes being rapped about.

The equivalence of West Coast Gangsta Rap for the East Coast is referred to as “Hardcore Rap”. At this point we must hint at the still today ongoing rivalry between both parties (West – and East Coast Rap) which found its peak at the murder of famous East Coast rapper Notorious BIG and the preceding shooting of West Coast rapper 2Pac. Both fan parties accused each other of being responsible for the respective happenings. We will acknowledge both artists with at least one representative song each later on.

As it is imaginable the contents of Gangsta Rap songs have been massively criticized as being exalting, even inciting while proclaiming homopheopia, intolerance and organized crime. The rappers themselves answered these accusations in a way that is hard to be taking for granted. They justify their behavior with their goal of adverting to grievances within American society by playing an exaggerated role (which can be reasonably doubted). The upcoming analysis will give proof to the omnipresence of the listed attributes and will furhermore raise the question in how far the image and attitudes of “the” gangsta rapper plays a role for identity of a certain community of speakers of AAVE.

3.2 AAVE represented in American Gangsta Rap

The Hip-Hop subgenre Gangsta Rap can definitely be regarded as one of the areas where the culture of “being black” finds a platform of representation with features ‘typical’ for speakers of AAVE. The author of this survey is of the opinion that Gangsta Rap demonstrates one of many sources for characteristics of the linguistic system. The basis of the analysed data consists of four representative song lyrics (see appendix) that have been selected due to their quantitatively covered features and are directly (word by word) adopted from the specific source.

3.2.1 Copula absence of is and are

Let us start with the omnipresent absence of copula forms of is and are. Within the given four songs of different artists we found five examples of the described phenomena.

“Uhh, and my ambitions as a ridah to catch her while she hot, and horny, go up inside her.” (Song 1, l. 30 )

“Niggaz be actin like they savage.” (Song 4, l. 35)

“This for my niggaz slingin thangs” (Song 3, l. 30)

“Who that queen, bitch?” (Song 3, l. 54)

You a muslim now.” (Song 2, l. 21)

“That's what they screamin’ as they drill me, but I'm hard to kill.” (Song 1, l. 62)

They out to get the cabbage.” (Song 4, l. 34)

In all six extracts we certainly miss the copula verb. The second and third person singular as wel as the third person plural occur within this example. In quote 1, 3 and 4 we are dealing with present tense sentences indicative. Interestingly quote 2 deviates from this pattern. Where a linguist would like to see a conjuntive form (“Niggas be acting like they were savage.”) we can not even find the often used third persons plural indicative copula are.

3.2.2 be indicating recurring activity or state

This very quote leads us to next feature we want to find reflected in Gangsta Rap lyrics: the usage of be indicating recurring activity or state. The often used term “nigga” refers to the semantic meaning of “buddy”, “friend” or the like and is a cultural marker of belonging to a specific community or culture, in this case a special “black community”. But back to the grammatical character of this example. When we take a closer look at the whole passage (l. 36-38) we can derive from the context that the African-American people the speaker is hinting at have been savage a longt time ago, plus: they still are today (that is why he states in the last line of this passage: “I got, nothin’ but love, for my niggas livin’ lavish.”).

3.2.3 aint’t for isn’t or didn’t

A feature we found much more frequently (7 tokens) than the preceding one ist the substitution of isn’t or didn’t by ain’t:

“hey, I ain't mad at 'cha” (Song 4, l. 10)

“Got a big money scheme and you ain't even with it.” (Song 4, l. 35)

“I can't even lie coz I ain't laughin' at ya.” (Song 4, l. 39)

“Don't shed a tear, coz momma I ain't happy here.” (Song 4, l. 56)

“Actin’ like I ain't the reason they traded they shit.” (Song 2, l. 47)

“Ain't nuttin’ but a gangsta party.” (Song 4, l. 3)

“There ain't no mercy motherfuckers who can fade the Thugs.” (Song 4, l. 69)

Surprisingly only two of the found seven tokens cover a replaced isn’t. All other five appearances of ain’t are substituted for the first person singular form of am not.

Of course we are dealing with a relatively small corpus here. But we can certainly state that ain’t can also function as a substitution for am not.

[...]


[1] see also: Green, Lisa J. (2002), African American English: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 77.

[2] Green, Lisa J. (2002), African American English: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 77.

[3] see also: Wolfram, Walt and Schilling-Estes, Natalie. (1998). American English. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, p. 219.

[4] Wolfram, Walt and Schilling-Estes, Natalie. (1998). American English. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, p. 214.

[5] Wolfram, Walt and Schilling-Estes, Natalie. (1998). American English. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, p. 214.

[6] Wolfram, Walt and Schilling-Estes, Natalie. (1998). American English. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, p. 215.

[7] Wolfram, Walt and Schilling-Estes, Natalie. (1998). American English. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, p. 214.

[8] Green, Lisa J. (2002), African American English: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 83.

[9] Green, Lisa J. (2002), African American English: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 80.

Excerpt out of 25 pages

Details

Title
African-American Vernacular English within American ‘Gangsta Rap’
College
University of Münster  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Course
Proseminar American English
Grade
2,7
Author
Year
2009
Pages
25
Catalog Number
V167287
ISBN (eBook)
9783640840960
ISBN (Book)
9783640840250
File size
556 KB
Language
English
Tags
african, american, vernacular, english, gangsta, rap, hip-hop, grammatic, otherness
Quote paper
Jan Skordos (Author), 2009, African-American Vernacular English within American ‘Gangsta Rap’, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/167287

Comments

  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: African-American Vernacular English within American ‘Gangsta Rap’


Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free