Meaning and Intension of Slang Terms in American Rap Music

A Linguistic Analysis

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2012
28 Seiten, Note: 1,7
Melanie W. (Autor)



1. Introduction

2. Meaning of Slang
2.1 Definition
2.2 Dissociation
2.2.1 Colloquialism
2.2.2 Dialect
2.2.3 Jargon
2.2.4 Accent
2.3 American Slang
2.3.1 African American Influence

3. Slang in Rap Music
3.1 Linguistic analysis of “How we do”

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

Slang is a crucial part of every language. It is used by different groups to send a social signal, to indicate informality, irreverence or defiance, to add humor or to mark someone’s inclusion in, admiration for or identification with a social group which is often non-mainstream. A slang word cannot be identified by its pronunciation or construction due to the fact that a word is often just differently used to create a new sense through metaphor, metonymy, irony etc. or part of existing words are differently mixed together.[1] Slang is mostly used by the youth so that it is also an important part in the music scene especially in the genre of Hip Hop and Rap Music. The language used in Rap Music in the United States of America is highly influenced by the African American culture so that a lot of slang words came from the African American language.

In this term paper, a part of a song by the African American rapper 50 Cent will be analyzed with regard to the use of slang words. Importance will receive the questions what these slang words mean, where they come from and why they are used. It is to find out to whom the rapper speaks and why he does it in this way.

First of all, a concrete definition of slang will be given with the help of examples. To make the concept of slang clearer, dissociation to similar linguistic phenomena like colloquialism, dialect, jargon and accent will be made. This term paper will particularly deal with American slang which will be picked out as a central theme. Furthermore the influence of African American language will also be discussed. Afterwards, the focus will lie on slang in Rap Music which will be the introduction for the analysis of a particular song. Finally, a summary can be made and the questions about the meaning and intension of using slang terms in Rap Songs might be answered.

2. Meaning of Slang

Slang is an important factor in our life due to the fact that so many people use it in different ways, regions, situations or groups. Slang is most commonly created and used by the youth. It is important in branches like fashion, clothes, cars etc. That is the reason why it is often very short-lived. It is also used to describe types of people, relationships, social activities or behavior. What slang really is, how and when it is used and by whom will be answered in this chapter.[2]

2.1 Definition

“[Slang is] a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people…”[3]

The origin of the word ‘slang’ is not known. It first occurred in the eighteens century and was connected with specialized vocabulary of underworld groups. In the general English usage today, the term ‘slang’ is applied to almost any sort of vocabulary that is identified as “inappropriately, informal, socially objectionable or grammatically incorrect.”[4]

Giving a concrete definition for the term ‘slang’ is quite difficult. In fact, in some studies, the concept of slang is described as “almost undefinable”[5]. Others try to explain the phenomenon as a language of a highly colloquial type used by standard educated people in spoken speech consisting of new created words or composed of existing words in a special way or sense. Examples are word-plays, renaming things and actions, inventing new words or convert the old to remain in the fashion. So, many words seem to have a grotesque or eccentric meaning of humor or fancy rather than that they are influenced by scientific law, philosophical ideas and grammatical rules. The two most important facts of using slang is the desire to guarantee increased vivacity and the sense of intimacy in the use of language which will be defined later on.[6]

Summing up, the lexicon of slang operates the social and interpersonal functions of language more than its ideational function. Furthermore, body language and intonation play an important role in matters of slang due to the fact that it is often to identify as such in the way how to pronounce or to act.

If the term ‘slang’ was classified, it would stand somewhere between ‘colloquialism’, which is to be arranged higher, and ‘cant’, which is to find lower. Consequently, terms as ‘colloquialism’, ‘dialect’, ‘jargon’ and ‘accent’ are not included in the term ‘slang’, which will be classified and outlined posterior.[7] Slang can only be identified by its social consequences which becomes relevant by the effect that a word of slang has on the relationship between the speaker and its audience in comparison to using neutral vocabulary. Usually most slang words or phrases only exist for a short time in the use of speakers. They disappear much more rapidly than general vocabulary. The claim of using slang is to show sympathy, affinity or insider knowledge.

Other effects of users are also informality, identity and opposition to convention or authority. So, the introduction of slang weakens the formality of speech through using informal vocabulary as in the example sentence “The humidity is unpleasant.” Instead the user of slang would rather say: “The humidity sucks.” Depending on the occasion, the use of slang is appropriate or not. Thus, it is suitable to use slang in a conversation with friends or people the speaker know very well but usually not in impersonal public context.

Slang also identifies different members of a certain group like truck drivers or college students or a more indistinct group identified through their style or attitude. Sharing a particular common lexicon strengthens group solidarity. Only insiders understand different expressions of slang in a certain group so that the slang forms a kind of secret code for example for gang members. Slang words must be new, appealing and quickly accepted by group members similar to the latest fashion. So, slang is changing very fast and group members often borrow slang words from other groups to identify themselves with it. Nowadays, it is also popular to borrow a whole identity which started in the 1990s when clothes, body language and speech of young African- American male hip-hop celebrities were copied by the youth because of their ‘coolness’. This phenomenon of adopting a style or language from another ethnic group, the speaker usually do not belong to, is called ‘crossing’.

Last, opposition to convention or authority is also an effect of slang which means that it is often judgmental, negative in tone and can be quite offensive. Prisoners e.g. use some kind of slang to defend theirselves with words instead of weapons. With the help of slang they try to gain authority from other inmates. In this case, slang can be described as a lexicon with an uncooperative or daring edge to convention or authority.[8]

Slang also can be differentiated in primary and secondary slang. Primary slang is especially associated with groups which try to grade up their solidarity within the group with the help of using certain peculiar vocabulary. Those groups often belong to society-prisoners, thieves, drug dealers, con-artists, gamblers, nightclub performers etc. Some groups which produce their own slang are even engaged in disputable or illegal activities. Moreover also low-ranking military personnel belong to the group that uses primary slang. In comparison, they create their own slang due to the fact that they feel isolated from the average society through their lack of freedom. Usually for those groups, especially two centuries ago, the printed word, the power of the standard forms of written language and formal education have not played an important role. To summarize, primary slang contents the specialized social vocabulary of subcultures.[9]

On the other hand, secondary slang is more modern and functions for purposes of a breezy and trendy style or attitude. It is not connected with a certain group in the society. Lexical items used in secondary slang are acquired via television, movies and music rather than from personal interaction within a certain group using the same kind of slang. At the end of the twenties century, especially African Americans in urban ghettos used primary slang powered by the world of media, particularly by the commercial success of rap music which will be deepened later on.[10]

To conclude, slang is an understudied section of language. It never was taken seriously due to the fact that slang was always described as the idiosyncratic language of underworld groups. Even though, dictionaries of slang and many websites in the internet are available for all major languages in the world and they find interest in a wide audience.[11]

2.2 Dissociation

Slang is the colloquial use of words in a language and sometimes the creation of new words or adoption of words from another language. It is, however, important to make the difference to other linguistic phenomena that seems to be similar to the concept of slang. Even if slang is the colloquial use of words, colloquialism is something different. In this chapter, the distinction of slang to colloquialism, dialect, jargon and accent will be made clearly. Furthermore some aspects can overlap which will also be discussed.[12]

2.2.1 Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the term for words and phrases that are used in conversational speech. It is rather informal so that it is not used in formal conversation or writing. Colloquialism developed through ‘everyday’ conversation and the influence of informal online interaction.[13]

If one tries to classify the language of colloquialism, it lies somewhere between Standard English and slang. Thus, every person is able to speak his mother tongue in two different ways he or she was taught to. The first is the way to talk, the speaker learned in family, neighborhood and with friends. This kind of language is rather informal and used in ordinary occasions. The second one is that which the speaker uses in more serious contexts and with persons he or she is less familiar. The difference of these two kinds of speaking is the vocabulary and sometimes even the syntax which becomes more flexible in certain occasions.[14]

The grade of colloquial talk differs in different classes, sets, groups, families, individuals and sometimes even in individual’s moods. Furthermore, social experiences, traditions, general background, ordinary tastes, intellectual and moral cultivation influence the speaker’s use of colloquial words in conversations. Important is also the type of interlocutor someone is talking to. Dependent from the person the speaker talks to, he or she uses a different words. Naturally, there is a large body of vocabulary that serves the lexicon of many different classes but each class or interest also developed its own way of expressing itself. Examples for using colloquialism generally are contractions like ‘I’ll, don’t, won’t, it’s and we’d’ etc. which speakers would never use in public serious occasions unless there is a certain purpose of emphasis the colloquial background.

Colloquialism is to distinguish from slang in the way of its users. Every person uses colloquial words in certain occasions for example with friends or family members as already mentioned. Slang is more used by different groups of speakers as soldiers, prisoners, teenagers etc. Thus, if one tries to identify a word as slang or colloquialism, the speaker has to ask whether most native speaker know the word or not. If so, it is a colloquial word but in the United States of America, the borderline between slang and colloquialism is less clear than in Great Britain.[15]


[1] Finegan; Rickford 2004: 375

[2] Finegan; Rickford 2004: 375


[4] Ammon 2004: 264

[5] Partridge 1999: 306

[6] Partridge 1999: 306

[7] Partridge 1999: 306-307

[8] Ammon 2004: 264

[9] Ammon 2004: 263

[10] Ammon 2004: 263

[11] Ammon 2004: 266



[14] Partridge 1999: 70

[15] Zuckermann 2003: 21

Ende der Leseprobe aus 28 Seiten


Meaning and Intension of Slang Terms in American Rap Music
A Linguistic Analysis
Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
449 KB
Bitte veröffentlichen unter "Melanie W."
meaning, intension, slang, terms, american, music, linguistic, analysis
Arbeit zitieren
Melanie W. (Autor), 2012, Meaning and Intension of Slang Terms in American Rap Music, München, GRIN Verlag,


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