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Review of 'You Know What It Is: Learning Words through Listening to Hip-Hop'

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4
Interesting attempt to detangle the relationship between media consumption and language variety
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    Rated 4 of 5.
Level of importance:
    Rated 4 of 5.
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    Rated 3 of 5.
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    Rated 5 of 5.
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    Rated 3 of 5.
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You Know What It Is: Learning Words through Listening to Hip-Hop

 Paula Chesley (2011)
Music listeners have difficulty correctly understanding and remembering song lyrics. However, results from the present study support the hypothesis that young adults can learn African-American English (AAE) vocabulary from listening to hip-hop music. Non-African-American participants first gave free-response definitions to AAE vocabulary items, after which they answered demographic questions as well as questions addressing their social networks, their musical preferences, and their knowledge of popular culture. Results from the survey show a positive association between the number of hip-hop artists listened to and AAE comprehension vocabulary scores. Additionally, participants were more likely to know an AAE vocabulary item if the hip-hop artists they listen to use the word in their song lyrics. Together, these results suggest that young adults can acquire vocabulary through exposure to hip-hop music, a finding relevant for research on vocabulary acquisition, the construction of adolescent and adult identities, and the adoption of lexical innovations.
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    Review information

    10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-UNCAT.A3244393.v1.RLHMEE

    This work has been published open access under Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Conditions, terms of use and publishing policy can be found at www.scienceopen.com.

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    Review text

    I came to this article because it cites an article that I co-authored, and I am always interested to see what other work is being done related to that paper. This article tackles a question that is fundamentally difficult to de-tangle: what is the role of media in a person's use and understanding of different language varieties? The author makes an attempt to understand whether listening to hip-hop influences an understanding of AAE by people who are not African-American (and therefore not embedded in AAE-speaking communities). The paper shows some interesting relationships with AAE vocabulary knowledge, such as with country music listening, knowledge of popular culture figures, and ties to African-Americans (and therefore potentially members of an AAE-speaking community). This paper connects a number of interesting linguistic theories such as the importance of weak ties, covert prestige, and language comprehension in sung contexts.

    While a number of different factors are considered and connected here, one piece remains unclear: the directionality of this influence. Does the listener listen to more hip-hop because they have the vocabulary to do so, or do they acquire the vocabulary because they listen to hip-hop? One portion of this article describes the level of entrenchment of a term by investigating whether a word was used by many artists vs. just a few very popular artists. The author then makes a connection to non-purposeful listening, e.g. hearing a song on the radio and picking up the entrenched vocabulary from there. I am not sure this provides an accurate understanding of the directionality of this influence; to me, the social ties (brought up occasionally in the article) are more indicative of this relationship. The article mentions that the number of weak ties (and knowledge of Charles Barkley) did not reach significance, and then later that "the number of weak ties to African-Americans is a better predictor of AAE vocabulary knowledge than the number of strong ties, a finding which replicates the work on the strength of weak ties in the diffusion of information". To me, this is an important component of the study that could determine the direction of causality, and is not adequately (or clearly/directly enough for this reader) delineated. Without this very important component of the hypothesis clearly outlined, the argument throughout the rest of the paper is weakened, although still interesting. 

    However, I think this paper is a good start to understanding this relationship between media consumption and vocabulary / language use, and there is much to build on here. Since this work is several years old now, I look forward to reading more about what has been done since this paper was published. 

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