Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 2 February 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Language Alternation Strategies in Nigerian Hip Hop and Rap Texts

Maduabuchi Agbo, M.A., Ph.D. Candidate


This work is a linguistic study of Nigerian musical artistes, especially of the Hip Hop genre. The study shows that the artistes skillfully use language alternation strategies to enhance the aesthetic and rhetorical qualities of their music. It is revealed in the study that the language alternation patterns involve major Nigerian languages and English, and, they interact with elements of the lyrical structure, namely, the lines, rhymes and stanzas to enhance the musical qualities of the artistes' works.

Language alternations have other connotations as they also bear the qualities of identifying the artistes' linguistic identity and preferences. It also has semantic significance as when some lexical items are used to highlight code switching occurrences like contrastive and expressive code switching as well as reformulations and repetitions. It is also used to achieve a greater audience/participant constellation and greater understanding of the discourse/message of the song.

Key Words: Hip Hop; Language Alternation; Code Switching; Text; Context.

1.0 Introduction

Rose (1994:21), offers the following definition of Hip Hop:

Hip Hop is a cultural form that attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity, and oppression within the cultural imperatives of African-American and Carribean history, identity, and community. It is the tension between the cultural fractures produced by postindustrial oppression and the binding ties of black cultural expressivity that set the critical frame for the development of Hip Hop.

Hip Hop is not just about music, but rather a cultural form of expression rooted in individuals singing about their lived experiences (Rose 1994:24).

The Nigerian music industry has grown to mega status over the years. Music is at the core of any form of entertainment in Nigeria. Over the years a peculiar genre of music known as Gbedu, or Nigerian Hip Hop has developed and it is now popular in urban and rural areas. Hip Hop is not originally a Nigerian brand of music. It emanated from America in the early 1980s and up to the late 1990s, American Hip Hop stars were very popular in the Nigerian music scene. However, at the turn of the twenty-first century a change began to emerge. Nigerians localized the American Hip Hop brand. They maintained the fast strong rhythm, and fast talk (known as Rap) but changed the language from Black American English to Nigerian languages and Nigerian English. This brand of music is variously called 'Naija' or 'gbedu' in Nigerian Hip Hop parlance.

This use of Nigerian languages and Nigerian English has even made Hip Hop and Rap more popular and appealing than before, as many youngsters can now relate to the language of this genre of music. Right now Nigerian Hip Hop stars have conquered the Nigerian space and Nigerian Hip Hop and Rap is gradually but surely easing out the original American brand from the Nigerian music space.

1.1 Background to the Text and Context of Nigerian Hip Hop

Text is a semantic concept. According to Halliday (1978:135), a text is a semantic unit, which is not composed of sentences but is realized in sentences. Halliday and Hassan (1989:17) define it as a functional language. Following Halliday and Hasan, we can identify the three features of texts in Nigerian Hip Hop.

As a semantic unit, Nigerian Hip Hop texts have meaning that can be interpreted within the context of situation; as a syntactic unit, it follows acceptable grammatical norms; and as a pragmatic text, it has wider interpretations that go beyond the ordinary, (especially when used in a Hip Hop event); and finally, as a literary text, it has literary features such as figures of speech, word play and parallelism (Bamgbose, 1968; Olatunji, 1984). The text is also perceived as a product and a process. As a product, Nigerian Hip Hop can be recorded and studied systematically. As a process, it involves a network of meaning potential from which choices are made depending on the environment/situation of use.

Nigerian Hip Hop is performed particular contexts and has particular meanings when performed in those contexts.

Finally, the text is a form of social exchange especially dealing with interactions between speakers. This means that meaningful texts are created in interactions (or dialogues). Nigerian Hip Hop is used to express the lived experiences of the musician or the audience as the case may be. It is a unified text which has its own subject matter, participants and events. In all these occurrences, the emphasis is on the context of situation: the context makes the meaning of the Hip Hop text come to life.

So what is the context of a Hip Hop text?

Context is defined in different ways depending on the form in question. Three forms of context have been identified in the literature. These are the context of culture, the context of situation and the context of text. The context of culture is "a large and complex knowledge system spread between various members of a particular culture, and hence consisting of many sets of knowledge, including in particular, the institutional and the ideologicalů [In] a particular context of situation, the context of culture is accessed by means of the knowledge systems which the various participants bring to bear on the situation, where the knowledge is triggered by aspects of the context of situation" (Leckie-Tarry 1995:20). This means that the shared knowledge of ideas, participants and events forms the background to the realisation of the meanings in a particular text. When taken out of context, the possibility of wrong or meaningless interpretations of texts obtains (Mey 2000).

The Hip Hop texts we are studying are shared experiences by both the artistes and his audience.

The context of situation is the environment in which the Hip Hop text becomes meaningful. Halliday & Hasan (1989) identify the three categories of field, mode and tenor, which are said to be realized by three metafunctions - ideational, interpersonal and textual . The ideational knowledge, being knowledge resources of a culture, refers to the background knowledge within the society. It is gained through experience or from existing texts in a culture. The interpersonal knowledge deals with how people interact in particular situations, especially dealing with participant roles acceptable to the society/culture. Textual knowledge is that gained from other texts including knowledge of intratextual and intertextual contexts. This involves conventions for the realizations and cohesion of texts.

The context of text is the independent realization of meaning within the lyrics of the music. This means that the Hip Hop text is independent and bears a specific interpretation. However, meanings in Hip Hop texts can be analogous to happenings in the real world; and that is why they are invoked at such events.

Since the Hip Hop text is based on the wisdom, culture, experiences, history, etc of its society, it is easily interpretable within the society.

1.2 Method

The corpus of data used for this research is from the output of twenty Nigerian Hip Hop artistes that have received rave reviews in the past four years. The list of these artistes is in attached as an appendix to the work. This researcher keenly follows the development of Hip Hop in Nigeria. The selected artistes have the widest appeal in Nigeria in the past four years. The lyrics of the songs used for this study can be found on the jacket of the CDs and most of these lyrics can also be found on the internet. The date of launch of each album is included in the appendix at the end of this work.

The lyrics of these songs were second-read by a group of Hip Hop music lovers and they were checked at least three times against the recorded versions of the song on CD and Video. A minimal amount of transcription was made in places where the songs have not been well transcribed. The transcription and cross-checking of the lyrics was done by competent native speakers of the languages in question. For example, the Yoruba translation and transcription was done with the help of the Yoruba teachers in a secondary school in Lagos. The Igbo and Nigerian Pidgin (NP) translation and transcription were done by the researcher, who is competent in these languages. The Efik and Hausa translations and transcriptions were done with the help of native speakers. In transcribing the data we tried to be as simple and plain as possible. We decided to disregard, in all instances, the phonetic accuracy of the transcription, especially as this was not necessary for the analysis. We did some new transcriptions because they were not available on the CD jackets and on the internet.

When these translations and transcriptions have been completed, every utterance is accorded a number and every word is accounted for. A group of lyrics to be analysed is given a number for easy identification and the track title and artiste's name is written on top of the body of lyrics. If the body of lyrics in question is the chorus or the stanza of a song, this is indicated at the top of the lyric.

In formatting the lyrics, the translations are in bold print, while all the languages are in normal print. However, where necessary a word may be highlighted in bold print to bring it to the fore for analysis.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Development of Stroop Effect in Bilinguals | Subtlety, Mockery and Dharma in Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel | Language Alternation Strategies in Nigerian Hip Hop and Rap Texts | Faithfulness and Adequacy in Translation - A Case Study of the Translation of a Poem Written by Bharathiar | Indianized English in Shashi Deshpande's That Long Silence | Naipaul's Perception of India | Teaching English Word Formation in Academic Writing - Analysis and Remedy | Sabotaged Submission - Interpreting the Role of Women in Scriptures | Socio-economic Profile of Women Prisoners | Study on the Levels of Living of Self-help Groups in Coimbatore District, with Particular Reference to Thondamuthur and Perianaicken Palayam Blocks | Agreement in Tamil and Telugu | Etymological Analysis for Some Words of Body Parts in Semitic Languages (Especially in Arabic & Hebrew) | HOME PAGE of February 2009 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Maduabuchi Agbo, M.A., Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Linguistics and African Languages
Faculty of Arts
University of Benin, Benin City

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