San Francisco. Young whites can learn African-American English (AAE) vocabulary from listening to hip-hop music, despite difficulties in understanding the song lyrics, according to a survey published in the online science journal PLoS ONE.
In the survey, by Paula Chesley from the University of Alberta’s Department of Linguistics in Edmonton, Canada, 166 non-African-Americans from the University of Minnesota in the United States were asked the meanings of 64 expressions used in black youth culture. They also answered demographic questions and questions about their social networks and musical preferences.
Results of the survey showed that the more hip-hop artists the students listened to, the better they understood non-mainstream vocabulary in AAE, also called African-American Vernacular English or Black English. This was true irrespective of how many, if any, African-American friends they had.
Chesley said the survey suggested that hip-hop music could be a source of slang vocabulary for young adults, even though the lyrics were almost never printed in hip–hop album liners, the sung and spoken parts were often heavily overlaid with music or samples, the lyrics were usually fast paced and emotionally charged, and the language was unfamiliar and the syntax atypical.
Some of the students surveyed were able to ascribe certain expressions to certain songs. Examples of AAE vocabulary included “dollar cab” for underground railway, “road dog” for friend and “cheese,” “gouda” or “mail” for money.