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Department 1

Africana Studies


While there is well documented evidence of certain supra-regional features in African American English (AAE) phonology and morphosyntax (for example, see Labov 1972; Rickford 1999; Baugh 2000; Green 2002), recent trends in the study of linguistic variation suggest that the homogeneity of the variety has been largely overstated (Mallinson & Wolfram 2002; Friedland 2003; Wolfram 2003). For the most part, contemporary AAE influences on mainstream language have originated from varieties spoken in the northeast and on the west coast which have evolved independently of one another over the past forty years, and which vary in significant ways from southern AAE; however, the most popular linguistic styles of rap music and hip hop culture have shifted over the years as artists from various regions (the West Coast, the Midwest, and the South) have put their particular speech communities on the map in the Black Public Sphere. We argue here that as southern American rappers have become more dominant in the popular music scene, like East and West coast rappers before them, they have had a significant impact on the AAE spoken by hip hop’s insiders, and they have also influenced the language of mainstream speakers as well.

This paper builds on Smitherman’s insights on Hip Hop Linguistics (2006) even as it explores a more recent sociolinguistic phenomenon: the imminent emergence of southern AAE forms in the music and lyrics of the most popular rap artists of this decade and the attendant influence that these forms might have on AAE in general. Preliminary findings suggest that the linguistic effects of southern rap on AAE (and to a lesser extent, mainstream varieties) are not only evident in the lexicon (which could be dismissed simply as fleeting slang), but also in the phonology of the variety, providing us with a more complete understanding of contemporary AAE and the ways in which the variety continues to develop.