Yo You Wanna Learn ‘African American English?’ Listen to Rap

January 4, 2012  |  

I bet you thought you were just entertaining yourself bopping around to the lyrics of Drake’s newest song or Kanye and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album. Nope. You were actually learning a new language called African American English. That’s cray right?

Researchers at the University of Alberta with nothing better to do asked 166 non-African-Americans from the the University of Minnesota the meanings of 64 expressions used in “black youth culture.” Results from the survey showed a positive association between the number of hip-hop artists listened to and African American English comprehension vocabulary scores. Yes, they actually named it.

So what covert wordsmithing did the researchers uncover? The use of “road dog” to mean friend (what year is?), “guap” as referring to a lot of money (2007?), and “dollar cab” as an underground railroad (isn’t that the black town car that charges me $7 to go up the block in NYC?) What takes the cake is that the study is actually titled, “You Know What It Is: Learning Words through Listening to Hip-Hop.

I thought the whole ebonics discussion went out the window years ago, so the fact that someone actually took the time to study this fictitious thing known as African American English is baffling to me. Is it just me or does this whole study make African Americans sound like a foreign species? While I want to chalk this all up to one of those “white people being impressed with average things black people do” moments like “Oh my God how does he come up with those lyrics,” something feels just a bit more Divisive about this. Oops, I mean, these researchers are on one. Newsflash: African Americans are Americans and we speak English like everyone else.

What do you think about this study and the whole idea of African American English?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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