Identities and Lyrics: Quantitative Analysis of Phonological Variation in Korean Hip-Hop English Lyrics
This paper extends the sociolinguistic investigation of Hip-Hop language and its performative usage more generally by examining English in the lyrics of three Korean Hip-Hop groups: Dynamic Duo, Epik High, and Drunken Tiger. This paper examines overall occurrence of English as well as the extent to which their English incorporates features associated with African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Alim (2002) argues that American Hip-Hop artists connect their lyrics to street culture by using features of AAVE such as copula absence however, in this study of Korean Hip-Hop lyrics, instead of focusing on syntactic features, phonological features are to be studied mainly. The use of English in Korean Hip-Hop songs varies from lexical items (e.g. Nwun tteponi yesterday swucwupten kuttay. From the song "paykya" from the album "Remapping the Human Soul" by Epik High 2006) to a sentences (When My body turns cold, you will know, I remapped the human soul. From the song "paykya" from the album "Remapping the Human Soul" by Epik High 2006), and sometimes, but not for all the artists, a whole paragraph. Given that English is not the dominant language in Korean Hip-Hop artists' works, focusing on phonological features rather than features on different levels will provide clearer insight of the investigation yielding a more amount of data to examine. This study seeks to determine if Korean Hip-Hop artists employ similar linguistic practices to each other for similar identificational reasons. I conducted quantitative analyses of the variable patterning of three AAVE features: /ay/ monophthongization and glide reduction, /t, d/ deletion in word final consonant clusters, and /r/ vocalization and reduction in word-final position. Each is coded with its internal linguistic context such as surrounding phonological environment, and external factors such as each artist's degree of contact (intensive vs. non-intensive) with American culture. The three Hip-Hop groups' works are exhaustively examined in terms of variation and change in each artist's AAVE features over time. I also include comparative analysis of the artists' speech in the less overtly performative context (e.g. interview) when artists are not performing their songs. This quantitative analysis of phonological variation and change in the English lyrics of Korean Hip-Hop artists demonstrates that myriad factors need to be considered when examining stylistic variation, including situation (e.g. performative vs.non-performative), personal history (including, crucially, degree of language proficiency and cultural contact), and their desire to project particular types of identities. Further, the study is innovative in its focus on Hip-Hop music in a Korean setting and its examination of how identity is co-constructed not only between performer and audience but also among performers.
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