Appropriation, Jamaican Creole, Morphology, Music, performance, Phonetics, Phonology, Reggae, Sociolinguistics

Guest contribution: White reggae – linguistic appropriation of Jamaican Creole

Preface

This is a guest contribution written by Anika Gerfer. She was one of my students who has just recently successfully passed her MA-thesis under the supervision of  my esteemed colleague Michael Westphal. Below please find a brief summary of her thesis. Enjoy!

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White reggae – linguistic appropriation of Jamaican Creole

Languages have been spreading across the globe for many centuries. For instance, the English-based creole language Jamaican Creole (JC) has crossed national and cultural borders, not only through the migration of Jamaicans but also via the media. Over the last few decades, JC has become closely associated with Caribbean music, leading to a reappropriation and recontextualisation by white reggae artists from numerous countries who have since been observed to ‘cross’ (Rampton 1995) into the formerly stigmatised variety. Accordingly, JC nowadays serves new functions and is no longer solely associated with a Jamaican identity. Although researchers admit that reggae music is one of the pivotal driving forces behind JC’s worldwide spread, research dealing with this music genre so far has been narrative in nature, mostly outlining the history of its global spread and approaching it from a cultural studies perspective. My study aims to fill this research gap and add to the sociolinguistics of globalisation and performance by focusing on the global spread of reggae and JC. The present study adopts a capacious approach including a phonetic, morpho-syntactic, lexical and content analysis of the singing style of seven reggae artists/bands from different countries, i.e. Alborosie (Italy), Collie Buddz (Bermuda), Gentleman (Germany), Groundation (USA), Matisyahu (USA), Natasja (Denmark) and Tribal Seeds (USA).

The findings indicate that the selected artists cluster together in two groups concerning their use of JC features, depending on their exposure to JC and the topic of their songs. The artists in group one (Alborosie, Collie Buddz, Gentleman and Natasja), who are highly exposed to JC, deploy high numbers of JC features on all levels of linguistic variation. Their songs further exhibit instances of colloquialisms and slang typical of the performance of pop songs and hip-hop (Kreyer 2016), African-American Vernacular English lexemes and universal non-standard grammatical features. They predominantly sing about everyday topics and express in-group belonging to youth culture. The artists in group two (Groundation, Matisyahu and Tribal Seeds), by contrast, choose from a limited repertoire of a few salient JC phonetic, lexical and morpho-syntactic features. Their songs mostly deal with Rastafarian beliefs and ‘roots’ reggae, which is why their lyrics display instances of Dread Talk (cf. Pollard 2009) and allusions to the Bible. Although both groups of artists orient themselves to Jamaica, their musical style varies and they seem to have distinct ‘referees’ (Bell 1992) and address different audiences. While Groundation and Tribal Seeds seem to emulate Jamaican roots reggae artists, Alborosie, Collie Buddz and Nastasja apparently orient themselves to Jamaican dancehall music, a music genre which is nowadays dominated by JC (Farquharson 2017). The results gained from this study show that JC holds prestige for white reggae artists.  The traditionally stigmatised non-standard variety can no longer solely be viewed as being tied to ‘roots’ reggae and Rastafarianism, but it has developed into a linguistic resource which is appropriate for the performance of reggae and dancehall songs dealing with a wide range of topics. JC has therefore gained new prestige and has crossed national and cultural borders through its commodification by white reggae artists (Mair 2013).

Literature:

  • Bell, A. (1992). Hit and miss: Referee design in the dialects of New Zealand television advertisements. Language & Communication, 12(3/4), 327-340.
  • Farquharson, J. T. (2017). Linguistic ideologies and the historical development of language use patterns in Jamaican music. Language & Communication, 52(1), 7-18.
  • Kreyer, R. (2016). ‘Now niggas talk a lotta Bad Boy shit’: The register hip-hop from a corpus linguistic perspective. In C. Schubert and C. Sanchez-Stockhammer (Eds.), Variational text linguistics: revisiting register in English (pp. 87-110). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter.
  • Mair, C. (2013). The World System of Englishes: Accounting for the transnational importance of mobile and mediated vernaculars. English World-Wide, 34(3), 253–278.
  • Pollard, V. (2009). Dread talk. Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press.
  • Rampton, B. (1995). Crossing: language and ethnicity among adolescents. London, England: Longman.
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