Interaction around hip hop

The first such episode we will discuss is a self-recording made by Mahmoud and Bashaar. It illustrates a hip hop oriented activity in the youth club where the boys usually spent a few hours after school. They are writing a climate rap, which is homework for school, but the activity takes place in a leisure context in which they often worked on their hip hop music. This makes the setting for the activity somewhat hybrid and the linguistic practices they deploy during this sequence relates to similar hybrid relationships between popular and school cultural resources. The two boys jointly create the lyrics and Mahmoud writes them down. Before this sequence the writing has led Bashaar to make fun of and correct Mahmoud's spelling of the word 'temperature'. So the school-oriented frame, including a norm of correctness, has indeed been made relevant. In this excerpt a third participant joins the conversation, Madiha, a girl, who is also a regular to the youth club (see transcription key in appendix).

Excerpt 4: 'Do your homework'

1

Mahmoud:

den stiger] ((rapper))

[it rises] ((rapping))

2

Madiha:

[Koran xxx kom nu] lav jeres

[Koran xxx come on] do your

3

lektier fa jer en uddannelse (.)

homework get yourself an education

4

frap Koran tror I I far

(.) frap Koran do you think you'll

5

penge [for det]

get money [for it]

6

Bashaar;

[HVOR MEGET] HVAD

[HOW MUCH] WHAT

7

HVAD TROR DU JEG FIK I

WHAT DO YOU THINK I GOT IN

8

FRANSK I DAG (.) TI

FRENCH TODAY (.) TEN

9

HISTORIE FIK JEG TOLV

HISTORY I GOT TWELVE

10

MATEMATIK FIK JEG TI

MATH I GOT TEN

11

LAD V€RE MED AT SNAKKE

DON'T TALK

12

WALLAH

WALLAH

13

(2.0)

(2.0)

14

Madiha:

(ej hvor skulle jeg vide det fra)

(well how would I know)

15

Mahmoud:

[temperaturen (.) den stiger]

[The temperature (.) it's rising]

16

((rapper))

((rapping))

17

Madiha:

[0h JA I FORHOLD TIL ANDRE]

[eh YES COMPARED TO OTHERS]

18

HVAD FIK DU MOUD

WHAT DID YOU GET MOUD

19

Bashaar:

Mahmoud fik sgu ogsa ti

Mahmoud also got bloody ten

20

Mahmoud:

TI I FYSIK OG

TEN IN PHYSICS AND

21

KEtMI (0.3) TOLV I

CHEMIStTRY (0.3) TWELVE IN

22

BIOLOtGI

BIOLOtGY

Madiha interrupts Mahmoud's rap with the suggestion that the boys do homework instead of rap music in order to get an education (lines 1-6). Thereby she seems to articulate an assumption that rap does not lead to income (as education does) and that there is a contradiction between youth cultural practices such a rap music and general measures of societal success. However, to do so, she employs non-standard linguistic features such as a prosodic pattern characteristic of the aforementioned street language and the slang expression koran used as intensifier (line 2 and 4). Bashaar does not argue against the expressed assumption or claim that they are in fact engaged in doing homework. Instead he defensively and loudly asks Madiha a rhetorical question about his educational achievements and continues by listing a range of the high marks he has recently received as an answer (line 6-12). This seems to function as a demonstration of his academic capabilities, and a way of positioning himself as school-skilled (in line with his earlier spelling corrections). Still, similar to Madiha, he deploys linguistic features associated with street language. These are both prosodic and lexical (e.g. the expression wallah, line 12). Finally, Mahmoud, too, lists high marks in several subjects using the same intonation (lines 22-22). Excerpt 4 thereby illustrates how the boys defend their school competence as a reaction to the articulation of an assumption of an opposition or at least lack of connection between rap-culture and school success. The example shows that the close relation between school competence and hip hop activities expressed by the boys, and significant to the ideologies of Ghetto Gourmet activities, is not uncontested - in this case it has to be defended. But it is also a typical example of how these boys creatively, and in many ways successfully, blend dominating educational norms and positive school orientation with peer and popular cultural norms and semiotic activities such as linguistic vernacular forms and hip hop.

The example makes clear that to understand how hip hop was appropriated by the boys in this context it is necessary to take into consideration the local, socio-cultural meanings given to particular cultural resources. Such socio-cultural meanings can be accounted for through the notion of indexicality (Ochs 1992; Silverstein 2003). Indexicality refers to the associations between forms and (typical) usage, contexts of use and stereotypes of users that are (re-)created in communicative encounters through linguistic and other signs. Indexical associations are termed metapragmatic because they typify and otherwise characterise signs' links to pragmatically usable systems of signs or 'metapragmatic models' (Agha 2003, 2007). In the data so far we have seen explicit metapragmatic commentary in the rap lyrics (e.g. typifying 'our language' in Amager as characterised by mixing of linguistic resources in Excerpt 1). In Excerpt 4 Madiha's actions typify hip hop cultural resources as incompatible with education and success. Bashaar and Mahmoud, though, challenge this metapragmatic model through their simultaneous orientation to hip hop and school norms.

Indexicality plays a central part in our analysis. The relevance and presence of contrasting norms and centres of authority in interactional encounters are indexically pointed to through language-in-use. Centres of authority influence linguistic and other semiotic conduct. They also motivate moral evaluations of semiotic conduct in terms of 'good' and 'bad' (Silverstein 1998: 406). Yet, centres of authority are connected to specific socio-cultural domains and spaces, and in fact a multiplicity of such centres co-exist. This co-existence of norm centres is referred to as polycentricity (Blommaert, Collins and Slembrouck 2005; Silverstein 1998: 405). Polycentricity implies that what is considered valuable and prestigious in one domain and by some individuals may be stigmatised in another domain and by other individuals - or in fact by the same individuals - and the evaluation of particular signs or resources depends highly on the particular normative centre that the individual orients to. For instance, in the excerpt above we have seen how hip hop was a way for the boys to show themselves to be school oriented in a non-nerdy way, while for others (here Madiha) it indexed educational non-achievers. All situated encounters are potentially polycentric, even those not obviously so; there are always 'multiple - though never unlimited - batteries of norms to which one can orient and according to which one can behave ... ' (Blommaert 2010: 40). Participation in popular cultural activities involves orientation to multiple norms, both within and across domains, and for pupils a pertinent implication of the existence of multiple centres of authority is that they need to learn to recognise and juggle different sets of norms of expectations, maybe even simultaneously (Blommaert et al. 2005: 207). Excerpt 4 suggests that the adolescents in our study successfully manage to do so, but we shall now turn to a final example illustrating the challenges related to bridging popular culture and education.

During the first year of our fieldwork hip hop came to play an increasingly important role in the educational activities not only for the boys engaged in the rap band, but for their classmates as well. The final excerpt we include is from a Danish lesson a couple of weeks after the encounter in the youth club. At this point the entire class had participated in a rap workshop, which was an element of a larger initiative by, mainly, Ghetto Gourmet, the city council of Copenhagen and the music venue Vega. The aim was to enhance young Copenhageners awareness of citizenship, diversity and identity and to give them the chance to express themselves on these topics in performances of rap, among other genres. Fifteen schools in Copenhagen, typically from less privileged areas, participated.

The quotes from the field diary and Excerpt 5 are from a preparation phase where the teacher linked hip hop to poetry and linguistic elements of poetry in general:

Excerpt 5: Support teacher

Inger announces that some rappers will visit next week and that the students have to make their own rap lyrics. They will also go to Vega to perform their rap (possibly battle). Inger addresses Mahmoud and Isaam, when she has rap specific questions. For instance she asks them if one uses 'linguistic mechanisms' in rap lyrics. Isaam says that one does.

(...)

Isaam tells Inger that he thinks it is better to choose a beat for their rap before they write the lyrics. Inger replies that they cannot choose the beats before the rappers join the class. Isaam offers to bring some beats. It is not clear to me whether Inger agrees or not, but she says: 'there is no doubt that you will be support teacher during this course and so will Mahmoud' because - as she says - they know more about hip hop and rap than she does.

(Translated excerpt of field diary, 21.10.09, Lian)

Excerpt 6: 'Linguistic mechanisms'

1 Inger:

det er noget med hvad for nogle rim

it's something about what rhymes

2

man kan bruge i en raptekst det papir

one can use in rap lyrics you'll get

3

far I og sa har jeg nogle

that sheet and then I have some

4

papirer (.) eller det er

sheets (.) or it's

5

kun et to papirer og de er om

just one two sheets and they're about

6

sproglige virkemidler i lyrik i det

linguistic mechanisms in poetry in

7

hele taget I kan maske ogsa bruge det

general perhaps you may also be able to

8

i rap eller det ved jeg ikke bruger

use that in rap or I don't know does one

9

man sproglige vir virke[mid]ler

use linguistic me me[chanisms]

10

((henvendt til Isaam og Mahmoud)

((addressing Mahmoud and Isaam))

11

Isaam:

[mm]

[mm]

12

((bekr^ftende))

((confirming)

13

Inger:

i rap hvad hvad kunne det v^re giv

in rap what what could that be give

14

mig et eksempel

me an example

15

Mahmoud:

[o:h (°et eksempel0)]

[e:h (°an example0)]

16

Isaam:

[o:h xxx eksempel]

[e:h xxx example]

17

(2.2)

(2.2)

18

Tahir:

xxx xxx

xxx xxx

19

Mahmoud:

hvad [siger du hhh]

what [are you saying hhh]

20

Inger:

[ikke dig Tahir] ikke dig Tahir

[not you Tahir not] you Tahir

21

jeg spurgte Isaam ikke

I asked Isaam right

22

Mahmoud:

(jeg kan ikke finde et ordentligt)

(I can't find a proper)

23

Inger:

I kan ikke lige finde pa noget

you can't think of something

24

Mahmoud:

[nej]

[no]

25

Isaam:

[nej] nej men man bruger meget (.)

[no] no but one uses a lot (.)

26

det der

that thing

27

Inger:

hvad er det nu sproglige

so now what is it linguistic

28

[virkemidler er]

[mechanisms is]

29

Mahmoud:

[forskelligt]

[different]

30

Inger:

kan vi lige fa nogle (.) sproglige

can we just have some (.) linguistic

31

billeder kalder vi dem ogsa

figures we call them as well

32

Isaam:

ja do doden banker pa doren

yes dea death knocks on the door

From the accounts in the field diary as well as from the transcript of the interaction it is clear that the engagement with hip hop culture shifted the relations of authority in this teaching situation (Karreb^k 2012). The teacher positioned Mahmoud and Isaam as experts (lines 8-9, 11-12, 18). The boys reflected this positioning by suggesting a different order of tasks and offering to bring beats. There seems to be an opposition here between the teacher's authority in terms of institutional classroom hierarchy and traditional curricular knowledge and the boys who have authority in terms of knowledge about hip hop. Slowing down and looking into the details of this classroom interaction also highlights some challenges of trying to connect popular cultural expertise and traditional curricular knowledge (Lefstein and Snell 2011). In this sequence, the teacher links what she refers to as 'linguistic mechanisms' in poetry to hip hop, as she asks if such effects are used in rap. This term is generally used by the Danish teachers when teaching of literary analysis. Both Isaam and Mahmoud react as respondents to her question to Isaam in line 18, but the hesitation markers and the relatively long silences suggest that they have some problems providing an example. Isaam's response (lines 22-23), 'no but one uses a lot (.) that thing' suggests that he is not comfortable with the term 'linguistic mechanisms'. When the teacher rephrases 'linguistic mechanisms' as 'linguistic figures' Isaam seems to realise what she is talking about and suggests 'death knocks on the door' as an example. This textbook example of a linguistic figure is highly conventional and widespread in Danish teaching of metaphors and poetry. It is unlikely to be related to the kind of rap that these boys practice and listen to, and the attempt from the teacher to position the boys as experts and connect the poetry and hip hop genres somehow fails here. Excerpt 6 provides a contrast to Excerpt 4 from the youth club as it points to the limitations of creatively mixing cultural forms in this polycentric encounter. We find only standard near linguistic forms including features indexing academic models (such as the vocabulary items 'poetry', 'linguistic mechanisms') throughout this example. So carrying out rap-related tasks for school purposes clearly seems enacted differently in the leisure setting from in the school setting when guided by the teacher.

 
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