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Phat Lines: Spelling Conventions in Rap Music

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This paper focuses on the spelling conventions used in a corpus of written rap music lyrics intended for public consumption. The non-standard spellings evident in this corpus are used deliberately for various purposes, one of which is to graphically represent the phonological and syntactic features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). This use of non-standard orthography can be seen as a way for the writer to demonstrate a positive evaluation of the non-standard speech forms that characterize rap music performances. Other non-standard spellings bear no relation to the grammar or phonology of AAVE. However, through the use of processes such as “inversion”, these non-standard spellings invoke alternative meanings while simultaneously calling attention to the arbitrariness of dominant spelling conventions. It is argued that, overall, the non-standard spelling conventions employed in rap music lyrics function to create and sustain hip-hop culture as an “anti-society”.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Trent University

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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