JB talks hip hop and globalization

13 04 2009

Jan Blommaert‘s latest book project (scheduled to appear in the Cambridge Approaches to Language Contact series and available as a Word file here) is once again a theoretical tour de force.  In A Sociolinguistics of Globalization, he formulates a theory of language which tackles space (geography) and time (history). Here’s what he has to say about the global spread of hip hop (links added).

Hiphop (Pennycook‘s main target of analysis) is a case in point. It is a multimodal (or better: transmodal) semiotics of music, lyrics, movements and dress, that articulates political and sub-cultural anti-hegemonic rebellion as well as aesthetics, a philosophy of life and a particular range of identities; that has its origins in the US inner cities among African-American youths but has spread all over the world and appears everywhere in a recognizable form, in spite of very significant local differences. Hiphop artists all over the world use similar patterns of semiotic conduct (including the use of English stock terms and expressions), but wherever it occurs, Hiphop offers new potential for local identity formation (see also Richardson 2007). What happens with Hiphop is therefore “the global spread of authenticity” (Pennycook 2007: 96ff), not just a flat distribution of cultural forms, but a layered distribution in which local forces are as important as global ones. There is always “a compulsion not only to make hip-hop locally relevant but also to define locally what authenticity means” (id.: 98), and while many ‘global’ (including English) features of Hiphop are adopted in this search for authenticity, many others are rejected as well, and alongside the globalized African-American English Hiphop register we often see the emergence of similar registers in the local languages as well, sometimes (like in Tanzania) leading to a new, localized, fully-fledged vernacular Hiphop tradition.


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