A recent PLoS ONE article, “You Know What It Is: Learning Words through Listening to Hip-Hop“, recently received some derision on the intertubes and The Twitter. Here’s a good summary:
Paula Chesley, a visiting professor at the University of Alberta, is no rapper. But in a study released Wednesday, she found that hip-hop music could actually help children and young adults learn new language.
Some rap lyrics are notoriously difficult to understand, but the correlative study published in PLoS ONE found that the number of hip-hop artists that a person listened to could predict knowledge of nonmainstream words and phrases used in hip-hop songs (i.e., road dog, guap)…
Researchers gave 168 undergraduate students a set of rap-specific vocabulary words and then told the participants to define them. Students were likely to understand the meaning of the specific vocabulary words tested if they also indicated hip-hop was their preferred music, had social ties to African-Americans and knowledge of pop culture in general…
“The study is correlational only, that is, they did not introduce new words intentionally in hip-hop songs or use control conditions, so it is difficult to know how useful that would be,” said Bookheimer. “However, I find it a very exciting finding with clear implications for enhancing knowledge in school-aged kids, particularly among those who struggle with traditional memorization approaches or who are generally disengaged in schoolwork.”
This gives me an excuse to bring up some older work involving the novel A Clockwork Orange. A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian sci-fi novel, but what’s interesting is that it invented a lot of slang. This provided education researchers with an opportunity to understand how students acquire language through reading. Specifically, if you just give a child a new book with novel words (and “droog” for English speakers certainly qualifies), how many of these words will they incorporate into their own personal vocabularies? (Here’s a research-oriented bibliography)
So, sure, it’s fun to joke about that goshdarn hippetty-hoppetty music, but, if the experiments are done correctly, there’s a lot we can learn about how children learn.