Diachrony and AAE: St. Louis, Hip-Hop, and Sound Change outside of the Mainstream

Renée Blake, Cara Shousterman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In this article, the authors provide a diachronic analysis of the urr variable as it appears in African American English (AAE) spoken in St. Louis. While many believe that this linguistic feature is a product of hip-hop, invented recently for creative purposes, the authors provide linguistic evidence that shows it to be a prevalent feature of dialects of AAE spoken in St. Louis, Missouri, and East St. Louis, Illinois, at an earlier time. The authors suggest that the increase in vowel centralization that evolved in St. Louis is similar to that found in Memphis, Tennessee, along an s-curve pattern. Finally, the authors theorize about how the use of the urr variable by hip-hop artists correlates with its increased usage in present-day local communities. They employ notions of indexicality, meaning making, acts of identity, and accommodation to argue for linguistic convergence between St. Louis rappers and local communities. They argue that the increased usage and acceptance of vowel centralization in local communities is supported by hip-hop language as opposed to innovated through it.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)230-247
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of English Linguistics
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 2010


    • African American English
    • dialectology
    • hip-hop
    • identity
    • indexicality
    • regional variation
    • sound change

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Language and Linguistics
    • Linguistics and Language


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