Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Communities of practice - fo' sheezy

One of the big ideas floating around linguistics at the moment is "communities of practice", something that I tried to define in a lesson the other week (probably unsuccessfully) when we were talking about slang and how it emerges and develops. But then an article turned up in The Guardian about the rapper E-40 and the slang around the San Francisco Bay Area hip hop scene and I thought, what better way to explain communities of practice and at the same time improve my ghetto report card (ha ha ha) than to look at the two ideas together? So here goes...

A community of practice is, according to Penelope Eckert (get ready for a long quotation):

an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in some common endeavor. Ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values, power relations - in short, practices - emerge in the course of their joint activity around that endeavor. A community of practice is different as a social construct from the traditional notion of community, primarily because it is defined simultaneously by its membership and by the practice in which that membership engages. And this practice involves the construction of a shared orientation to the world around them - a tacit definition of themselves in relation to each other, and in relation to other communities of practice. The individual constructs an identity - a sense of place in the social world - through participation in a variety of communities of practice, and in forms of participation in each of those communities. And key to this entire process of construction is stylistic practice.

And according to the article on Bay Area hip hop, these are all features that are apparent in the slang used in this "community of practice":

*Mutual engagement in some common endeavour - rapping or listening to it and being part of the culture around it.
* It is defined simultaneously by its membership and by the practice in which that membership engages - the rappers who created the scene, the fans and contributors to the scene, and the rapping and the language linked to it.
*This practice involves the construction of a shared orientation to the world around them - the slang defines an attitude to partying and life in general that is different to other genres of rap.
*A tacit definition of themselves in relation to each other - West Coast, East Coast, Bay Area, Dirty South: the style of music and the slang marks out the different sub-genres and outlooks on life.
*And key to this entire process of construction is stylistic practice - the language used in the songs and linked to the culture around it.


So, how does that sound?

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Varieties and Language Change


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