Mark Liberman responded to my earlier ribbing. He says:
His conclusion: "My personal theory is that hip-hop slang is far too rich and fast-moving for linguists to easily keep up".
Well, I'll defend my profession by claiming that a linguist who tried to keep up with it -- and there probably are some in that category -- could do as well as anyone else.
Mark is right, of course. I was mostly teasing. But as I responded in e-mail to him:
I do wonder where such linguists may be hiding. I mentioned some of the claimed Wolof origins of common urban slang, and I'm never entirely sure what to believe along those lines because often the chain of citation is not as rigorous as what I've come to expect from linguistics. Yes, I know that it's hard to figure out the record through the dark ages of slavery and all that, but I do wonder whether there is enough linguistic attention to what (hip-hop slang English) I think is the richest dialect of any language in common usage (and I know quite a few dialects, non-linguist though I may be).
I'm especially suspicious of the grandness of some of the claims, for example that the term "OK", notorious for its etymological coyness, derived from Wolof expressions. I don't believe this derivation is generally accepted in linguistics. I know I'm in danger of being called a House Negrah who is too keen on seeing authority in white professors, but the reality is that I can't imagine any possible motivation for linguists to deny such etymology, if it's plausible. Linguists already accept all sorts of derivations in English from cultures that are not fashionable to Eurocentrists.
I'm also a bit skeptical because I understand that Igbos made up a large proportion of slaves, which should allow me, as a decent Igbo speaker, to recognize some corruptions of Igbo into Black American slang, but I've tried and can't find any examples that make much sense. Maybe Wolof folks were more determined to clutch to their language than Igbos, but I do wonder.
One site I did find is this one, which attempts to classify the morphology of hip-hop slang. It's probably not rigorous linguistics, because I can comprehend the terminology, but I'd still love to find other such resources.
For my part I keep up with hip-hop slang by listening to the music and hanging out on hip-hop boards such as Okayplayer. I've never lived in the hood (another rear end slang), pumped a gauge, smoked dro nor boosted any lo, and I don't expect a linguist would need to either. They would, however, have to sort out the various slangs of New York, Atlanta, LA, The Bay Area, St. Louis, New Orleans, London, Kingston, and so on. It would be a big task.
One side note on Liberman's entry. He quotes Kanye West:
I drink a boost for breakfast, and ensure for dizzert
Somebody ordered pancakes I just sip the sizzurp
That right there could drive a sane man bizzerk
Not to worry y'll Mr. H 2 the Izzo's back to wizzerk
On line 2, Kanyeezee is making a joke. He doesn't mean codeine syrup (which "sizzurp" almost always means). He means plain old maple syrup. Liberman says:
Exercise for the reader: in the the last line, what did Kanye actually say, and what did he mean?
Solution: Hip Hop icon Jay Z is nicknamed "HOVA", and in one of his hit songs the chorus went: "Aitch to the izzo, vee to the izzay", basically spelling his nick name. Jay Z is the one who gave Kanye West his break, and Jay Z is also known for retiring, unretiring, retiring again, and then becoming president of Def Jam records. Kanye is just paying homage by mentioning the unretirement ("back to work").