Vic Brotzman

Cecilia Cutler, assistant professor at Lehman College

What up, bro?

Miami University students were treated to a guest lecture by sociolinguist Cecilia Cutler that crossed racial boundaries-often with amusing results.

Cutler, an assistant professor at Lehman College: City University of New York, addressed students with a speech titled, “The Sociolinguistics of ‘Keepin’ It Real’: Authenticity and Whiteness in Hip-Hop,” Thursday afternoon at Bachelor Hall.

She was also recently featured in the PBS documentary, Do You Speak American?

Jacquelyn Rahman, director of Miami’s linguistics program, said that she invited Cutler to speak on campus because her research was focused on something in which many people had an interest.

“I thought it would be of interest to a broader community here,” she said. “Students want to hear about it. Hip-hop is quite popular.”

Cutler said that her interest in the field developed when she saw the son of a friend living on Park Avenue in Manhattan grow up and gradually adopt a “thug” lifestyle.

“I was really fascinated to watch his development,” she said. “I was really interested in the way he used language as well. I remember overhearing him on the telephone one time when he was talking with a friend about going out and he said ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yo, just hang on a sec, let me ask, I mean, ax my mom.'”

Cutler said observing this active attempt to alter one’s own culture intrigued her. She took up interviewing white people who had immersed themselves in hip-hop culture, and then by attending MC Battles, where rappers have to come up with impromptu raps to put down their opponents.

The lecture drew heavily from an episode of the reality TV show, The White Rapper Show, in which 10 white rappers, both male and female from across the country, competed.

Cutler played a number of clips from the show, exemplifying just how unusual it can be, she said, when white people embrace a culture they were not born into.

One scene depicted two contestants arguing, where one female character repeatedly addressed the other with the n-word. The show’s host, who informed her that the word was inappropriate, later reprimanded her.

Similarly, Cutler said that the word could convey a different meaning depending on whether or not the “r” at the end of the word is pronounced.

Prior to the event, Rahman said that she hoped students who attended the lecture would be able to come away with a better understanding of how important language is in their lives.

“I hope it creates greater awareness of how people use language to form their identities,” Rahman said.

First-year student Sha’ron White said she came to hear the lecture because she is a fan of the music, and was curious to hear how race is a part of it.

“I love hip-hop and I just wanted to hear about white representation in it,” she said. “I like the linguistics. I always wanted to hear more about it and see what kind of research has been done, because it’s our language.”

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