A Pragma Sociolinguistics Analysis of Slangs in Nigerian Hip-Hop Music

A Pragma Sociolinguistics Analysis of Slangs in Nigerian Hip-Hop Music


The paper presents a Pragma Sociolinguistic analysis of anti-social themes found in some Nigerian Hip-hop music lyrics. Universally, utterances reliably reflect personality which is consequent upon what we listen to and what we read. The personality of an individual is shaped by their linguistic environment and their relationships in all labour relations. These interactions are within what can be regarded as social circumstances that are in one way or the other related to our linguistic values. Specifically, Lagos as the centre of the Nigerian Hip-Hop music comprises a group of artists who have gained global recognition and have impacted linguistically on the populace especially the youths. The lyrics of their music is characterized by vulgar slang that are sexually volatile and accentuate the objectification of the female gender. In addition, there exist the glorification of drug abuse and fraudulently acquired wealth. These colloquial expressions are engendered by the various social-economic activities that are prevalent in Lagos. It is against this linguistic background that this paper examines the psychological, social and linguistic impacts of colloquial dictions of these artists on their listeners and subsequently, the image of Lagos.


Every word we utter is influenced by the linguistic and the non-linguistic context in which we utter it, which determines, to a great extent, how the utterance is understood and reacted to by the hearer (Adegbija). Slang seems to be one of the most important language formation having a great influence on the development of language. Slang speech is defined by various linguistic features reflecting the users´ way of living and using the language with emphasis on belonging to a particular group of language users. They are ultimately major exponent and promoters of social trends amongst the youths. It retains formidable elements that could up-turn existing culture because of its potent ability to distill its rebellious nature into any youth.

The importance of slang used by NHHA cannot be ignored because the use of communication strategies among Nigerian Hip-hop artistes greatly affects the language of the environment and even the social behaviour of the youth. The urge to emerge as a chat topping artiste has influenced the unrestrained infiltration of seemingly anti-social themes in the NHHAs songs. The urge to continually go against culture which is perceived as archaic and absent of modernity could be the reason for such themes in their songs. Youths are now setting up their own chiefly influenced by the social media. Hence, the study looks into how NHHAs have deployed the cultural knowledge of sexuality, drugs and financial crimes to create communication devices and strategies that would help them negotiate the established norm to yield successful escapism.

Sangoniran (2011) asserts that Hip-hop artistes deploy these linguistic strategies for indirectness, to reduce the degree of vulgarity, maintain societal moral norms and ensure acceptability. Aside all these, slangs enhance the linguistic aesthetics of songs by utilising salient coded word forms. This prompts some level of language analysis taking the prevailing social contexts into account to unravel these coded messages. This created a thrust for the pragma sociolinguistics analysis of slang used in some selected Nigerian hip-hop songs.

Anti-Social Themes and the Nigerian Societal Norms

There are no universally accepted behaviours that are regarded as antisocial as there are world-wide variations in norms and values upon which anti-social behavior definitions are based. However, based on the acceptable societal norms and values in Nigeria, antisocial behaviours include financial crimes, violence, cruelty, promiscuity, rape, counterfeiting, alcoholism, drug abuse and affiliation with occult groups.

Unlike the Western world, the Nigerian society places restrictions on the expression of sex-related topics especially in the public space (Salawu, 2011). Apart from certain social factors that dictate when and who discusses these them‘In the Yoruba culture, and presumably in most other cultures of Africa, open discussion of sex and its sensation by women is an anathema. Whereas, men under the guise of alcohol at bars or in social gatherings, or even in any informal gathering, can indulge themselves in talks about sex, it is out-of-place to find women indulging in such talks’. Thus, the Yoruba culture indicates a deep structure of linguistic coding in sexual communication based on the array of linguistic resources available to language users. According to Oloruntoba-Oju (2011), language and communication are central to human sexuality in all its ramifications. Since cultural norms influence the decision to engage in sexual behavior,(Asiseh-Wsu, 2004), this must have created the context with which CNHHAs deem it expedient and necessary as dictated by the Nigerian regulatory bodies such as Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to deploy discursive strategies to communicate sexual themes in the Nigerian context so as to negotiate sociocultural rules.es, the physical context has a vital role to play.

Nigerian Hip-hop and Anti-Social Themes

There are two spheres of influence around songs. One is the singer, speaking through the song lyrics, directed at the audience. The other comes from the audience, bringing all of their life experiences and preconceived notions to the lyrics. By constant forced and unforced exposure to these toxic lyrics, individuals might start perceiving themselves exempt from societal agreed norms and behaviors, representative of a gradual resentment of mainstream society. These hip-hop lyrics, promoting soul-deep dislike of authority—provides youths and young adults with a continuing soundtrack to their antisocial behavior. The lyrics, ingrained in their consciousness, cause them to transmute into vulgar, invective-laden slangs, accompanied by mannerisms typical of a hip-hop performance when involved in most communicative acts.

The Nigerian hip-hop ethos can be traced to the emergence of an escapist ideology from poverty-stricken ghetto life, facing such with a militantly adversarial stance towards age long held values and also against the Nigerian ruling class. By reinforcing that an adversarial albeit anti-social stance is the most appropriate response to a supposedly failed society. In this vein, youths began viewing anti-social behaviors as perfectly natural, even appropriate, responses to the supposed dehumanization and poverty inflicted by a greedy ruling class.

Appearing on stage to fill these yearnings were hip-hop artistes who began to churn out gross lyrics tagging them the poetry of the streets, glorifying internet fraud, street violence, drugs and promiscuity. These were targeted at youths growing up in the slums, living a seemingly bleak life with a near-distant hopeless future. Artistes who were themselves trying to escape such despondent life composed songs of deep hate and sexual innuendos, reaching artistic fulfillment with crafty re-creations of all the frustrations of the people.

Steadily, hip-hop has become the assault on the ears and soul. Strolling down most streets of Lagos, one is continuously assaulted with the blaring of these lyrics, with impertinent gleams daring anyone to ask them to turn it down.

Of course, not all hip-hop is profane but it is vile raps that sells best. Every one of these groups or performers personifies willful, staged opposition to society. The rise of such songs reflects breakdown of community norms among youths especially in slums around Lagos over the last couple of decades.

Hip-hop artistes teach listeners something about the lives of the people who create them and remind them that these people exist. They achieve such by linguistically and artistically exploring the attractions and limits of sociocultural boundaries of the society.

Theoretical Framework

culture which are disconnected from existing traditional culture and mainly Adegbija (1982) identifies three major types of contexts — the pragmatic, the socio-cultural, and the linguistic — that play a dynamic role in verbal communication. The term ‘pragma-sociolinguistic context’ was coined to refer to these three types of contexts in order to suggest the complex and multi-faceted nature of factors which come into play in any encoding and decoding process.

  1. The cognitive or affective states of the participants in the language interaction and how these influence what is said as well as how it is interpreted.
  2. Special social and cultural relationships shared by or obtaining among participants and their impact on the encoding and decoding of utterances.
  3. (Mutual beliefs, understandings, or lack of these.
  4. The nature of the discourse at hand and how it relates to the interests of both the speaker and the hearer as well as to the context of interaction (see Adegbija, 1982: 39-51 for details).

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