Benjamin Hebblethwaite, University of Florida, “Rap and Islam in France: Arabic Religious Language and French”
One of the main social and historical causes of borrowing in contemporary French has come about through the internationalization of the language situation in urban areas due to immigration. Urban French vernacular draws extensively from one of the main migrant languages, Arabic. Muslim rappers are mostly French-born with parents from North or sub-Saharan Africa. Most rappers hail from Paris and Marseille, but cities like Le Havre also stand out. Some of the artists lead sales in the French music industry and this helps disseminate Arabic religious borrowings while building narratives about Muslims. Rappers in France present a layperson Islam that weaves the religion’s culture and ideology into personal life-narratives. Arabic Islamic borrowings in French rap symbolize an “identity culture” distinct from both the dominant French culture and from the parental Arabic-based culture. The expression of Arabic-Islamic culture within French rap lyrics reflects a bicultural hybridization in which traditional values converge with occidental ones; this symbiosis takes place in the Maghreb and West Africa as well as in diaspora communities in France. In contemporary urban France, Arabic Islamic borrowings in rap lyrics are signs of language contact and cultural symbiosis.
Co-sponsored by Duke Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, Duke Islamic Studies Center, and Religions and Public Life at KIE.