Tag: sociolinguistics

News from a former PhD student

2019 Verbeke Blog Pic 4 May19Many of the articles on this blog over the past months and years have given an overview of what our undergraduate students go on to do after graduation and we’re hoping to continue that particular stream of posts in the weeks ahead. For just now, though, a slightly different perspective, in the shape of this article from Martin who completed his PhD with us, under the supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston, a few years ago now, working on language and French and Francophone rap:

‘Since the end of my PhD in June 2016, I have focused primarily on teaching and publishing my PhD research. Although my main area of study was French at university, I started working full-time as a Dutch and English teacher in a Belgian secondary school in September 2016 because of the shortage of such teachers. My Bachelor’s degree in Translation and Interpreting combined with my time spent in Flanders (for my Master’s degree) and Scotland made me a very sought-after candidate for such vacancies.

Of course, I would have preferred to teach French right away, ideally in a high school or a university (both types of higher education in Belgium), but there are many French teachers on the job market. Even with a PhD, it is hard to stand out when applying for a vacancy. This was made even more complicated by the introduction of a new law regulating the degrees needed to teach in secondary schools. Since September 2016, it has become mandatory to possess a teaching degree from a university (called agrégation). Without this degree, it is hard to find a teaching position, you get paid less, anyone with a teaching degree, even fresh out of university, will be prioritised over you regardless of your years of service, and it is impossible (actually illegal) to get a permanent contract.

2019 Verbeke Blog Pic 3 May19As I had been made aware of this upcoming legislative change, I enrolled in a French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain in September 2016, right after my PhD. This course normally takes one year to complete, but I took it over two years while working full-time. It is only worth 30 credits on paper but takes a lot of time and effort and represents many more credits in practice. In fact, if you take it within a Master’s degree, you are allowed to take a 6-credit ‘empty course’ as compensation because they do realise that it would be too hard otherwise. Unfortunately, they do not offer such a privilege to people who only follow the teaching part of the degree. Things were made even more difficult by my father’s passing away in October 2016. Despite all of this, I somehow managed to finish the degree with the highest distinction (18/20 average) while having a second daughter and publishing 5 articles based on chapters from my thesis. My hair was thinning before and now I am completely bald… Go figure!

This new degree has created opportunities for me. It allowed me to start working part-time as a French teacher in a secondary school last September while continuing to teach English to ‘immersion’ classes (with students who have certain courses in English despite being in a French-speaking school). Next school year, I am very likely to work as a French teacher full-time. My goal is to do this for a few years and to eventually find a more fulfilling position in a Belgian high school or maybe university if I get the right opportunity. A big reform is about to take place with regards to teaching degrees, which means that high schools and universities will be looking for new teachers. The director of the French teaching degree at the Université catholique de Louvain told me that he will get in touch with me then, as I impressed him during my studies. I’ve had interviews with other high school directors who told me that my profile would be very interesting then. I do enjoy teaching in secondary schools, but students can be unruly and the school programs uninspiring at times. Furthermore, it does not make long-term sense, in my opinion, as my PhD is not valued at all (nor even taken into consideration).

In any case, we will see what the future has in store for me! I will make sure to let the University of Stirling know. In the meantime, you can read some of my publications on non-standard vocabulary in Francophone rap if you want to: in French here, and in English here, here, here and here!’

Many, many thanks to Martin for having found the time among so many other commitments to write this blog post for us and we look forward to hearing how things work out in the next academic year, and send you our best wishes!

Stirling PhD Success

2016 Verbeke pic FebCongratulations to our PhD student, Martin Verbeke, who passed his viva last week! Martin’s research examines ‘Rappers and Linguistic Variation: A Study of Non-Standard Language in Selected Francophone Rap Tracks’ and it was conducted under the joint supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston. All the best to Martin for the years ahead and we look forward to following his career.


Researching French and French-speaking Rap

One of our current PhD students, Martin Verbeke, is examining French and French-speaking rap in his PhD thesis, triggered by an observation from his time as a French linguistics student at the University of Antwerp (Belgium): “Many of my foreign friends who could otherwise speak and understand French very well would struggle a lot to decipher lyrics from French rap artists. This led to my desire to conduct a thorough analysis of these problematic words. Initially, my approach to this sociolinguistic question was very lexicographic: I analysed lyrics to categorise words and study their meaning, use and etymology. The end result was a very complete description of the language used by French rappers but I could feel that more could be done with this modern problematic.”

Martin’s PhD seeks to take this analysis much further: “In my PhD, I focus on non-standard language use in selected-francophone rap tracks (i.e. from French and French-speaking Belgian rappers). By non-standard, I mean any type of words that belong to lower registers of language, such as abbreviations, colloquial and vulgar words, slang, foreign borrowings, verlan (a type of slang formed by switching the order of syllables) or any combination of these categories of words. Quickly, the focus of the analysis has moved from what and how to why. The use of such non-standard language is certainly prevalent in French rap but it also varies considerably from one song to the next, even when analysing only one album from a single artist. As a result, trying to understand the reasons why such fluctuation exists has become the focal point of my research.

In order to enable such analysis, a wide corpus is necessary. What is more, this corpus must illustrate a variety of potential influences like time, ethnic and geographic origins, social class, gender and rap music style. Eventually, the corpus was divided in four main sections, which will end up being four different chapters in the thesis. The diachronic section looks at the influence of time by focusing on three years, 1991, 2001 and 2011. This section is divided in two: the first part looks at successive generations of rappers and the second at the influence of time across one artist’s career. The diatopic section, focusing on all possible geographic influences, has three parts and studies the influence of ‘origins’ (French, Algerian and Senegalese), of cities (Marseille, Paris and Brussels) and of departments (Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne). The section on gender only contains tracks from female rappers but these are compared to the rest of the corpus which is male-dominated (as is French rap in general). The last diaphasic section investigates the influence of three different famous rap styles: poetical, ego trip and political.”

Black Barbie
Black Barbie

Alongside in-depth textual analysis, Martin has carried out a number of interviews with leading French and Belgian rappers including Shurik’n, El Matador, Disiz, Starflam, Scylla, Black Barbie and many more. “These artists were asked a series of questions regarding their own use of non-standard language as well as their general perception of the rap movement. The results from these interviews will be paired with the statistical results from the linguistic analysis and targeted literature review for all four sections of the corpus to create a thorough description and interpretation of the linguistic variation observed in the French rap movement. As I write this blog post, I have already completed my first four chapters: only the influence of rap styles still needs to be analysed. For example, I found that non standard language use has been increasing over time or that no real difference exists between male and female rappers. However, all influences impact rap tracks simultaneously and no clear picture will be formed before the four sections of the corpus are unpacked. So I invite you to keep a close eye to my research as my investigations are coming to an end.”

We wish Martin all the best for the rest of the thesis and look forward to reading the final results!