An unassigned assignment using popular music

The assignment would have been to look for double entendre, wordplay…lexical ambiguity!…in popular music. 

So, as the two of you reading this blog know, I’m teaching this Psych of Language course, and it’s tough going. Apparently, it’s difficult stuff for the students, having to understand terms like “relative” as in relative clause and “inflection” as in inflectional morphology and “adjuncts” and “ambiguity” — well, you get the picture. Lots of anguish all around.

A week or two ago, when I was thinking about asking the students questions such as “Why do we care SO MUCH about ambiguity when we study language?” and “Why do we create so many experiments using ambiguous stimuli, from the phonological level through words and syntactic structures?” I thought I’d create a fun assignment.

Of course, being an Elvis Costello fan I can think of scores of examples of his, but besides John Lennon (and my wife mentioned Eminem) I was lost…any help out there?

2 responses to “An unassigned assignment using popular music

  1. Of course, when on the spot, clever lyrics flee my mind! Rats.

  2. I actually do use a lot of popular music to teach names of grammatical structures and rhetorical figures. And my students are usually freaking out about ambiguity in poetry, but if it’s in a song, they realize that in fact they can handle it and talk about it, and they then see that it is the stuff of things. Most of my examples come from foreign languages, but in English, Bob Dylan comes to mind as a likely source. Eminem is a good suggestion, and I’d look at rap in general. BTW there’s an online database of rap lyrics, which I am told is being used by researchers as a corpus (for linguistic study). http://www.ohhla.com/

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