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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Teuf Love: Verlan in French Rap and Beyond


My research was performed with the intent of understanding the particular poetic and symbolic strategies at work behind the many uses and representations of the syllable-switching slang practice, verlan, in French society. I traveled to France and performed interviews with rappers (who systematized it in its current form), suburban residents, bourgeois adults and young adults, professors and employees of the language bureau the Académie Française. I also performed participant observation, observed its appearance in print and mass media, and found that though it can now be found everywhere, it is still stigmatized for its association with the lower class immigrant communities that brought it to the public’s attention in the 1980’s through rap lyrics and street culture. While I found that immigrant youths and rappers use it as an identity marker, poetic tool and symbol of linguistic freedom and cultural interaction, language authorities and mass media tended to depict it as a violent affront to traditional republican values and French national identity.  My research revealed the power relations that brought about and perpetuate this language game : canonical versus experimental knowledge, normative policies versus individual freedom, commercial gain versus artistic expression.  Though I am far from having a complete answer to why and how, my interviews led to me to see verlan as used in the suburbs as an act of reinterpretation that defines self and one’s community not by its adherence to monologic codes but by its accomodation of multiple codes, origins and individual perspectives.

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