Chinese Culture University, Taiwan
Popular songs can have great music and simple lyrics or great lyrics with unspectacular music. Sometimes, however, there is more to a pop song than first meets the ear. Systematic and attentive listening in a wide variety of genres of popular music reveals a number of songs that have music and lyrics of equally high quality. The lyrics of these well-crafted popular songs usually pattern out in three basic ways. First, lyrics can feature dazzling displays of predominantly grammatical patterns. In such songs, the choice of lexical patterns and individual words recedes before the choice of grammatical structures. Second, lyrics can feature a highly selective choice of words. A word list or a dense clustering of a particular part of speech stands out against a background of repetitive grammatical or lexical forms. Third, song lyrics may feature a greater emphasis on lexical patterns; grammatical structures and individual word choices are entailed in the larger phrase and sentence patterns. The lyrics to well-crafted popular songs can thus be laid out on a cline of grammar – word – lexis, with an overwhelmingly emphasis on grammatical forms at one end, a preponderance of lexical patterns at the other, and a heightened attention to the choice of individual words in the middle. Since English songwriters are speakers of the language and their lyrics participate in the general system of English, such a cline shows that grammar, word, and lexis are inseparable and interdependent. Grammar cannot be taught at the expense of lexis or vocabulary, since even the most grammatical of songs will entail some lexical patterning and grammatical forms that will influence the choice of specific words. Nor can lexis be taught at the expense of grammar and vocabulary, since lexis entails the choice of both grammatical form and individual words. In the same way, new words cannot be taught in isolation from the grammatical structures and lexical patterns in which they occur. The increased awareness of the interdependent qualities of English provided by popular songs ensures a more balanced presentation of the language in the classroom. Carefully chosen, well-crafted songs provide compelling supplemental documentation of course book language from the world beyond the book, e.g., patterns of grammatical use, patterns of word use, lexical patterns and their uses,narrative and conversational discourse templates, and the socio-cultural concerns of the society in which the song was written. In addition, such songs provide a thematic tie-in to each lesson that is both esthetically pleasing and viscerally engaging. Music can induce a positive response to English that course books often do not. This paper details the process of finding those songs that are equally rich in music and language from initial audition to final compilation, demonstrates how songs pattern out along the language cline, and shows how to present song lyrics in a way that preserves this more complete, interdependent view of grammar, word, and lexis.
Key Words: popular music, language pedagogy, teacher language awareness