Rihanna's Hit Song 'Work' Is Not Gibberish: It's Her Culture

Rihanna’s hit song “Work” does not contain gibberish like some of her critics said. It’s her culture and dialect.

The song received some negative reaction concerning some “gibberish” lyrics that aren’t actually "gibberish" at all.

Phrases in the song like “me haffi” meaning “I have to,” and “beg you something” meaning “I’m asking you something” are examples of West Indian dialect and not gibberish.

Rihanna's fans came to her defense on Twitter.

We have to tell you America that Rihanna wasn’t always yours. She grew up on the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. Because of British colonialism and the corresponding African slave trade in that region many countries in the West Indies speak a form of English with African influences, the most famous being Jamaican Patois.

Rihanna has talked about changing her Barbadian accent so that American audiences and reporters could understand her.

She is not the first Caribbean artist to face pressure to appease American ears. Probably the most famous person to come out of the region was Bob Marley, who Rolling Stone called the “indisputable king of Reggae.”

However in the early '70s before his huge crossover success, Marley had a hard time getting Americans to understand his message and come to his concerts, according to 2005 TIME Magazine article. You can hear Marley speak some Jamaican patois in the video below.

In more recent music history, Dancehall artists like Sean Paul saw pop success with a speaking style The New York Times said that “makes him more palatable to foreign ears.” Dancehall is a modern form of Jamaican music, where artists rap over beats meant to inspire, well, dancing.

The official language in places like Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados is English but the dialects actually spoken by the people in those countries would probably sound like a foreign language to the average American.

You can watch two friends discuss the differences between Barbadian or “Bajan” and Trinidadian or “Trini” dialects below.

Writer Mark Abley from the Montreal Gazette said calling Caribbean dialects “gibberish” is racist.

"Jabber, gibber and gibberish are words I always treat with suspicion. They come with a history — a racist history. For centuries, these words have targeted the speakers of a language that happens to be unknown to the person levelling the charge. Consider these examples from the Oxford English Dictionary: “He repeated some gibberish, which by the sound seemed to be Irish” (1748). “We have got two Flemish servants, and you should hear them jabbering” (1866). “The aborigines speak an unintelligible gibberish” (1884). Birds and animals are said to jabber; so are speakers of a foreign tongue. Sometimes the underlying implication is that only people who talk English are fully human."

Whether the"gibberish" accusations are rooted in racism or not, superstar Rihanna will continue to "work."

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