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The Largest Vocabulary in Hip hop

"Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare's vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever.

I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist's first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay–Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.

35,000 words covers 3–5 studio albums and EPs. I included mixtapes if the artist was just short of the 35,000 words. Quite a few rappers don't have enough official material to be included (e.g., Biggie, Kendrick Lamar). As a benchmark, I included data points for Shakespeare and Herman Melville, using the same approach (35,000 words across several plays for Shakespeare, first 35,000 of Moby Dick).

I used a research methodology called token analysis to determine each artist's vocabulary. Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words. To avoid issues with apostrophes (e.g., pimpin' vs. pimpin), they're removed from the dataset. It still isn't perfect. Hip hop is full of slang that is hard to transcribe (e.g., shorty vs. shawty), compound words (e.g., king shit), featured vocalists, and repetitive choruses.

It's still directionally interesting. Of the 85 artists in the dataset, let's take a look at who is on top."

(Matt Daniels, May 2014)




benchmark • big vocabulary • choice of words • corpus • cultural expressiondatasetdictiondigital humanitiesEnglish languageexpressive repertoireexpressive vocabulary • extensive vocabulary • Herman Melville • hip-hop • lexicomane • lyrics • Matt Daniels • Moby Dick • musicnaming • pimp • raprapperresearch method • sesquipedalian • slang • speaking vocabulary • token analysis • use of wordsvocabularyWilliam Shakespeareword heapwords


Simon Perkins
19 JUNE 2011

A comparable dichotomy between metaphor and metonymy

"Roman Jakobson found a comparable dichotomy between metaphor and metonymy in his seminal paper, 'Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,' published in his monograph, Fundamentals of Language (Mouton & Co––Gravenhage, 1956). Here Jakobson discussed two types of aphasia based on complementary disorders in comprehending language: (a) a similarity disorder whereby one primarily depends on syntactic context to draw words into use (pp. 63–64); and (b) a contiguity disorder whereby one's style becomes a telegraphic 'word heap' without much, if any, evidence of syntax (pp. 71–72). According to Jakobson, two faculties are thus involved in the use of language: (a) selection in the choice of words to express an idea (metaphoric); and (b) the combination of words, again to express an idea (metonymic). Elaborate sentences without a particularly impressive vocabulary (for example in the prose of Henry James) illustrates the similarity disorder, while big vocabulary in loosely constructed sentences (for example in the prose of James Joyce) illustrates the contiguity disorder. Joyce heaped together his words with apparent abandonment, while James strenuously belaboured his syntax to produce exactly the right effect––an effect he found difficult to articulate with words alone as opposed to their combination in intricate sentences. An inferior choice of words, Jakobson claimed, is at the sacrifice of metaphor, whereas an inferior combination of words is at the sacrifice of metonymy (p. 76)."

(Edward Jayne)

Jakobson, R. (1971). "Fundamentals of Language". The Hague/Paris: Mouton, Harvard University and Morris Halle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1). Edward Jayne. "The Metaphor–Metonymy Binarism"


aphasia • choice of wordsClaude Levi-Strauss • combination of words • comprehending language • constructed sentences • contiguitydeconstructionismFerdinand de Saussuregrammar • Henry James • ideasJacques DerridaJacques LacanJames Joyce • John Langshaw Austin • language • langue • langue and parole • Louis Hjelmslev • metaphormetaphoric • metonymic • metonymynaming • paradigmatic relations • parole • Paul de Man • rhetoricRoland Barthes • Roman Jakobson • selection • semiology • semiotics • sentences • signifiedsignifierstructuralism • syntactic context • syntagmatic relations • syntaxtelegraphictropesvocabularyword heapwords


Simon Perkins

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