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Course Spotlight: Fall 2018

Taught by Dr. Teresa Satterfield, Associate Professor of Spanish

Dr. Satterfield spoke to Alana Rodriguez, LACS program specialist, about her innovative class, Spanish 385: The Language of Reggaetón, which was taught for the first time in Fall 2018.

Conceptualizing the class:

The idea for the class grew out of research that I have been carrying out for  the past ten years on a new variety of Spanish that I'd personally been hearing on the East Coast (US) from young Caribbean Spanish speakers.  The Spanish contains specific linguistic characteristics that I'd only heard previously in speakers using African American English.  But now I am hearing young Spanish-speakers using iconic "Black English" markers in their Spanish!!!  I  initially called this variety "Reggaetón Language/Lengua Reggaetóna" just because it was very common in Reggaetón artists' speech during radio/YouTube interviews that I was hearing (Think Ivy Queen, Tego Calderón, Pitbull). I first discussed this phenomenon in the AfroHispanic language class that I taught in 2009, so I knew that it was something potentially interesting to students.

Personal background with this genre and community: 

I first heard Reggaetón music in 2004 when my younger brother "DJ Sonny" sent me a mixtape. Of course, the 'dembow' rhythm hooked me immediately, but then I began listening to the Spanish lyrics, and I was, like, wait a minute!!! The guy just said "Back that thang up, mami" TOTALLY IN SPANISH!!!!  At that point, my linguistic training kicked in, but I truly believe that only someone like me with a foot in both worlds "Afro" and "Latinx" would be able to grasp the fact that we are witnessing two marginalized worlds (featuring Caribbean Spanish - the most stigmatized Spanish dialect + African American English - the most stigmatized English dialect) melding together and unapologetically surfacing in the 'new' genre of music.

Professor Teresa Satterfield in class.

AR: What were your biggest concerns or worries before teaching the class? 

TS: My biggest concern was first of all that I'm not a musicologist or scholar of music; I'm a linguist. Even then, I wasn't sure that I would able to articulate to students the dynamic connection between language and identity without losing the relevance of the music/art. 

AR: So, this is the first time you’ve taught anything like this! How did you prepare and create the syllabus? 
TS: First, I tried Google!  But I couldn't find any other professor that had presented an academic course on Reggaetón. I got enormous input from my dear colleague, Professor Fernando Arenas, who has taught a successful class on "Popular music in the Portuguese-speaking World." From there, I began to tie aspects of my research questions into points that I wanted to cover in the class: What are the origins of Reggaetón? Who are notable artists? What are characteristic speech sounds, lexical items and syntactic structures in the genre? How does race impact the genre? What are the impacts of bilingualism on Reggaetón?  Initially, we didn't even have a firm syllabus, just a skeleton and every week and I would 'fill in' the content for the following two weeks, adding scholarly articles and assignments as we went along, according to the pace of the students.

Noah Watson performing a Reggaetón song he wrote as his final project.

AR: What was the dynamic like in the class? What were your favorite moments? 
TS: I'd like to think that the vibe was that of a supportive, engaging learning community. There were students who were Reggaetón fanatics and others who had never listened to Reggaetón, not even [popular international hit by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi, later covered by Justin Beiber] "Despacito." We typically listened to a "theme" song to start the class and then analyzed the day's one target linguistic/cultural component (phonetics/morphology/syntax/expressions of race or transnationalism). Student participation was crucial and everyone in the class was fantastic about providing comments and working productively in small groups. My favorite moments were the final projects – seeing the growth of knowledge of the students by the end of the term; also the many conversations OUTSIDE of class with students who went to Reggaetón concerts and shared photos or would pass me an interesting article. Happily, this has not stopped even though the class has ended: I'm thrilled that students are still sharing their 'Reggaetón' finds with me. Also it was so satisfying to connect with students in the class who were Latinx, bicultural and/or students of color, many of whom found a space to 'celebrate' their own identities through our class. 

AR: How did the students enjoy the material? 
TS: From my perspective, I think the students liked having the variety of scholarly articles, music videos, also the class visit by our guest DJ Miguel Ochoa. There were no exams in the course, but there were a few "knowledge checks" of quizzes in Canvas and then the cumulative Final Project where students had the option to carry out an in-depth linguistic analysis and case study of a Reggaetón artist OR to create their own original Reggaetón song, incorporating the linguistic and sociolinguistic criteria that we'd learned about in class.  

Ella Horwedel playing a song she wrote, sang, and recorded for her final project.

AR: There are many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding this genre. What surprised students the most about the class content? 

TS: I carried out a brief exit survey on the last day of class where I asked the students to write down what they learned in the class (something that they really didn't know about the genre prior to taking the course). Many students were surprised that Reggaetón actually started in Panamá, and how it's evolved from social commentary on the plight of poor (many times) Afrocaribeños to the more sexualized, "party" sound that most people view it as today. Many students were surprised at the linguistic and cultural richness of the genre. We find innovation and invention of new words that didn't exist in Spanish before, and also the fusion of many types of music and the emergence of new forms like Spanish "Trap" via Reggaetón. Several students wrote that they "cannot listen to Reggaetón now without drawing on all we learned in class," and, "This class changed the way I listen to music."   

AR: Will you teach this again? If so, what would you change, add, remove? 
TS: I would love to teach the class again! And soon, because Reggaetón continues to evolve. We made a huge discovery in class that even the vocabulary that Reggaetón artists were using in 2010 is definitely NOT what Bad Bunny, Ozuna, Carol G, JBalvin, etc. are using now! I would try to add a component on connecting with (a) Reggaetón artist(s) in Latin America. 

UPDATE! This class will be taught again in Fall 2019!

AR: What would you say to a student who claims they don't like Reggaetón music? Why should they take your class? 
TS: First, I would want to find out from them what it is they don't like about Reggaetón music. You don't have to be a fan to take the class, you just have to want to learn, and you probably won't have another opportunity to study Reggaetón in an academic setting. And I totally get what turns people off: there's a misogynistic theme in Reggaetón that I abhor, also many stereotypes about what constitutes 'Latinidad,'  and in the worst cases, 'dembow' can be relentlessly repetitive. But students should take my class to see how we 'break through" those aspects and reveal many other important facets of the genre.  And as one student wrote on their exit survey, "This class is so lit!" 

Dr. Satterfield's Bio

Dr. Satterfield is a linguist whose areas of research include child bilingualism, first language acquisition (the roles of [psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic] factors in the morphosyntax of developing grammars), language contact phenomena in the context of U.S. (Afro-)Latino identity and culture. Working closely with the U-M Center of the Study of Complex Systems, she have implemented several agent-based models to construct language contexts, with an eye toward providing greater socio- and psycholinguistic explanations for situations where different language varieties emerge. 

She is currently collaborating with Dr. Ioulia Kovelman (Dept. of Psychology, Center for Human Growth and Development) on the use of fNIRS brain imaging techniques to inform theories of syntactic development and literacy research in bilingual children.

Most recently, she has been involved in organizing a community-based Saturday-morning Spanish literacy program for Spanish-speaking children grades Pre-K to 4 in the Ann Arbor Schools. The program is called: "En Nuestra Lengua" (ENL) www.umich.edu/~tsatter/ENLwww.facebook.com/EnNuestraLengua.

Mitchell Schwocho, BS in Neuroscience & Spanish

The appealing part of the class was definitely the idea that it was focused on Reggaetón music. I have been a big fan of this kind of music since I got into college and the fact that the university offered a class on it was very exciting and intriguing. I really liked how deep Dr. Satterfield went into all aspects of the genre, from the musical and instrumental aspects, to the lyrical aspects and language, we really analyzed a lot. The most surprising part of this course was probably how much I actually learned about the history of the genre. My favorite assignment has definitely been the final project in which I am making a song. 

To listen to Mitch’s song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e42ojmvg-m8 

Tina Capodanno, BA in Comparative Literature & Minor in Translation Studies

I enjoyed learning so much about forms of resistance using language. We analyzed different forms of Spanish that you are never taught in school which has helped me to understand different forms of popular Spanish: spoken, everyday speech.

Dr. Satterfield is a linguist, and even though I’m not, she presented complex linguistic concepts to a beginner audience, and I became obsessed. I especially loved learning about how certain words get carried over from English to Puerto Rican Spanish. I thought I had a pretty good base of knowledge here, but there were some surprises! The Puerto Rican word “cangri” comes from “cangriman” or congressman and is used to mean “leader.” This is exclusive to Puerto Rico because of its historical contact with United States. That was fascinating to learn.

I have loved Reggaetón music for a long time, but you don’t even need to like listening to the music – take this class to learn about the Latin American history, culture, the Spanish language in the Caribbean, race dynamics, gender dynamics, and the social aspects of song lyrics.

Indra Bueno, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

I grew up listening to Reggaetón music, so I was immediately intrigued when I heard about this class. In the course description, it mentioned language and race, and I was really interested in learning more about the relationship those concepts have with reggaetón music because that is something I hadn't thought about before. I was also intrigued in the linguistic aspect of this course and examining the words and meaning of them and the impact it has on the reggaetón community. 

My expectation for the class was that it was going to be a fun class, and I was going to enjoy it because it is about a topic that I am familiar with. The class exceeded my expectations because all of the class activities and assignments were interesting and enjoyable. It was also fun being able to talk and work with my classmates because everyone had insightful ideas. I was surprised to see how everyone in class was so engaged and enthusiastic whenever we had class discussions because that is not usually the case in my other classes. There wasn’t a topic in class that was not interesting because Prof. Teresa Satterfield was able to present them in a fun and creative way. 

One of my favorite topics in class is language contact and seeing how the English language can also play a role in many Reggaetón songs through codeswitching and borrowing of words. In class we did an assignment that applied to this topic. We had to pick one of our favorite Reggaetón songs and analyze the lyrics and discuss whether there is any influence of the English language in the song.  I enjoyed doing this assignment because I was able to listen to one of my favorite songs and discuss it in class. 

For my final project, I did a research paper and presentation on a female Reggaetón artist, Becky G. In my paper, I applied all the linguistic and sociolinguistic principles I learned in class to analyze her music and herself as an artist.  I was really excited to do this project on her because she represents something different to the Reggaetón community since she is a woman and of Mexican descent, which is not very common in the genre. Some of my classmates wrote their own songs and it was exciting to listen to them performed in class!

I highly recommend other students to take this class. Even if you do not listen to Reggaetón music, this is a fun way to be introduced to it and learn more about the language of Reggaetón and the relationship it has with race and ethnicity.  Not only do we listen to and analyze Reggaetón songs, but we also discuss topics that are actually interesting such as Spanglish and verbal duels or in order words why certain artist have beef with one another. Prof. Teresa Satterfield really makes this class fun and enjoyable while also making sure that everyone meets the class expectations.

Slide from Indra’s Case Study project on Dominican artist Natti Natasha

Ella Horwedel, BA in Spanish & English; Minor in Community Action & Social Change, & Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Ella on speaking Spanish and discovering Reggaetón: I have spoken Spanish for 10 years, with the majority of my learning just from the Ann Arbor Public Schools system. I have always really loved Spanish and I wanted to speak it in a way that wasn't incorrect or overly "American" so I tried to find ways to listen to native speakers, to emulate and practice a legitimate accent. One of the biggest ways to learn this accent prior to entering college (all of my college professors are native speakers, but my high school and middle school teachers were not) was to listen to Spanish music, try to identify words, accents, colloquial phrases, and grammatical structures. Through this, I was exposed to a little bit of Reggaetón music, which I know I liked, but could not classify it/identify it until a little later. A little later in high school, Reggaetón was becoming a little more commercial and popular, J Balvin was on the rise, and one of my Guatemalan friends showed me a lot of J Balvin's music and many other artists I did not know about. With college, I learned about more music, definitely honed in on my accent, and went to Cuba and Perú, where I learned a lot about music (specifically in Cuba as the program was dedicated to music) and heard a lot of new Reggaetón songs. Cuba was awesome, too, because we learned a lot about the African and Yoruban origins/influences present in a lot of Cuban music, not just Reggaetón. I knew I loved Reggaetón and loved Spanish, and I figured I would learn about this stuff in Cuba, so this class was a perfect way to compliment/book-end the learning and experience I had in Cuba.

The appeal of Spanish 385: I liked that it offered an intellectual/cultural/linguistic look at a genre of music that is often dismissed or looked down upon. I think it was really appealing to look at the genre more in depth particularly because I only knew the newer stuff and I wanted to see how it connected (or is no longer connected) to its roots. 

I was expecting to analyze a lot about race and language in Reggaetón and the intersectionality of the two. I think in the beginning of the class we really focused a lot on the three (race, language, and Reggaetón) and how they worked together throughout the years. We talked a lot about the whitewashing of the genre in more recent (and commercial) years as well as the different dialects of English/Spanish present in the music. Toward the end of the class, we talked more about language specifically and bilingualism, particularly the different connotations of being bilingual, speaking Spanglish, and the ability to code switch. This was all super fascinating and seemed more like a linguistics course instead of a social sciences course. The class definitely met my expectations and exceeded them, especially with the heavy linguistic emphasis that we had toward the end of the course! As for surprising aspects of the class, we got to meet with a DJ from Panamá who was really cool and he performed for us and explained a lot of cool elements of Reggaetón (moreso the social and racial elements of Reggaetón, not so much the linguistics side).

On taking this class taught exclusively in Spanish: I think a challenging component of the class was understanding the linguistic terms in Spanish. A lot of them were advanced (and I don't know them in English) so it was difficult to learn about concepts using unfamiliar/advanced terminology. Besides that, everything we learned was fascinating! At times certain concepts were challenging, especially some of the linguistic readings, but Teresa did a wonderful job explaining concepts and helping us understand them.

Reggaetón Case Study: My favorite assignment was the case study of a Reggaetón artist. We got to do very fun research analyzing the language used in artist's music and in their ways of speech. Many of the artists were also less famous/from the 1990s or early 2000s and so it was cool to see the ways in which contemporary artists have been influenced from earlier artists, but also how they have divulged from early stylings of Reggaetón. 

A class for all music tastes: What would I say to a student who claims they don't like Reggaetón music? Why should that student still take this class? I would probably tell them they have bad taste in music... just kidding. I think Reggaetón is amazing not only because it's fantastic dancing music, but also because it is incredibly complex linguistically, socially, and racially. It is cool to analyze different artists, too, because while many still talk about drugs, sex, etc., more and more are respecting women, more and more are making music for the sake of unifying people instead of dividing people, and many women are becoming more involved in the previously male-dominated genre. It is fascinating to study for a variety of reasons, even if you don't prefer the genre, because it reveals a lot about gender dynamics, power structures, and the various connotations associated with power and bilingualism. 

Ella (center) in Cuba with Grupo Obsesión, a famous Cuban hip-hop husband and wife duo

Some funding support for course materials for this class provided by a National Resource Center grant administered by LACS. This grant comes from the US Department of Education.