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Why Brainpower can hold his own against Harry Mulisch

In terms of the breadth of their vocabulary, many Dutch rappers can easily match leading authors. This is the surprising conclusion drawn by language researcher Alex Reuneker on the basis of comparative research. Rapper Brainpower and author Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer will debate this issue on 16 September during the Night of Art and Knowledge.

Anyone who wants to make a good impression at a party should avoid mentioning Ronnie Flex, Kempi or Steen. A true snob will turn up his nose at most Dutch-language music, particularly home-grown smash hits or rap music. No, the country's self-assured elite prefer to talk about representatives of 'high culture', such as Mozart and Mulisch.  

Mulisch outdone

The difference between rapper and novelist is less than you might think. PhD candidate Alex Reuneker and colleagues Ton van der Wouden and Vivien Waszink recently analysed the vocabulary of different Duch hiphop artistes and authors and came to the conclusion that some rappers use almost as many unique words as Harry Mulisch. In terms of vocabulary, the author of The Discovery of Heaven  was even outdone by the Nijmegen word artists of Zo Moeilijk.


‘It's all to easy to is put Dutch hiphop down as simple doggerel,' says Reuneker, whose  usual area of research is the conditional subordinate clause. 'In practice, this form of writing or poetry can hold its own against the works of great names from Dutch literature. This fact may well help when teaching language or literature to young people. Of course, the themes are different, but that's whypop music is such a good match for the world of experience of young people and hiphop offers an opportunity to bring them into contact with poetry and literature.' 


For his research, Reuneker took the first 4,000 words from the texts of various rappers and writers. One of the highest scoring rappers is Brainpower. He used no fewer than 1295 unique words. That's just 71 fewer than Harry Mulisch in The Discovery of Heaven, but still 480 more than Gers Pardoel. Reuneker: ‘And he is very creative in how he used language. Just listen to this fragment from one os his songs.’

Lyrical monopoly

‘You can hear really well how Brainpower plays with words and associations; in this number he uses the names of different board games as part of his lyrics,' Reuneker explains. 'He also uses almost archaic words. Altogether that gives him a high score of unique words.' 

Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer

You can witness Brainpower's lyrical use of words on 16 September during the Night of Art and Knowledge. He will be taking with author Leonard Pfeiffer, a true stylistic talent whose 1480 unique words make him the undoubtable winner in Teuneker and his colleagues' random check.  

Come to the Night of Art and Knowledge

During the Night of Art and Knowledge on 16 September Leiden will be the place to be for music, science, literature and other art forms. The most beautiful locations along the Rapenburg will  open their doors for the public.

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