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Bremen 2019: Performing Caribbean Identity in Pop Music – Rihanna & Nicki Minaj

 

IMG_9126Recently, Dr. Michael Westphal and I were invited to give a plenary talk on our research into performing Caribbean identity in pop music at the 2nd Bremen Student Conference in English Linguistics. We happily accepted the invitation and presented our findings July 15th, 2019.

A published version of this study is currently under way.

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We would also like to thank Faculty 10 –  Linguistics and Literary Studies and their students for welcoming us and giving us positive and constructive feedback. In particular, we give thanks to Steffen Schaub for thinking of and including us into this conference as well as Prof Dr Marcus Callies for his kind words introducing us.

If you want to read up on the contents of this talk, check out my post New Englishes: Caribbean Identity Construction in Pop Music or/and wait for the detailed published version. An abstract can also be found on researchgate.

 

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caribbean, Jamaican Creole, Morphology, Music, Perception, performance, Phonetics, pop music, singing, Sociolinguistics

Mixing World Englishes in Music Performances

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Caribbean Identity Construction in Pop Music

For some time now, I have been working on Caribbean identity construction in pop music alongside writing my doctoral thesis. After being invited by The Guardian to comment on Rihanna’s linguistic performance in Work in 2016 (thanks to this very blog), I consulted with my colleague Dr. Michael Westphal and we explored and developed this up-to-date and very fruitful topic pooling our expertise.

Most recently, we conducted a multimodal sociolinguistic investigation of Caribbean identity construction in pop music focusing on language production as well as perception. Our data comprised one song each by Rihanna (Work) and Nicki Minaj (Give It All to Me[1]) as well as one interview with Rihanna, in which she describes how she accommodated her language behavior moving to the USA, and a ‘behind-the-scenes’ video showing Nicki Minaj performing Jamaican Creole [2].

We aimed to find out

  1. which linguistic resources do Rihanna and Minaj use in their performances? Is there a pattern?
  2. which other modalities are used to construct their pop persona?
  3. How are the performances perceived by the audience?

 

We conducted

  1. an analysis of accent, grammar, lexicon for Work, Give It All to Me, Nicki Minaj behind the scenes, and metalinguistic comments of Rihanna on her accent. Below, a list of the reference literature used to identify various linguistic resources:
  • Caribbean English Creole (Kortmann & Lunkenheimer 2013; Wells 1982)
    • Jamaican Creole (henceforth JC) (Devonish & Harry 2008; Patrick 2008)
    • Bajan (Blake 2008)
    • Trinidadian Creole (Youssef & James 2008; James & Youssef 2008)
  • African American English (Green 2002) & hip hop (Richardson 2006)
  • Americanized singing style (Simpson 1999)
  1. a visual analysis of Work and Give It All to Me
  • clothing, dances, Caribbean tropes – display of pop personas
  1. a perception study of YouTube comments
  • criteria for comment selection: language and identity
  • qualitative content analysis – inductive coding

 

We conclude that

  • both artists show combination of different linguistic resources but there is no complete blend of resources from different varieties. The type or mode of performing, i.e. singing, rapping, talking is a decisive factor for the choices of different resources (patterned mixture of features).
  • JC plays a central role for performing Caribbean identity, no matter where exactly the artist has their roots in the Caribbean. JC carries the symbolic function of Caribbeanness. The more JC features are used (especially morpho-syntactic and less prototypical features) the less intelligible the performance is for the greater part of the audience.
  • the videos display clear cultural references to the Caribbean in playing with classic stereotypes, exoticizing the Caribbean, and commodifying such tropes.
  • that the YouTube comment section is a place for intense metalinguistic discussions of performed language and identity. For Rihanna’s and Minaj’s performances we can observe the formation of an in-group (directly or indirectly identified as Caribbean), which is very sensitive to different linguistic resources and uses the comment section to define and strengthen a Caribbean group identity; and an outgroup, which mainly discussed matters of intelligibility ranging from neutral questions to linguistic discrimination.

Furthermore, we show that

  • performance data are open to multiple sociolinguistic influences and display the dense interaction of different linguistic and cultural resources. Pop culture products are worth studying because they condense and remix these diverse resources.
  • social media give insight into language ideologies. Media effects our engagement with language and language ideological worlds. Moreover, it invites for interaction, such as negotiating identities. And, since the internet grants anonymity, it also puts linguistic discrimination on display.

Our take-home message:

Take pop performances seriously!

They are a window into the complexities of globalization.

 


Notes:

[1] Nicki Minaj features in Give It All to Me, a song by Jamaican artist Movado.

[2] In this video, she imitates a Jamaican woman from another video. Minaj’s performance went viral and fans reposted this excerpt.


References:

Blake, Reneé. 2008. Bajan: Phonology. In Edgar Schneider (ed.), Varieties of English 2: The Americas and the Caribbean (pp. 312–319). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Devonish, Hubert and Otelemate G. Harry. 2008. Jamaican Creole and Jamaican English: Phonology. In Edgar Schneider (ed.), Varieties of English 2: The Americas and the Caribbean (pp. 256–289). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Green, Lisa. 2002. African American English: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

James, Winford and Valerie Youssef. 2008. The creoles of Trinidad and Tobago: Morphology and Syntax. In Edgar Schneider (ed.), Varieties of English 2: The Americas and the Caribbean (pp. 661–692). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Kortmann, Bernd and Kerstin Lunkenheimer (eds). 2013. The Mouton world atlas of variation in English. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Patrick, Peter. 2008. Jamaican Creole: Morphology and syntax. In In Edgar Schneider (ed.), Varieties of English 2: The Americas and the Caribbean (pp. 609–644). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Richardson, Elaine B. 2006. Hiphop literacies. London: Routledge.

Simpson, Paul. 1999. Language, culture and identity: With (another) look at accents in pop and rock singing. Multilingua 18 (4): 343–367.

Wells, John C. 1982. Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Youssef, Valerie and Winford James. 2008. The creoles of Trinidad and Tobago: Phonology. In Edgar Schneider (ed.), Varieties of English 2: The Americas and the Caribbean (pp. 320–338). Berlin: de Gruyter.

 

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indie rock, Music, performance, Phonetics, pop culture, singing, Sociolinguistics

Forthcoming Project: The Arctic Monkeys Then and Now

Preface

My colleague, Anika Gerfer, and I decided it is time to take another look at Sheffield’s indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys after Beal’s seminal work (2009) on their first album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and specifically one of their signature songs “Mardy Bum”. Ten years have passed since Beal’s article and 13 years since the Arctic Monkeys’ first album. A good decade later, the band has risen to international success and is well-known in the USA. They published six albums altogether, toured the globe, shifted genres and outward appearance. In 2012, the band relocated to L.A. Critics and fans perceive and discuss supposed changes in their so far unfailingly Sheffield accent and persona. We want to get to the bottom of these claims and conduct a diachronic linguistic analysis of their oeuvre to make substantiated statements on the development of their language behavior. We will present our results at the 8th Biennial International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English (BICLCE 2019).

Below, our abstract for the BICLCE 2019:


Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

The Arctic Monkeys Then and Now

Lisa Jansen & Anika Gerfer

The renowned Sheffield indie rock band Arctic Monkeys intentionally stylize their Northern English accent and dialect features. By using these regional features, they index values such as authenticity, localness, and youthfulness, while at the same time resisting to adopt an Americanized singing style which is associated with commercial ‘mainstream’ popular music (Beal 2009). On their debut album, the Arctic Monkeys even openly criticize artists who betray their values and sell out their identity, i.e. use “the handbook” (Beal 2009: 225) and follow the Americanized mainstream to quickly achieve global success. However, after performing at the Glastonbury Festival in 2013, Alex Turner, the Arctic Monkeys frontman himself, was criticized by the audience for performing with a “weirdenheimer American accent” and for “acting like a 50’s crooner” (Wakeman 2013). The aim of our study is to find out 1) whether and to what extent Turner’s singing behavior has changed between their first album in 2006 and their most recent one released in 2018 and 2) which additional, non-ˇlinguistic factors may have influenced the audience’s perception. For this purpose, we analyze salient Sheffield/ British and USA-5 (Simpson 1999) accent features in 30 songs of their six albums. As music performances are inherently multimodal, we further take extralinguistic aspects into account that might contribute to an actual or perceived transformation. The Arctic Monkeys have changed their outward appearance, experimented with different music genres, and broadened the topics of their songs.

Preliminary results show that the performance style of the Arctic Monkeys has changed on different levels. First, a change in their accent can be detected: Whereas songs of the earlier albums show an extensive Sheffield linguistic repertoire and a total absence of ‘American’ features, songs released on more recent albums show fewer Northern English features and a growing number of instances indicating an Americanized singing style, such as the realization of post-ˇvocalic /r/ and /t/-ˇflapping. However, salient accent features such as the Northern English variant of STRUT stay indexical for the band’s origin and demonstrate the co-existence of possible conflicting identities (Trudgill 1983) in the band’s language behavior. Second, non-linguistic factors such as Turner’s metamorphosis into an Elvis look-alike and the band’s use of different music genres, changing from ‘edgy’, independent genres like garage rock and post-punk to pop and glam rock, contribute to the perceived Americanization of the band.


References:

Beal, J. C. (2009). ‘You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham’: Dialect and identity in British Indie Music. Journal of English Linguistics, 37(3), 223-240.

Simpson, P. (1999). Language, culture and identity: With (another) look at accents in pop and rock singing. Multilingua, 18(4), 343-367.

Trudgill, P. (1983). On dialect: Social and geographical perspectives. Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Wakeman, G. (2013, June 30). Glastonbury 2013: Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner responds to accent criticism. Retrieved from https://www.inquisitr.com/822506/glastonbury-2013-arctic-monkeys-singer-alex-turner-responds-to-accent-criticism/.

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Globalisation, Music, Perception, performance, pop culture, pop music, Sociolinguistics

The Stigmatization of Pop Culture

Photo by Oliver Dumoulin on Unsplash

Photo by Oliver Dumoulin on Unsplash

Pop culture and its products have long been neglected in sociolinguistic research because they are generally considered superficial and unsubstantial. Pop culture appeals to the masses, it is simplistic and commercially oriented. However, this very short-sighted view on pop culture underestimates the major impact it has on our daily lives (Werner 2018). Pop culture is all around us and readily available by the push of a key or a tap on our touchscreen. Musicians from basically everywhere can be heard, seen, and discussed around the globe thanks to modern communication technology. We hear e.g. Bajan and Jamaican Creole in Rihanna’s single Work (Jansen&Westphal 2017), African American English in African American hip-hop, or a mixture of Jamaican Creole and Nigerian Pidgin in Nigerian dancehall. All of these different varieties become easily accessible through pop culture and disseminate across the mediascape (Appadurai 1996) and the globe. Pop culture condenses cultural and linguistic complexities and offers a space for negotiating and displaying identity. And it does so not only for the production side but also for the audience – the perception side. Listeners can evaluate performances, engage in metalinguistic discussions, and equally give insight into language ideological trends and developments.

Performed language, i.e. language on display, has long been devalued and dismissed by traditional sociolinguistics as it epitomizes the exact opposite of spontaneous and unobserved speech. More recently, the advantages of such data have emerged and given rise to the sociolinguistics of performance (Bell&Gibson 2011). Since the language of e.g. musicians, actors, comedians, YouTubers, or the like are meant and made to be heard, Labov’s observer’s paradox (Labov 1972) is prevented. Data is easily accessible and jam-packed with linguistic and cultural variation. How, when, and why certain linguistic resources are used and mixed sheds a light on attached values and hence, language attitudes.

Taking pop culture and its products seriously opens up an entire world of new and fruitful data from the production as well as perception perspective (Jansen&Westphal 2017; Jansen, PhD forthcoming).


References:

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bell, A., & Gibson, A. (2011). Staging language: An introduction to the sociolinguistics of performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15(5), 555-572.

Jansen, L., & Westphal, M. (2017). Rihanna Works Her Multivocal Pop Persona: A Morpho-syntactic and Accent Analysis of Rihanna’s Singing Style. English Today 33(1), 46-55.

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Werner, V. (2018). Linguistics and Pop Culture: Setting the Scene(s). In V. Werner (Ed.), The Language of Pop Culture (pp. 3-26). London: Routledge.

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14-16 May 2018: Münster’s knowledge freshly tapped!

knowledge on tap 2018

Three evenings and twelve researchers. Enjoy a freshly tapped beer with freshly tapped research. Thanks to the Cells-in-Motion Cluster of Excellence, reseachers are provided the opportunity to present their work outside academic walls. We, Michael Westphal and I, are looking forward to presenting our current research on the performances of and attitudes towards Rihanna and Nicki Minaj:

Pop music performances are often linguistically very diverse and thus provide rich data for sociolinguistic analyses. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj are two globally successful artists with Caribbean roots who combine different musical styles (R’n’B, hip-hop, reggae, pop) and the languages associated with these genres (African American English, Jamaican Creole, Standard American English). Rihanna’s recent single “Work” was praised for reflecting her Barbadian heritage, others dismissed it as lyrical gibberish. Minaj’s Jamaican Creole performances are mostly accepted as authentic although she is originally from Trinidad. Intrigued by these diverging reactions, we became in interested in how Rihanna and Nicki Minaj perform their multivocal pop personas and how the audience perceives these performances. In our talk, we present a multimodal analysis of two YouTube videos, taking into account the lyrics, pronunciation, the visuals, and the comments. We show that YouTube videos can be a rich source for investigations of the global dynamics of English.

You are cordially invited to come, lend us your ear, and discuss linguistic phenomena.

Save the date: Wednesday, 16 May 2018, 8.30pm | Aposto (Alter Steinweg 21, Münster)

 

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Globalisation, Jamaican Creole, Language Attitudes, Music, Perception, performance, Reggae, singing, Sociolinguistics

Caribbean Queens? Rihanna and Minaj: A Comparison

Preface

We, my colleague Michael Westphal and I, have already worked together on examining Rihanna’s multivocal pop performances. In the course of our research, we got more and more interested in the audience’s reactions towards such performances. We also broadened our perspective in taking another pop persona with Caribbean roots into account: Nicki Minaj. How do these two immensely popular artists, Rihanna and Minaj, construct their Caribbeanness? And how does the audience perceive their performances? We conducted a small scale analysis of their singing styles, visual representation in music videos, and the audience’s perception looking at YouTube comments. At the 7th Biennial International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English we presented our results. Please find our respective abstract below:

biclece limi

Jansen, Lisa & Michael Westphal. 2017. „Caribbean queen? Rihanna and Nicki Minaj’s multivocal pop personas”. 7BICLCE. Universidade de Vigo. 29.09.2017. Vigo, Spain.

Pop music surpasses national and linguistic boundaries (Pennycook 2007). It creates a marketplace of various linguistic resources that artists use in their music performances to create their pop personae (Trudgill 1983, Coupland 2007: 146-176). Performers are mobile, transnational linguistic agents. They do not only physically travel worldwide and spread their multivocality, but their products are distributed and consumed internationally via a multitude of media channels. They transport mobile standard and non-standard varieties into new spaces and make them accessible to a broad audience. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj are globally successful artists with Caribbean roots who combine different musical styles (R’n’B, hip-hop, reggae, pop) and the performance codes associated with that genres (African American English, Jamaican Creole, Standard American English). Rihanna’s recent single Work was praised for reflecting her Barbadian heritage, others dismissed it as lyrical gibberish. Minaj’s Jamaican Creole performances are mostly accepted as authentic although she is originally from Trinidad. These contradicting reactions give insight into language-ideological perspectives and stimulate the need for a thorough linguistic analysis. Which performance codes are used and why? Do they co-occur with specific parts of a song or musical styles? Which features are used to index different varieties?

A morpho-syntactic and accent analysis of Rihanna’s and Minaj’s work reveals that certain parts within a song pattern with the choice of a specific variety. For instance, American English seems to be reserved for sung, not spoken or rapped, parts. The analysis also shows that both artists use Jamaican Creole to perform their Caribbean identity but only command a truncated repertoire (Blommaert 2010: 102-136). The performance is mainly restricted to stereotypical features. The study also scrutinizes different music videos and demonstrates that the Caribbeanness of the music performances is reinforced through visual modalities in an exoticizing and commodifying way. Results show that both artists are transporters of standard and non-standard English varieties. Rihanna’s and Minaj’s playful mix of features within their genres is not only a display of their multifaceted and multivocal identity, but it gives insight into language-ideological processes within the dynamics of global Englishes.

Sources:
Coupland, N. (2007). Style: Language variation and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pennycook, A. (2006). Global Englishes and transcultural flows. London: Routledge.

Trudgill, P. (1983). Acts of conflicting identity: The sociolinguistics of British pop-song performance. In P. Trudgill (ed.), On dialect: Social and geographical perspectives, 141-160. Oxford: Blackwell.

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Globalisation, Jamaican Creole, Language Attitudes, Music, performance, singing, Sociolinguistics

Reminder: Rihanna’s Multivocal Pop Persona

cambridge rihanna

Source: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/english-today/issue/8DD6C7875691A13A7BC519F78DA3EEB1 (l.) and LiJa (r.)

Rihanna is a globally successful artist with Caribbean roots who combines different musical styles and the performance codes associated with these genres. Her single “Work” attracted great attention and generated considerable media coverage. On the one hand it was praised for displaying her Barbadian heritage, on the other dismissed it as lyrical gibberish. Interested in how Rihanna works her multivocal pop persona in this single, we conducted a morpho-syntactic analysis of the lyrics and investigated the accent of Rihanna’s singing style in this song to discover how she combines different linguistic resources. Furthermore, we analyzed an accompanying music video to show how Rihanna visually represents her pop persona.

Intrigued? Then read our Cambridge blogpost for more information or directly download the full article here.

Sources:

Jansen, Lisa, & Michael Westphal. 2017. Rihanna Works Her Multivocal Pop Persona: A Morpho-syntactic and Accent Analysis of Rihanna’s Singing Style. English Today 33 (2): 46-55. doi: 10.1017/S0266078416000651.

 

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