Appropriation, Jamaican Creole, Morphology, Music, performance, Phonetics, Phonology, Reggae, Sociolinguistics

Guest contribution: White reggae – linguistic appropriation of Jamaican Creole

Preface

This is a guest contribution written by Anika Gerfer. She was one of my students who has just recently successfully passed her MA-thesis under the supervision of  my esteemed colleague Michael Westphal. Below please find a brief summary of her thesis. Enjoy!

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White reggae – linguistic appropriation of Jamaican Creole

Languages have been spreading across the globe for many centuries. For instance, the English-based creole language Jamaican Creole (JC) has crossed national and cultural borders, not only through the migration of Jamaicans but also via the media. Over the last few decades, JC has become closely associated with Caribbean music, leading to a reappropriation and recontextualisation by white reggae artists from numerous countries who have since been observed to ‘cross’ (Rampton 1995) into the formerly stigmatised variety. Accordingly, JC nowadays serves new functions and is no longer solely associated with a Jamaican identity. Although researchers admit that reggae music is one of the pivotal driving forces behind JC’s worldwide spread, research dealing with this music genre so far has been narrative in nature, mostly outlining the history of its global spread and approaching it from a cultural studies perspective. My study aims to fill this research gap and add to the sociolinguistics of globalisation and performance by focusing on the global spread of reggae and JC. The present study adopts a capacious approach including a phonetic, morpho-syntactic, lexical and content analysis of the singing style of seven reggae artists/bands from different countries, i.e. Alborosie (Italy), Collie Buddz (Bermuda), Gentleman (Germany), Groundation (USA), Matisyahu (USA), Natasja (Denmark) and Tribal Seeds (USA).

The findings indicate that the selected artists cluster together in two groups concerning their use of JC features, depending on their exposure to JC and the topic of their songs. The artists in group one (Alborosie, Collie Buddz, Gentleman and Natasja), who are highly exposed to JC, deploy high numbers of JC features on all levels of linguistic variation. Their songs further exhibit instances of colloquialisms and slang typical of the performance of pop songs and hip-hop (Kreyer 2016), African-American Vernacular English lexemes and universal non-standard grammatical features. They predominantly sing about everyday topics and express in-group belonging to youth culture. The artists in group two (Groundation, Matisyahu and Tribal Seeds), by contrast, choose from a limited repertoire of a few salient JC phonetic, lexical and morpho-syntactic features. Their songs mostly deal with Rastafarian beliefs and ‘roots’ reggae, which is why their lyrics display instances of Dread Talk (cf. Pollard 2009) and allusions to the Bible. Although both groups of artists orient themselves to Jamaica, their musical style varies and they seem to have distinct ‘referees’ (Bell 1992) and address different audiences. While Groundation and Tribal Seeds seem to emulate Jamaican roots reggae artists, Alborosie, Collie Buddz and Nastasja apparently orient themselves to Jamaican dancehall music, a music genre which is nowadays dominated by JC (Farquharson 2017). The results gained from this study show that JC holds prestige for white reggae artists.  The traditionally stigmatised non-standard variety can no longer solely be viewed as being tied to ‘roots’ reggae and Rastafarianism, but it has developed into a linguistic resource which is appropriate for the performance of reggae and dancehall songs dealing with a wide range of topics. JC has therefore gained new prestige and has crossed national and cultural borders through its commodification by white reggae artists (Mair 2013).

Literature:

  • Bell, A. (1992). Hit and miss: Referee design in the dialects of New Zealand television advertisements. Language & Communication, 12(3/4), 327-340.
  • Farquharson, J. T. (2017). Linguistic ideologies and the historical development of language use patterns in Jamaican music. Language & Communication, 52(1), 7-18.
  • Kreyer, R. (2016). ‘Now niggas talk a lotta Bad Boy shit’: The register hip-hop from a corpus linguistic perspective. In C. Schubert and C. Sanchez-Stockhammer (Eds.), Variational text linguistics: revisiting register in English (pp. 87-110). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter.
  • Mair, C. (2013). The World System of Englishes: Accounting for the transnational importance of mobile and mediated vernaculars. English World-Wide, 34(3), 253–278.
  • Pollard, V. (2009). Dread talk. Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press.
  • Rampton, B. (1995). Crossing: language and ethnicity among adolescents. London, England: Longman.
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Globalisation, Morphology, Music, Perception, performance, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Published: Rihanna Works Her Multivocal Pop Persona: A Morpho-syntactic and Accent Analysis of Rihanna’s Singing Style

Pop culture provides rich data that demonstrate the complex interplay of World Englishes

My dear colleague Michael Westphal and I turned our blogpost into a more detailed, refined, and peer-reviewed article for English Today. I am happy to announce that it was published online on February 13th 2017. Below you will find our abstract published on English Today’s First View platform.

Abstract

Singing is a very dynamic and innovative mode of communication through which artists often express themselves with a set of various voices. Today, pop music circulates across national boundaries and English is the main medium of communication in transnational pop culture. In this special context different varieties of English meet at a high density. Rihanna’s single Work is an example of this prevalent multivocality in pop music culture. Her language performance attracted public attention of various sorts as she audibly incorporates several Caribbean English Creole (CEC) features. While some critics describe her lyrics as ‘gibberish’ (cf. Noelliste, 2016), others acknowledge her performance as a ‘reclamation of her Barbadian heritage’ (Gibsone, 2016). The example of Rihanna shows that singers can be transporters of English varieties: she is a Caribbean artist who started a successful career in the US, and whose music today has global reach. Singers, like Rihanna, are thus mobile, transnational linguistic agents. On the one hand, she physically travels the world playing concerts to her audiences. On the other, her persona, music, videos, and further media commodities are part of the global ‘mediascape’ (Appadurai, 1996). In other words, her products easily spread across the globe and are reproduced, transcending national and social boundaries. New technologies (e.g. smart phones, tablets) and applications (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) facilitate as well as accelerate the transnational dissemination of media resources. Moreover, singers show that the linguistic (and cultural) resources as such are mobile. Different language influences are formed into individual linguistic repertoires. Singers often playfully employ certain features to highlight parts of their identity or locate themselves in a particular music genre.

Sources:

 

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Morphology, Music, performance, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

“He said me haffi work, work, work…” – Rihanna’s multivocal identity

First off I’d like to whole-heartedly thank my dear colleagues Eva Hänsel and Michael Westphal for their support and effort. Both are experts on Caribbean English varieties and helped with this song’s analysis. The Guardian’s music editor, Harriet Gibsone, requested my view on Rihanna’s language use in her new single “Work” which led to this post. Read the full Guardian article here.

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Rihanna’s new single Work is a prime example of the prevalent heteroglossia in pop culture language. She makes use of various linguistic resources, i.e. different features from different varieties, to construct her multivocal identity (Blommaert 2010, Fabricius& Mortensen 2013). She combines Caribbean varieties, although mostly sticking to stereotypical Jamaican Creole features, with Standard American as a basis and possibly also a hint of African American English (AAE). Probably most noticeable in this song – and this is why it seems to stand out from the others at first sight or hearing – is her use of typical morphosyntactic Caribbean English features which include the use of:

  • haffi instead of the modal have to
  • the personal pronouns me [miː] and him [ɪm] in subject position
  • the negation marker nah
  • fi which in this one instance replaces the preposition to
  • a go as future marker: when you a go learn translates to ‘when are you going to learn’

We can also hear that she omits the third person singular –s in nobody touch me in the righteous and nobody text me in a crisis. This feature can be found in Caribbean varieties as well as in AAE. Due to her close connection to the American Hip-Hop and R’n’B scene, we could assume that she is also likely to incorporate respective AAE features, drawing from yet another linguistic resource which reflects part of her identity. However, she does not consistently use these features, but switches back and forth, e.g. personal pronouns are also used case sensitively: He said me haffi work or I hope that you see this through. Also, fi can have a number of functions but occurs only in one instance.

Rihanna’s accent reflects her multilingual pop identity as well. In fact, as with the morphosyntactic markers, she neither sticks to one particular accent (e.g. Bajan or American English) throughout the entire song, nor does she use any of them consistently (cf. Trudgill 1982). Except for maybe one: She makes steady use of rhoticity. Simply put, she pronounces /r/-sounds in non-prevocalic positions as in e.g. work, dirt, turned. Although this is probably one of the most salient Bajan Creole features, her singing style is also strongly influenced by Standard American English which is rhotic as well. This example shows that it is difficult to assign a specific feature to a particular accent or variety. In most cases one feature can be found in several varieties. In some instances she makes use of:

  • the word-initial h-deletion (as in hurt, haffi, hope), a predominantly Jamaican feature
  • the monophthongisation of the FACE-vowel, turning it into a long [eː] (three times in a row: patience, decoration, foundation) which can be heard throughout the Caribbean and certainly is a very stereotypical, recognisable feature
  • unreduced vowels in unstressed syllables so that the vowel sound in the final syllable as in patience, decoration, foundation turns into a comparatively strong [aː]
  • the insertion of a palatal glide between [k] and [a] as in cyar instead of care which is also a more or less Pan-Caribbean feature
  • th-stopping, pronouncing the <th> in the as [d]: I dealt with you the nicest can be heard in the Caribbean but is also found in AAE

Although she uses some of the most prominent Caribbean features in Work, they are not specifically or uniquely Bajan. Rihanna draws on various varieties and eclectically builds her own linguistic repertoire. Even though Work might evoke an increased “Caribbean-ness” since she uses salient morphosyntactic features, it is not Rihanna’s first linguistic display of her Afro-Caribbean roots. She undoubtedly introduced herself as a Caribbean artist with her debut single Pon de Replay. The title itself contains two “Caribbean English” features: the preposition pon for ‘on’ and th-stopping (de). The track Diamond repeatedly contains the Barbadian raised PRICE-vowel when she sings shine bright like a diamond. Moreover, in interviews we can sometimes hear the typical Bajan t-glottaling in word final position as well. That Rihanna draws on Caribbean features in her new single Work is presumably an active decision. Singing is language performance and such “high performances” (Coupland 2007) are planned and rehearsed communicative events that are produced explicitly for an audience. Whether she intends to actively do identity work by highlighting her ethnic background linguistically or uses Caribbean features as a stylistic device to simply create a diverse sound that suits the genre cannot be said for sure. But this song certainly reveals Rihanna’s multifaceted pop culture persona. Her linguistic repertoire is perhaps the most obvious means to catch a glimpse of her identity (Gibson&Bell 2011).

  • Blommaert, J. 2010. The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bell, A. & A. Gibson. 2011. Staging Language: An introduction to the sociolinguistics of performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15, 5: 555-572.
  • Coupland, N. 2007. Style: Language Variation and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Fabricius A. & J. Mortensen. 2013. Language ideology and the notion of construct resource: A case study of modern RP. In T. Kristiansen & S. Grondelaers (Eds.), Standard Language Ideology in Contemporary Europe (Series): Vol. 2. Language (de)standardisation in late modern Europe. Experimental studies (375–401). Oslo: Novus Press.
  • Trudgill, P. 1982. On Dialect: Social and Geographical Perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell.

Sources on Caribbean varieties:

  • Roberts, P.A. 2007. West Indians & Their Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

  • Schneider, E.W. (Ed.) 2008. Varieties of English: The Americas and the Caribbean. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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Language Attitudes, Music, Perception, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Language Attitudes: Just One Sound

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English singer Alesha Dixon was heavily criticized for her performance of the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen” at Silverstone. Especially the last sentence of the anthem was at the centre of criticism: 1. she sang God save our Queen instead of the Queen and 2. her supposed American accent caused great indignation. The latter was mainly based on her pronunciation of God [ɡɒd] as [ɡɑːd] which was strongly emphasized since she lengthened this vowel sound even more to be in line with her melody and rhythm.

Twitter and co. were the usual anger outlets and gave insight into language attitudes towards linguistic behavior in national anthem performances. Here only some tweets and online newspaper comments:

  • Alesha Dixon appears to think Gad should save the Queen instead.
  • Alesha Dixon singing the national anthem in an American accent for the British Grand Prix?
  • Pretentious and fake!!
  • Alesha Dixon pays tribute to Independence Day by singing the national anthem in an American accent.

If Alesha Dixon or any other British singer switches to an American singing style in one of their songs, people might notice it but do not pay great attention to it – they would surely not be shocked. But in this case the discursive frame sets linguistic expectations that seem inevitably bound to a very specific cultural context. There is a heightened sensitivity with which the audience perceives such performances and artistic freedom is considered inappropriate. The comments show that national pride and a certain linguistic behavior (being “authentic” not “fake”) are intertwined and should certainly be reflected in the performance of the national anthem.

Want to read more about it?

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Music, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Input: Language of American Pop-Punk

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The article named I made a linguistics professor listen to a blink-182 song an analyze the accent (Dan Nosowitz) published on Atlas Obscura deals with the development of language behaviour of American pop-punk bands. It traces back how Californian punk bands such as Green Day started out imitating a British Clash-esk working-class accent to the development of a pop-punk strand that “abandoned any pretenses of Britishness” (Nosowitz 2015). 1990’s Bands such as The Offspring or blink-182 “took their own accent, the California accent, and ramped it up, pushed it to new extremes” (ibid). As linguist Penelope Eckert reveals in her analysis of blink-182’s First Date, DeLonge‘s singing style is not exclusively Californian. He mixes typical Californian features (some of them are results of a vowel shift) with Chicano English variants and sprinkles it with a few British working-class pronunciations. What comes to mind here right away is Trudgill’s concept of conflicting identities (Trudgill 1983).

This article is a pleasure to read and gives insight into the punk genre, its origins, its ideas and therewith its multiple intertwined identities which can be retraced in singers’ performances.

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Music, Phonetics, Sociolinguistics

Guest contribution: The Sociolinguistics of ‘Indie’ Music: Kate Nash

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Preface

This is a guest contribution written by Anika Gerfer. She is one of my students who has just recently successfully passed her BA-thesis under my supervision. I asked her to write a brief summary and share her work on my blog. Enjoy!


The Sociolinguistics of ‘Indie’ Music: Kate Nash

Since the 1980s, the linguistic behaviour of singers in performances and recordings of (popular) music has caught the interest of many sociolinguists. Trudgill (1983) and Simpson (1999) discovered that a range of British artists of the mid-20th century switched to an ‘American accent’ in singing (Simpson labels this set of features associated with ‘American accents’ the “USA-5 model”). Today, this kind of singing behaviour is perceived to be the kind of pronunciation to perform ‘mainstream pop’ in general (Beal 2009). With the advent of Punk and the emergence of the music genre ‘indie’ many bands started singing in their own local accents in order to index authenticity, locality and independence from the big record labels (O’Hanlon 2006; Beal 2009).

I analysed Kate Nash’s singing behaviour in order to demonstrate that singing in a local and/or social accent does not necessarily index values of the corresponding region or social class. She’s an indie pop/rock singer from London whose songs contain linguistic features associated with the London working-class accent Cockney. Not only did I examine her accent by comparing Cockney variants with RP variants as well as USA-5 model variants of different variables, but I also searched for occurrences of youth language in the lyrics of the songs from her three albums Made of Bricks (2007), My Best Friend Is You (2010) and Girl Talk (2013).

I found out that Kate Nash diverges from the “mid-Atlantic pronunciation of popular music” (Beal 2009) by singing in a kind of ‘hybrid’ accent consisting of Cockney (Ø 68.8%) and RP features with minor exceptions of /t/-flapping and the monophthongisation of the price diphthong. The lexical analysis reveals that Nash uses a high amount of taboo words, slang as well as fillers throughout her albums. The repertoire from which she chooses downsizes from 2007 to 2013, which shows that the extensive swear word vocabulary preferably used by a number of teenagers is likely to change when they reach adulthood. The content of her songs changes as well: she sort of “reinvents” (Simpson 1999) herself in the course of her career by developing from an adolescent singing about finding one’s place in society to a feminist activist who speaks out against the sexualisation of women in pop music. By performing her songs in a non-standard manner (e.g. screaming and talking) and referring to taboo topics, Nash diverges from the values of mainstream pop music. However, unlike the Arctic Monkeys or Australian hip-hop artists who express locality by performing in their regional accents, Nash rather indexes belonging to youth culture.

My study shows that indexical values can change due to the fact that English varieties alter as well. As the example of the working-class dialect Cockney shows, vernaculars might develop into mainstream accents so that formerly stigmatised features are deployed by adolescents no matter what social class they belong to. Vernaculars are therefore capable of developing into mainstream just like the music genre indie did.

Literature:

  • 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.
  • O’Hanlon, R. (2006). Australian hip hop: a sociolinguistic investigation. Australian Journal of Linguistics 26(2), 193-209.
  • 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. Acts of conflicting identity: The sociolinguistics of British pop-song performance. P. Trudgill (ed.), On dialect: Social and geographical perspectives, 141-160. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
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Language Attitudes, Perception, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Conference Impressions: Sociolinguistics of Globalization, Hong Kong 2015

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I had the privilege to present a paper at the Sociolinguistics of Globalization conference organized by the University of Hong Kong. Intimidated by the number of renowned linguists (you know, those that you quote all the time) and the amount of parallel panels, I felt like ‘the new kid on the playground’. Language experts from around the world met to discuss the effects of globalization processes on language behavior, use and attitudes.

I was majorly interested in the panels dealing with music and language. Here it seemed that the sociolinguistics of hip hop clearly dominated the discourse. Specifically this music genre reflects the phenomenon of ‘glocalisation’: A global phenomenon, hip hop music, is re-interpreted and re-invented with a local voice. Its main ideas and concepts (i.e. the credo of “keepin’ it real”) are adopted while at the same time projecting an authentic local place identity. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to pop music, where an American-influenced pronunciation still dominates and seems to have become the default or the norm. Andy Gibson illustrated this “power of the norm in pop song phonetics” in his presentation on the singing style of three New Zealand singers.

I was able to gain many new insights and inspiration from manifold approaches, methods and different languages and cultures. Fortunately, I also had the pleasure of meeting Andy Gibson (Auckland University of Technology) for at least a quick chat. The conference offered fruitful stimuli and was a great experience.

If you are curious about who was there and presented what, take a look at the book of abstracts.

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