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

Language Attitudes: Just One Sound


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?

Music, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Input: Language of American Pop-Punk


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.

Music, Phonetics, Sociolinguistics

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



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.


  • 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.
Language Attitudes, Perception, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Conference Impressions: Sociolinguistics of Globalization, Hong Kong 2015

hk conference

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.

Perception, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

“just singing in a quite clear, neutral way” – from role model to mainstream


Trudgill’s seminal work (1983) on the sociolinguistics of music performances was concerned with British artists’ possible motivations for changing their accent into a somewhat “American accent”. Since the US is the cradle of modern pop and rock music, American artists dominated the music landscape for a very long time and therefore have a role model function. In short: “cultural domination leads to imitation” (Trudgill 1983: 144). This ‘Americanized’ singing style is called the USA 5 model (Simpson 1999). It includes five features which are supposedly the most salient of American speech. However, these features do not occur altogether in one single American accent in the US. It is therefore a constructed, perception-based model. Trudgill notices a decline in the use of American features throughout the years after British bands had established themselves as an authority within the American-dominated music industry (Beatlemania) and therewith a rise in the use of British working-class features as punk bands wanted to identify with their main target audience.

Today though, this ‘Americanized accent’ is no longer necessarily geographically or culturally bound to the US but indexes ‘mainstream pop’ (Beal 2009). Gibson and Bell (2012) also presume that this American-influenced accent has become the default pronunciation used for singing pop songs. Hearers might label it a ‘neutral accent’: “it’s kind of like a more neutral kinda [accent, LiJa] with a bit of an American tone to it, but nothing that would give it away as American”, “She’s not singing with a strong English or American accent. She’s just singing in a quite clear, neutral way”[1] This shift in associations (or indexicalities, Silverstein 2003) led to a new trend. Local British accents in singing have become more and more popular especially in the ‘indie’ pop and rock genre. Beal (2009) shows that the Sheffield indie rock band the Arctic Monkeys actively uses their local accent to promote independence, individuality and authenticity while criticizing artists who ‘sell out’ and take seemingly necessary steps gain worldwide success such as changing their accent and concealing their origin. Singers that stick to their ‘natural’ accent are ‘keepin’ it real’ so to speak.

This is how attitudes towards an ‘Americanized’ singing style have changed from being associated with American artists who were the major role models in music to being a default accent representing the mainstream pop genre.

[1] Taken from interviews I conducted with British students on identifying different performed accents.


  • 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.
  • Gibson, Andy & Allan Bell. 2012. Popular Music Singing as Referee Design. J.M. Hernández-Campoy & J.A. Cutillas-Espinosa (eds.), Style-Shifting in Public, 139-164.
  • Silverstein, M. 2003. Indexical Order and the Dialectics of Sociolinguistic Life. Language & Communication 23: 193-229.
  • 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.
  • Picture: LiJa
Language Attitudes, Perception, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

British attitudes towards an “American accent” in English pop and rock performances

The following abstract summarizes a presentation I will give at the Sociolinguistics of Globalization conference in Hongkong in June 2015 .


British Attitudes towards an “American accent” in English Pop and Rock Performances

Many British artists switch to an “American-influenced accent” when singing. Previous studies in this field focus on the production side of performances and on what motivates British artists to change or stick to their accent (cf. Trudgill 1982, Simpson 1999, Beal 2009). However, the audiences’ perspective, i.e. perception and reception, has been widely neglected. In the course of globalization US cultural dominance has dispersed and English varieties mutually influence each other. This is especially observable in contemporary popular music – where singers seem to eclectically create diversely influenced performance accents.

For this paper folk perceptions towards accents in singing were elicited. Guided interviews based on music samples aim at answering the following questions: Which features, language-wise and other, do Britons perceive as “American” in music today? And which associations are triggered in connection with such performed accents? Preliminary results show that concluding an artist’s origin from his/her performed accent is a highly challenging task for native speakers. Salient phonetic features alone (cf. Simpson’s USA-5 model) do not suffice to represent and determine an accent. Other factors such as genre or content prove crucial for the evaluative process as well. Attitudes show that American accents are often associated with “incorrectness” but prove more marketable whereas local British accents are seen as a welcome change that authentically supports British pop-culture.


  • 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. 1982. On Dialect: Social and Geographical Perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Picture:

Thoughts on the properties of popular music recordings


Gibson and Bell (2011) coined the term mediated staged performances which laid the groundwork for approaching a definition of popular music recordings.

Staged performances are linguistically stylized communicative events, executed in stage-like situations were the audience lies at the centre of attention. Musicians perform for their audience, their main goal being entertainment (Gibson/Bell 2011: 558, Coupland 2007). It is stressed that such events are planned by performers (e.g. several concert preparations and rehearsals) and audience (fans purchase tickets and come together) alike. During the performance both are physically separated. However, communication is possible via cheering and clapping as a direct response to the performer and evaluation of his/her presentation. The singer on the other hand can spontaneously react to the audience’s feedback and might accommodate to or comment on the place of performance (e.g. hometown or abroad), linguistically or otherwise.

Considering music recordings these parameters need to be re-defined and adapted. Gibson and Bell mention that “their pervasiveness in contemporary society makes them the primary channel of public performance” (2011: 558). Music not only accompanies our everyday life activities such as working or shopping, it is also virtually accessible and available 24/7 not least due to music streaming services and portable electronic devices. This entails that hearers do not always voluntarily choose to listen to music but sometimes are simply exposed to it in public space(s). However, even when they consciously decide to listen to a certain artist, song or album it is not necessarily a heightened event. The performer is not physically present at the moment of the hearer’s reception and cannot directly receive a responsive evaluation. Spontaneity is exchanged for consistency and recognition value. The final recording is widely spread, defines and represents an artist and his/her image. Eventually, success is defined by clicks, download rates and/or sales figures.

These properties could influence both: a singer’s singing style and the audience’s perception. For instance a British singer might choose to sound more local if he/she wants to evoke authenticity and promote localness or switch to a “mainstream” accent which is audibly influenced by “American varieties” in hope of being more readily accepted worldwide (Beal 2009). The latter in particular will make it difficult for the audience to identify a singer’s origin.


  • 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.
  • Coupland, Nikolas. 2007. Style: Language Variation and Identity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gibson, A & A. Bell. 2011 Staging language: An Introduction to the Sociolinguistics of Performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15:5: 555-572.
  • Picture: