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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Language Attitudes, Perception, performance, singing, Sociolinguistics

Published: “Britpop Is a Thing, Damn It”

the language of pop culture

Just recently, Valentin Werner edited and published an intriguing volume called The Language of Pop Culture (2018, Routledge). Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to take part in this project and contribute a chapter.

Said chapter gives insight into a small explorative pilot study that I conducted for my  PhD project. It explores British attitudes towards an Americanized singing style in British music and the American accent in general. You can take a first glance at the book and its contents here and get it for your university or department library, if you are intrigued.

Sources:

Werner, Valentin. (Ed.) 2018. The Language of Pop Culture. New York: Routledge.

Jansen, Lisa. 2018. “Britpop is a thing, damn it”: On British attitudes towards American English and an Americanized singing style. V. Werner (ed.), The Language of Pop Culture, chapter 6. New York: Routledge.

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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!

eric-nopanen-208576

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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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.

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Phonetics, Phonology, Praat, Spectrogram

How to get started with Praat

Dear fellow (future) linguists,

I have a few posts on this blog that deal with the free software program for doing phonetics by computer, namely Praat. If you got curious and want to do some phonetic experiments yourself, than this mini-instruction  should help you get started. I created this little instruction sheet for my students to provide a learning-by-doing guideline.

It includes:

  1. How to open/create a file
  2. How to view the spectrogram
  3. How to show and get the formants
  4. How to add a TextGrid to the spectrogram
  5. How to add phonetic symbols to the TextGrid
  6. How to save files with (or without) the TexGrid

I hope this raises your curiosity and your spirit of discovery!…and that it may help you exploring Praat!

To be continued…

 

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