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

Guest contribution: White reggae – linguistic appropriation of Jamaican Creole


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!


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).


  • 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.
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.


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.



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.

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…


Morphology, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics, Throughput

Just a little throughput…

Dear fellow linguists,

I just wanted to share a few links:

This is a great article I found in the German quaterly Fluter. Every issue is dedicated to one specific political, cultural, societal, economic (etc.) topic. One of the most interesting issues for me of course was dealing with LANGUAGE. The article entitled “Weissu – is krasse Sprache: Jugendliche Migraten mischen das Hochdeutsch auf” written by Hadija Haruna deals with contemporary German ethno- and sociolects. Although, or perhaps even because it is not an ‘academic’ linguistic article, it gives a good introduction into several sociolinguistic topics. It addresses phenomena like covert and covert prestige, code-switching and the fact that new language forms are creative and innovative. I used it in class to approach these terms and found it very useful. I hope you like it as well.

This link leads to a very interesting research that has been conducted. A gigantic corpus analysis that should reveal the question: “L’anglais, une  language optimiste?” /Is English an optimistic language? If your interested, click and read! And if you want read something about it in English, here you go.

Stay curious!


Metaphors in Computing


This funny cartoon (click to enlarge) got me to think about the metaphor spam…

First off, primary meaning:

Spam, spam n– [sp(iced+h)am]. The proprietary name of a type of tinned meat consisting chiefly of pork; also (with lower-case initial) applied loosely to other types of tinned luncheon meat’ (OED2)

spam n tdmk. A kind of inexpensive tinned meat, usu. eaten cold, made mainly of pork and pink colours. Spam was popular in Britain esp during and after the Second World War, but is not eaten so much now. It is still quite popular in the U.S. (LDELC)

Metaphorical meaning:

spam, Spam n: In online jargon, the undesirable practice of posting the same message repeatedly to a large number of Usenet newsgroups. A fig. use of the trade name of a US brand of tinned meat. (ODNW)

Spam indeed is a quite complex metaphor which needs drawing on cultural knowledge to be explained and understood, respectively (Bründl 2001: 156). The primary meaning of spam refers shortly to ‘tinned meat’. The mere comparison of the three dictionary entries does not bear an explanation for this metaphor, i.e. does not provide an appropriate ground of comparison. It is our cultural and world knowledge about spam that provides the needed information. To fully grasp the complex metaphorical meaning and hence the mapping of spam, the following information given, i.e. different ideas about the development of this metaphor, are helpful:

  • junkmail* is unenjoyable just like the tinned meat is said to taste bad, i.e. to be unenjoyable
  • opening your electronic mailbox* which is flooded* with junkmail it is as annoying as spilling the tinned meat while opening the tin
  • moreover junkmails are boring and almost unavoidable, seemingly omnipresent; this feature was mainly promoted by a prominent “Monty Python restaurant sketch in which Spam appears to be served with everything” (ODNW)

These associations, connotations and feelings (‘tastes bad’, ‘inexpensive’, ‘annoying’) are subjective and part of certain cultural models and knowledge that are rooted in our cognition (Bründl 2001: 157). There are obviously several complex scenes which constitute the source domain of the metaphor spam that are in fact also re-motivations, i.e. we (always) try to search and create a motivation for a word and hence achieve the very effect of better memorization and comprehensibility. Getting back to the cartoon… it captures at least our major associations with the metaphorical spam: there is simply too much of it (-> Monty Python sketch) and it spills out of the fridge and hence annoys the user (-> bad taste and spilling the meat)

Spam is a metaphor that has already developed to be conventionalized in everyday thought and talk. In fact, the metaphor spam (‘junkmail’) is again metaphorized in daily speech (mainly among adolescents) to refer to useless and superfluous information of almost any kind.

On the whole, spam is a complex metaphor that cannot be easily explained by simply comparing the semantic features of the source and target domain. Moreover, it is a highly productive metaphor that generates further similarities and therefore expressions and most importantly takes the user’s creativity into account (Kövecses 2002: 72, Lakoff&Johnson 2003: 13).

Since there is still much more to say and to discover about the metaphor spam…stay tuned!

*unconscious use of metaphors 😉


Bründl, Monika E. 2001. Lexikalische Dynamik: Kognitiv-linguistischeUntersuchungen am englischen Computerwortschatz . Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Hoi Polloi. 2020: Endlich Kühlschränke mit Internetzugang. Fluter. 34, Spring 2010, 50.

Kövecses, Zoltán. 2002. Metaphor: a Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 2003. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: Chicago UP.

Knowles, Elizabeth & Julia Elliott (Eds). 1991, 1997. The Oxford Dictionary of New Words, 2nd Edn, Oxford: Oxford UP. (=ODNW)

Simpson J. A. & E. S. C. Weiner. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edn, Oxford: Oxford UP. (=OED2)

Summers, Della (Ed). 1992. Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture. Harlow: Longamn. (=LDELC)

<!–[if !mso]> spam, Spam n: In online jargon, the undesirable practice of posting the same message repeatedly to a large number of Usenet newsgroups. A fig. use of the trade name of a US brand of tinned meat. (ODNW