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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