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.
Standard
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:

 

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

Language Attitudes: Just One Sound

queen

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?

Standard
Music, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Input: Language of American Pop-Punk

photo-1421284621639-884f4129b61d

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.

Standard
Sociolinguistics

Thoughts on the properties of popular music recordings

recording

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.

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.
  • 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: unsplash.com
Standard