Morphology, Music, performance, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

“He said me haffi work, work, work…” – Rihanna’s multivocal identity

First off I’d like to whole-heartedly thank my dear colleagues Eva Hänsel and Michael Westphal for their support and effort. Both are experts on Caribbean English varieties and helped with this song’s analysis. The Guardian’s music editor, Harriet Gibsone, requested my view on Rihanna’s language use in her new single “Work” which led to this post. Read the full Guardian article here.

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Rihanna’s new single Work is a prime example of the prevalent heteroglossia in pop culture language. She makes use of various linguistic resources, i.e. different features from different varieties, to construct her multivocal identity (Blommaert 2010, Fabricius& Mortensen 2013). She combines Caribbean varieties, although mostly sticking to stereotypical Jamaican Creole features, with Standard American as a basis and possibly also a hint of African American English (AAE). Probably most noticeable in this song – and this is why it seems to stand out from the others at first sight or hearing – is her use of typical morphosyntactic Caribbean English features which include the use of:

  • haffi instead of the modal have to
  • the personal pronouns me [miː] and him [ɪm] in subject position
  • the negation marker nah
  • fi which in this one instance replaces the preposition to
  • a go as future marker: when you a go learn translates to ‘when are you going to learn’

We can also hear that she omits the third person singular –s in nobody touch me in the righteous and nobody text me in a crisis. This feature can be found in Caribbean varieties as well as in AAE. Due to her close connection to the American Hip-Hop and R’n’B scene, we could assume that she is also likely to incorporate respective AAE features, drawing from yet another linguistic resource which reflects part of her identity. However, she does not consistently use these features, but switches back and forth, e.g. personal pronouns are also used case sensitively: He said me haffi work or I hope that you see this through. Also, fi can have a number of functions but occurs only in one instance.

Rihanna’s accent reflects her multilingual pop identity as well. In fact, as with the morphosyntactic markers, she neither sticks to one particular accent (e.g. Bajan or American English) throughout the entire song, nor does she use any of them consistently (cf. Trudgill 1982). Except for maybe one: She makes steady use of rhoticity. Simply put, she pronounces /r/-sounds in non-prevocalic positions as in e.g. work, dirt, turned. Although this is probably one of the most salient Bajan Creole features, her singing style is also strongly influenced by Standard American English which is rhotic as well. This example shows that it is difficult to assign a specific feature to a particular accent or variety. In most cases one feature can be found in several varieties. In some instances she makes use of:

  • the word-initial h-deletion (as in hurt, haffi, hope), a predominantly Jamaican feature
  • the monophthongisation of the FACE-vowel, turning it into a long [eː] (three times in a row: patience, decoration, foundation) which can be heard throughout the Caribbean and certainly is a very stereotypical, recognisable feature
  • unreduced vowels in unstressed syllables so that the vowel sound in the final syllable as in patience, decoration, foundation turns into a comparatively strong [aː]
  • the insertion of a palatal glide between [k] and [a] as in cyar instead of care which is also a more or less Pan-Caribbean feature
  • th-stopping, pronouncing the <th> in the as [d]: I dealt with you the nicest can be heard in the Caribbean but is also found in AAE

Although she uses some of the most prominent Caribbean features in Work, they are not specifically or uniquely Bajan. Rihanna draws on various varieties and eclectically builds her own linguistic repertoire. Even though Work might evoke an increased “Caribbean-ness” since she uses salient morphosyntactic features, it is not Rihanna’s first linguistic display of her Afro-Caribbean roots. She undoubtedly introduced herself as a Caribbean artist with her debut single Pon de Replay. The title itself contains two “Caribbean English” features: the preposition pon for ‘on’ and th-stopping (de). The track Diamond repeatedly contains the Barbadian raised PRICE-vowel when she sings shine bright like a diamond. Moreover, in interviews we can sometimes hear the typical Bajan t-glottaling in word final position as well. That Rihanna draws on Caribbean features in her new single Work is presumably an active decision. Singing is language performance and such “high performances” (Coupland 2007) are planned and rehearsed communicative events that are produced explicitly for an audience. Whether she intends to actively do identity work by highlighting her ethnic background linguistically or uses Caribbean features as a stylistic device to simply create a diverse sound that suits the genre cannot be said for sure. But this song certainly reveals Rihanna’s multifaceted pop culture persona. Her linguistic repertoire is perhaps the most obvious means to catch a glimpse of her identity (Gibson&Bell 2011).

  • Blommaert, J. 2010. The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bell, A. & A. Gibson. 2011. Staging Language: An introduction to the sociolinguistics of performance. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15, 5: 555-572.
  • Coupland, N. 2007. Style: Language Variation and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Fabricius A. & J. Mortensen. 2013. Language ideology and the notion of construct resource: A case study of modern RP. In T. Kristiansen & S. Grondelaers (Eds.), Standard Language Ideology in Contemporary Europe (Series): Vol. 2. Language (de)standardisation in late modern Europe. Experimental studies (375–401). Oslo: Novus Press.
  • Trudgill, P. 1982. On Dialect: Social and Geographical Perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell.

Sources on Caribbean varieties:

  • Roberts, P.A. 2007. West Indians & Their Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

  • Schneider, E.W. (Ed.) 2008. Varieties of English: The Americas and the Caribbean. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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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?

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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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Language Attitudes, Perception, Phonetics, Phonology, Sociolinguistics

Conference Impressions: Sociolinguistics of Globalization, Hong Kong 2015

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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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Phonetics, Phonology, Praat, Spectrogram

Praat: Consonants and the Vocal Tract

Finally, I have spectrogram proof for consonants blocking the airstream at different places in the mouth. I mentioned this problem in another post: I tried to see the difference between the pronunciation of /d/ and /b/. I recorded myself, but the spectrogram did not really show significant differences. Hence, I recorded my boyfriend to see if that might change the results…and it did! I let him say <mo> and <no>. So. first of all consider the following information and take a look at the spectrogram:

  1. Keep in mind that /m/ is a bilabial nasal, hence the airstream is blocked at the lips. /n/ is an alveolar nasal, the airstream is therefore blocked earlier between the back of your teeth and the alveolar ridge. In turn /m/ “makes more use” of the vocal tract than the /n/. (Help: Take a look at the vocal tract below to visualize the place of articulation!)
  2. F2 gives us information about the place of articulation, as we already saw in the spectrograms of the different vowel (front/back). This also applies for consonants as follows: the more the consonants makes use of the vocal tract (bilabials make the most use) the lower is F2. If the airstream is blocked earlier, F2 starts at a higher point.
  3. You can observe that F2 of /m/ is lower than that of /n/, proofing the assumption that F2 also indicates the place of articulation of consonants. What is striking as well is that nasals strongly resemble vowels, except the formants are not as strong.

taken from FRH 2011: 216.

I also recorded the sequences /baː/ /daː/ /gaː/ and the same perfectly visible result: they are all plosive but have a different place of articulation: /b/-bilabial, /d/-alveolar and /g/-velar. These three stops block the airstream at three different points in the vocal tract, from the front to the back. As you can see again in the spectrogram: the more the consonants makes use of the vocal tract (bilabials make the most use, alveolars follow, then velars) the lower is F2. If the airstream is blocked earlier, F2 starts at a higher point:

Praat Spectrogram of <ba> <da> <ga>

Stay curious, motivated and interested and of course: stay tuned!

Lisa.

P.S. A special thank you goes out to Dennis who does not mind being recorded and provides great sound samples!

FRH 2011: Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., Hyams, N. An Introduction to Language . Boston: Wadsworth.

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Phonetics, Phonology, Praat, Spectrogram

Praat: Consonants – The Big Voiced/Voiceless Test

Well, I sat down and tried to categorize the consonants cleverly to get good, comprehensible and analyzable spectrogram results. I decided to sort them into the main voiced [p, t, k, tʃ, f, θ, s, ʃ] and voiceless ones [b, d, ɡ, dʒ, v, ð, z, ʒ] of the English. It was a lot of (fun) work to record, extract and analyze and of course finally getting a god result:

Spectrogram of Voiced Consonants (of English that have voiceless counterparts)

Spectrogram of Voiceless Consonants

Now, what are the striking differences?

It is obvious that the voiced consonants, contrary to the voiceless, show strong acoustic energy at a very low frequency (F1 is low): this corresponds to the vibrating of the vocal cords (UCL). Since the pronunciation of voiceless consonants does not involve vibrating of the vocal cords, we do not find this strong band at the bottom of their spectrogram. Another observation made is that the formants of the voiceless consonants seem to be more and more confused as the ones of the voiced consonants. This could prove that voiceless consonants are pronounced with more acoustic power or to put it unscientifically simple: they sound hard and more pressurized than their voiced counterparts: they sound softer and relaxed due to the vibration of the vocal cords. In German, we even say “scharfes s/sharp s ” and “weiches s/soft s” to refer to the voiceless and voiced /s/.

Feel voiced/voiceless consonants:

If you are not sure whether you are dealing with the voiced or voiceless variant of a sound, touch your neck/throat and make the sounds, e.g. /b/ and /p/: if you feel the vibration, it is a voiced consonant

Stay tuned because the next topic I’m preparing is Morphology!

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