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Variable rhoticity in rock music performance across British and American singers: New evidence for Singing English?
Young Linguists' Meeting in Poznań, 27.11.2016
In the following paper, we analyse rhoticity in rock music performance in selected American and British rock bands from the 60s to 2000s. The study to some extent replicates the idea of Trudgill (1983), where he analysed rhoticity in British rock groups. His finding was that bands from the 1960s and the 1970s, mainly the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, adopted rhotic pronunciation in order to sound more American, because the US was where their music style originated from. Indeed, the sociolinguistic aspect of music performance has been quite well-researched, often with a conclusion that musicians adopt given accentual features in singing to build their on-stage image (Coupland 2011, Gibson 2011). It has been also claimed that American influences in popular culture have been so strong that many musicians subconsciously adopted rhoticity and other pronunciation features commonly associated with General American (Simpson 1999). These arguments are all viable and apply to our data but do not answer all questions. For example, why would American rock singers adopt non-rhoticity at exactly the same time British rock bands adopted rhotic pronunciation? We hypothesise that the presence of rhoticity/non-rhoticity in rock music is dependent not only on socio-cultural constraints, but also on specific phonetic properties that are associated with singing. Preliminary analysis shows that non-rhoticity is adopted more frequently in songs with higher tempo by both British and American rock groups. For example, The Doors, while being only less than 10% rhotic on their 1967 album, are fully rhotic when singing the low tempo Riders On Storm in 1971. Reversely, Foo Fighters have a substantial amount of non-rhotic variants in their high-tempo songs. Moreover, both British and American bands are more likely to drop the word-final rather than preconsonantal /r/ from their pronunciation. Finally, our data show that the examined male rock singers have a significantly different rhoticity ratio in their interviews than in singing. All these findings may provide support for the existence of Singing English that features different phonostylistic processes than spoken English.
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