December 7, 2018

Update - December 7, 2018

17008 words for NaNoWriMo! And that's not even counting the entire article I apparently lost! Bring on the confetti!


I wrote about Cardi B disliking her New York accent. Also, in response to some questions about why almost all the examples on my Indie Girl Voice articles were women, I wrote an Addendum on the Methodology to explain why that happened.

This week in tweets - fashion people destroy bound morphemes:

"aiaλu" is not actually "aialu" but "aiyau."

@anoniscoding created a programming language in Yoruba called Yorlang! Here's why that matters:

Finally, some fun with the pin-pen merger. Do "Nguyen" and "win" sound similar to you?

What's Cooking?

Getting permissions from Facebook to get my social media presence ~on fleek~ has proven to be an enormous drag. My next Dialect Dissection is also taking longer than I expected. I don't want to make more statements saying "expect this by this date!" because I inevitably end up not doing that, but my personal goal is to have the final Dialect Dissection of the year released this month. I'll be taking a short break from Dialect Dissections after that to start finding new examples to write about. There's going to be all sorts of content coming your way, from the micro-sized Tweets to more casual think pieces to the fully researched long reads.

December 6, 2018

Indie Girl Voice - An Addendum on the Methodology

I've had a lot of people ask me why most of the examples of indie voice in the Dialect Dissection: Indie Girl Voice are of women when there are plenty of men doing this sort of diphthongization as well. I made a brief mention of this in the methodology section, but I will expand on it here.

Unlike my Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande, or Taylor Swift articles, where I had listened to either all or most of the singers' discographies before even beginning the project (and I definitely listened to the entire discography multiple times once I started the projects), I am not very familiar with either folk indie or pop indie music. The closest I get is the sort of indie-influenced pop music that reaches the mainstream, which is artists like Halsey. Moreover, this is the first Dialect Dissection that focused on a particular genre as opposed to a person. It's easy to find a list of every Taylor Swift song and to listen to all of them. There is no such list of "every indie pop or folk song since 2000", and it would probably take months (at a low estimate) of non-stop listening to get through the whole thing and do all the re-listens necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the entire genre of folk/indie music.

That is a moot point, however, as there is no such thing as a list of every indie pop or folk song since 2000. In order to find examples for the article, I had to either rely on the handful of pop musicians I listen to that are influenced by indie music like Halsey and Lorde, or I had to find examples from other people who were more familiar with indie music. I tried listening to playlists of "indie pop" and "indie folk" on Spotify but even these were not useful since, as mentioned in the article, "indie voice" is not just a linguistic phenomenon but a musical phenomenon - you don't need to perform any of the diphthongizations mentioned in the article in order to have indie voice, just sing gently with breathiness, vocal fry, or both, and in a limited range. This means my "listen to indie music playlists" method of finding examples of linguistic indie voice mostly resulted in examples of singers with breathy voice but no interesting phonetic features.

As a result, I turned to other people to find examples of "indie voice." I did Google searches for "indie voice," "indie girl voice," "indie guy voice," and "indie boy voice." By far the one with the most relevant hits was "indie girl voice." Both "indie guy voice" and "indie boy voice" gave few relevant hits and no usable examples. I wanted to use an early hit for "indie girl voice" in order to get an idea of what the origins of the style were, and the earliest usable hits was the forum thread from The Straight Dope. I got a lot of usable examples of "indie girl voice" from there. Unfortunately, the thread was targeted directly at indie girl voice and therefore there were very few examples of indie guy voice. This sample selection ended up biasing the results towards female singers. Other sites talking about indie voice or indie girl voice that I used as an example were this article by Kelly Hoppenjams (The Indie Pop Voice Phenomenon) and the Buzzfeed article Indie Pop Voice.

The one example of a male singer engaging in indie voice is Shawn Mendes, and that was an example that I found from the Buzzfeed article and Twitter. While there are definitely men who sing with a gentle, breathy/creaky voice, people do not seem to react as negatively to men using linguistic aspects of indie voice. This is probably an example of covert sexism. As Carrie states, vocal fry was not seen as a negative phenomenon when it was viewed as a "masculine" thing. When the perception of vocal fry changed and it became seen as "feminine," you start seeing an increase in negative references to vocal fry. I suspect something similar may be happening here, where "indie guys" who use the linguistic features of Indie Voice are simply ignored while "indie girls" who use the linguistic features of Indie Voice are considered "annoying." A look at the Straight Dope thread will reveal a lot of virulent hatred for this singing style.

I also mention that I named the article "Indie Girl Voice" because people know what "indie girl voice" is, whereas people I asked did not have a ready association of "indie voice" and the relevant linguistic features. Within the article, I introduce the term "Indie Voice" and use it from there on to refer to the linguistic phenomenon. Although my wish would be that "Indie Voice" caught on as a gender neutral descriptor of these linguistic and musical features, I know that "indie girl voice" will probably continue to be a recognized concept.

I do not like that the examples were heavily skewed towards women, which gives the false impression that the only man to ever use indie voice is Shawn Mendes. If anyone can recommend examples of linguistic indie voice by male singers, I would much appreciate it and would update the article to include them.

- Karen

December 4, 2018

Cardi B and "Sounding Uneducated"

I've written about accent prejudice before. Most stories about accent shame in the US that I've read come from one of three sources - African Americans feeling ashamed of speaking African American Vernacular English; white Southerners ashamed of speaking Southern American English; immigrants or people learning English as a second language who are ashamed of their foreign accent. But today while listening to "I Like It" on Spotify, I noticed that the little Genius annotation said that New Yorker, Cardi B, was embarrassed by what she sounded like. Hmm? I looked up the interview and here are the relevant quotes.

"And, you know," [Cardi] says anxiously, "I don't got the best English in the world, so sometimes I really got to ask somebody, 'Does this make sense? Would this make sense?' Because I will probably use the words…that they don't even supposed to go there."

[...] Cardi was raised bilingual in the Bronx. Her mother came to the United States from Trinidad as an adolescent; Cardi characterizes her English as "broken." Her father, from the Dominican Republic, speaks to his daughter exclusively in Spanish.

"Do you want to know something?" Cardi asks. "That's my biggest problem, that takes me a long time in the booth. I be trying to pronounce words properly and without an accent. Each and every song from my album, I most likely did it over five times, because I'm really insecure about my accent when it comes to music. In person, I don't care."

[Interviewer:] But people love that about you.

"No, like—it got to sound good. Like, for example: 'I'm turning you awhn,'" she says, hitting the word hard, the way a New Yawka who's walkin' heah might bang on the hood of a taxi while taking a bite out of a big apple. "I will say, 'turning you awhn,' not 'turning you on.' See, I give you an example. 'Turn Offset awhff.' There's that 'awhff.' Turn Offset off. Shit like that drives me insane."

She demonstrates a few other examples—"Get awhff me"—to illustrate the distance between her actual and her ideal. Listening to Cardi carefully practice the flat, wide vowels of a Coloradan weather woman is a little heartbreaking, in part because we're too late to stop her; she's already nailed them. Cardi knows people still want her to be the girl who turned them awhn, but to her, the thing that makes her sound different from her peers isn't charming—it's embarrassing. "It's a really bad pet peeve of mine," she says. "I can't help it."

Interesting example of being "afraid of talking wrong." She talks about growing up bilingual, how she feels more confident in Spanish than in English, and expresses shame at her New York accent. Particularly the "aw" diphthongization. I found this curious, because Cardi B may not sound like a typical New Yorker, but in her music I hear examples of the environment she grew up in - the light "l" favored by second-generation Spanish speakers, the use of "habitual be" from African-American Vernacular English, and the slightly rounded and non-rhotic "ar" vowel some New Yorkers use, so that her name almost sounds like "Cordi B". Her interviews and instagram and general persona appear to reveal someone who is unapologetic about who they are, where they came from, and what they had to do to get there. Yet she's saying that she doesn't like the way she says "awff"!

It's strange how a feature that some speakers grow up using can be a source of shame for them, yet other speakers will try to imitate that feature for some perceived credibility or even just fun. It's an example of the imbalance of power that comes in having a stigmatized accent. We don't hear a lot about stigma against having a New York accent, perhaps because the traditional New York accent is on the decline. But there was a study a few years back that showed that U.S. Americans considered the New York City accent to be one of the most unpleasant. Indeed, accents associated with the working class and racial minorities are ruthlessly mocked or considered "uneducated," such that aspiring social climbers end up removing any distinguishing features from their speech in the hopes of blending in. Cardi B is a millionaire making money in hip-hop, a genre that has historically celebrated the dialect used by working class African Americans. She is, by some accounts, the hottest artist of 2017 and 2018. She has no problem talking about how her work as a stripper lifted her out of poverty and she speaks openly about how her past in a gang, yet she admits that she re-records every song multiple times and is concerned about sounding "stupid."