January 31, 2018

Mapping the "Shape of You"

Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" took home a Grammy Sunday evening for Best Pop Solo Performance. Undoubtedly Shape of You has been the most successful song of 2017: it's gone 8x Platinum in the United States, broke ABBA's record in Australia for longest song at #1 (15 weeks!), and became the most streamed song on Spotify of all time. All records aside, there's another interesting thing about "Shape of You" - the title.

"Shape of You" is an odd title. When the song first dropped a year ago, I was intrigued by the construction. In Standard English, you can't use the possessive construction "of X" with a personal pronoun. For example, you can't say "*This is the castle of me;" you would have to say "this is my castle." This restriction doesn't exist with nouns - you can say both "This is the castle of the king" and "This is the king's castle," even if the former is a little awkward. "Of me" is unusual enough that a reader once wrote in to Language Log about a politician using the construction. Now, some of you may note the existence of the phrase "boss of me," especially "you're not the boss of me," which doesn't sound bad at all. There's even a song by They Might Be Giants called "Boss of Me" which was the theme song of the show "Malcolm in the Middle." Over at Language Log, they did a good post on the history of the phrase "boss of me," which seems to go back to the 1800s! Their analysis is that the use of "of me" is infantile. This can't really apply to "Shape of You," a song about meeting someone in the club, taking them home, and being "in love with [their] body." (At least, I hope Ed wasn't trying to be childish).

One of the songwriters says that growing up in Ireland, there was an expression "look at the shape of you" to mean "look at how you've shown up." He suggested adding this line to the song because they were worried that it would be too objectifying to have a song where the hook was "I'm in love with your body."

Sheeran also came up with what he thought would be a good phrase for a chorus: “I’m in love with your body”. Mac and McDaid weren’t convinced. “’I’m in love with your body,’ on its own with no addendum, with nothing at the end or no preface, felt objectifying to me,” McDaid said. “It felt like that’s the thing ? it’s just physical, it’s nothing else.” He said “the shape of you,” a phrase common in Northern Ireland, where he’s from, “can say ‘whatever you are, whatever it is. I’m in love with you.’ You know, it’s the shape of who you are figuratively.” (Source)
Johnny says, Where I come from, there's this phrase, the say 'Look at the shape of you,' and that means 'Look at the way you've showed up.' (Source).

They reinterpreted "Shape of you" to mean something like someone's essence, though the word "shape" still cheekily implies a certain physicality to the phrase - after all, if he's "in love with [her] body," it's not a stretch that he's in love with the shape of her body. It still allows a certain ambiguity to it that the standard construction, "your shape," wouldn't have. "Your shape" places the emphasis squarely on the shape, with "your" being a descriptor. "Shape of you," on the other hand, is linking a noun and a pronoun, and by placing the pronoun at the end, gives it an extra emphasis. This distance is what allows the ambiguity of what "the shape of you" actually means. The song isn't purely physical - the second verse is dedicated to a mundane date at a buffet, and the chorus assures us that his "heart is falling too". Mining this obscure Northern Irish expression (I can't find any hits for "look at the shape of you" on Google, and Johnny McDaid says that he heard it "growing up" - he was born in 1976) therefore fit the song perfectly.

That it's an Irish expression is even more serendipitous. Sheeran has long had a fascination with Ireland. He has a Irish Gaelic tattoo, Irish folk singer Van Morrisson is one of his favorite singers (and is mentioned on "Shape of You"), and the album "Shape of You" is on, "Divide," has multiple Irish references. He managed to find an expression that also fit in with his "brand" and continuing Celtic craze.

Now remember that Standard English varieties don't allow possessive "of you" to happen. This means that when most native English speakers see a song titled "Shape Of You," it will be slightly off-kilter. Nevertheless, thanks to other pre-existing constructions like "Boss of Me," it's not too unusual. It's exotic enough to grab your attention, but not so exotic as to seem foreign and bizarre. The end result is that one of the most popular songs of the 21st century uses an obscure Hiberno-English grammatical construction for its title. Being that - per Ed Sheeran's admission - they weren't trying to be innovative with this song (similarities to other songs have been noted, and they contacted the writers of TLC to split credit due to similarities to "No Scrubs"), the title is a unique touch that separates it from other songs with the same subject matter.

A lesson to songwriters - don't be afraid to mess with dialectal expressions. By taking the title and hook of his song from an Irish expression, Ed managed to immediately make his song stand out among the rest. He didn't have to compete with other songs that may have shared the same name ("Your Body" could have been the name of the song, but that's also a Christina Aguilera song) or just blend into the background ("Body" is so bland and obvious as to be almost parodic; the longer "I'm In Love With Your Body" gives away the entire theme of the song). Shape of You is so distinctive that any songwriter who tries to re-use the phrase for a different song will be fighting against the strong association with this song. I'm not here to tell you that the secret to the song's success is its title, because it's not. I am here to tell you that the title of the song and the use of the phrase worked very well with each other. Using very common words but putting them together in novel and interesting ways is a solid technique.

January 29, 2018

These Song Titles Are Too Weird Nowadays

I feel like song titles are never where I expect them to be anymore. If you read my prior post on how album titles have changed over time, you'll know that album titles are shorter and more noun-based nowadays. The same applies to songs, but the thing is that some songs almost seem meant to have a different title from the one they have.

My cousin once asked me, "what's that Halsey song about the bathroom? 'Secret,' right?" There is no Halsey song called "Secret," but there is a Halsey song called "Strange Love" which has a post-chorus that goes "that's the beauty of a secret, you know you're supposed to keep it, that's the beauty of a secret" twice. The chorus says the words "secret" four times - can you blame her for thinking that's the song title? Instead, it's "Strange Love," which does not have the word "strange love" anywhere in the song.

They think I'm insane, they think my lover is strange
But I don't have to fucking tell them anything, anything
And I'm gonna write it all down, and I'm gonna sing it on stage
But I don't have to fucking tell you anything, anything

That's the beauty of a secret
You know you're supposed to keep it
That's the beauty of a secret, oh whoa oh whoa oh whoa-oh oh
That's the beauty of a secret
You know you're supposed to keep it
But I don't have to fucking tell you anything, anything
The closest you get is "They think I'm insane, they think my lover is strange" which is only said once in the chorus. There's no way to predict the title of the song from the actual text. I myself probably would have called this song "Anything" from the part where she repeats "but I don't have to f-ing tell you anything, anything" or "That's the Beauty of a Secret," because both lines are catchy enough to be considered the hook. Someone apparently decided that "Strange Love" was a better descriptor for the song. It's just a bonus track, so maybe nobody put any thought into whether it would be easy to recall the song title. That sort of thought is usually put into singles, so that you know the name of the song without having to Shazam it or Google some snippet of the lyrics in the hope of finding the name.

Except, what about the hit song of 2016? It's called "We Ain't Ever Gettin' Older," right? No, actually it's "Closer," which is taken from the line "so baby pull me closer in the backseat of your Rover..." There is nothing important about that line, other than it being the first line of the chorus; there is nothing important about that melody because it's repeated several times for the rest of the chorus; there's no emphasis on the word "Closer," either. Perhaps most people would try to identify the song by singing the drop after the chorus, which is a simplified electro-bloopy version of the chorus. "We Ain't Ever Gettin' Older" is repeated twice later in the song, with Halsey coming in on top of Drew's vocals, and it seems to sum up the theme of the song... but the name of the song is "Closer," not "We Ain't Ever Gettin' Older" or "*bloo bloop bloop bloo bloo bloop bloop bloop*"."

So, baby, pull me closer
In the back seat of your Rover
That I know you can't afford
Bite that tattoo on your shoulder
Pull the sheets right off the corner
Of that mattress that you stole
From your roommate back in Boulder
We ain't ever getting older
[drop]
We ain't ever getting older
We ain't ever getting older

Thankfully the two megahits of 2017, "Shape of You" and "Despacito (Remix)," have titles that are pretty easy to discern. "Shape of You" introduces the title at the beginning of the chorus: "I'm in love with the shape of you, we push and pull [...]", then it goes into the second part of the chorus where the final line is also "I'm in love with the shape of you." If that wasn't obvious enough to you, the final line of the song is "I'm in love with the shape of you." "I'm in Love With the Shape of You" perhaps would be closer at identifying what the actual hook is, but nowadays we really don't like song titles that are that long (it would have been an excellent song title in 1912, though). "Shape of You" is a distinctive enough phrase (a dialectal turn of phrase from Ireland) that you can imagine it's the title.

I'm in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I'm in love with your body
Last night you were in my room
And now my bedsheets smell like you
Every day discovering something brand new
I'm in love with your body

Oh I oh I oh I oh I
I'm in love with your body
Oh I oh I oh I oh I
I'm in love with your body
Oh I oh I oh I oh I
I'm in love with your body
Every day discovering something brand new
I'm in love with the shape of you

Let's look at "Despacito" now, which also has the chorus start with the title, and drops it a second time in the first line just in case you forgot: "Despacito, quiero respirar tu quello despacito [...]" (Slowly, I want to breathe your neck slowly.) The second part has the same techinque: "despacito, quiero desnurdarte a besos despacito [...]" (Slowly, I want to slowly undress you with kisses). The post-chorus makes up for this by not using the word at all. Then after Daddy Yankee's verse, we get the chorus and the post-chorus, but something changes afterwards - Luis Fonsi sings an altered version of the chorus with English lines. "Despacito, this is how we do it down in Puerto Rico." After finishing the chorus, he doens't do a repeat and instead jumps straight into the final post-chorus. This post-chorus is also different in that it ends with Justin Bieber repeating the hook at the very end of the song: "Y que olvides tu apellido, despacito." (...and you forget your last name. Do it slowly). Overall the title of Despacito is repeated 10 times in the song, and each time it has the same hook melody. This makes it very easy to tell what the song's name is, even if you don't speak Spanish (and it's truly a wonder a Spanish language song topped the US charts long enough to tie the record for longest-charting song).

Despacito
Quiero respirar tu cuello despacito
Deja que te diga cosas al oído
Para que te acuerdes si no estás conmigo
Despacito
Quiero desnudarte a besos despacito
Firmo en las paredes de tu laberinto
Y hacer de tu cuerpo todo un manuscrito

I would expect hit songs to have the title be pre-eminently obvious, yet we get songs like "Closer" where it's not clear which word you're supposed to arbitrarily pick as the title. I wonder if this decoupling of hook from title has something to do with the changing structure of pop music. EDM became a popular genre in the early 2010s. In modern pop songs (from the 1950s onward), you have a verse, which expands on the theme of the song and can be a little more experimental, and the chorus, which is the 'payoff', the adrenaline high, the catchiest part of the song. You repeat the verse and chorus, maybe throw in a bridge before the final chorus for some variety, and then end it with a chorus. There are variations like adding pre-choruses which increase tension for the chorus, or a post-chorus which serves as a transition back into the verse, and other things like changing the amount of repetitions, cutting a section short, etc.

The big change EDM brought was replacing the tension of the verse-chorus with the tension of chorus-drop. EDM-inspired pop songs still have verses, but they don't really ramp up the tension the way the chorus does. The chorus starts bringing in more instruments, the drum goes from quarter to eighth to sixteenth notes, the singer's reaching the peak, and then at maximum tension you get the 'drop', which is sort of an electronic hook that's repeated. The drop is not supposed to build tension - it is the result that the song builds up to. Instead of looking forward to the chorus with anticipation, the song looks forward to the drop. Drops, being instrumental in nature, do not have lyrics in them. This is a problem - if the catchiest part of a song is instrumental, what do you call the song? It doesn't really matter much at that point, so you may as well take something from the second-catchiest part - the chorus - and use that. If there's any repetition in the chorus, you can use that (Zedd's "Stay the Night" repeats "Stay The Night" in some way five times, and then it appears during the drop at one point). Otherwise, you can pick a word at the end of a song, since many people remember the last part of a chorus (Zedd's "Clarity": "if our love's insanity, why are you my clarity? [drop]"). The beginning of the chorus is also a good bet ("So baby, pull me closer"). The middle of a chorus is murky ground; it's the least likely to be remembered.

Another structural change may also affect this, but it's not musical - it's technological. Nowadays we have phones and Shazam and many ways to find out a song's title. I mentioned Googling a snippet of song lyrics to find a song's name, but before internet-enabled cell phones you would have had to write those lyrics down somewhere and look them up at the nearest computer. And before the internet, you would have had to hope that one of your friends or the record clerk knew what the song was or that the DJ would play it again. The stakes were higher for song titles in the past - they can't buy your song if they don't know the name. Nowadays it's easy enough to look up names on our own, so you can decide to pick something that's not very distinctive and obvious ("Closer") because people can find it anyway.

I'm still researching why song names are getting shorter. I'm still working on that big old post about song titles throughout pop music history. This is just a short slice of what I'm working on.

Have you ever had trouble figuring out what a song is called? Do you use Shazam or Google to find songs you don't know the name of? Sound off in the comments below!

January 26, 2018

Jan-22 Review

In the interest of keeping to my New Year's Resolution and updating this blog more frequently, I've decided to start doing a 'week in review' sort of post to summarize developments this past week, preview things to come, and comment on things that happened during the week.

I'm going to cheat a little and look beyond this week by promoting my article "Dialect Dissection: Taylor Swift & Genre Hopping." If you have not read it yet, check it out - it's the start of a series where I look at how major musicians use language and dialect in their music. Here we take a look at how Taylor Swift changes her accent throughout her career. It's got sound samples and IPA previews (done by yours truly), so get your headphones and hurry on over!

This week I tried my hand at publishing more than once per week... previously I had been lucky to publish once per month. I found an Accent Challenge on Twitter with some interesting word choice and delved a little into the history of accent challenges and why they pick the words they do. I also asked the question of why some pop singers in the 70s sounded like they were saying 'WUH-man' instead of 'woman.' As always, comments are welcome: have you participated in an accent challenge? Heard instances of someone saying 'WUH-man'? You don't need an account to comment, so don't let that stop you!

Next week is going to be a tough one. I'm probably about halfway through making the next Dialect Dissection. My goal is to publish it for the beginning of February, but I've got a pretty full schedule next week that may challenge that (Lana Del Rey concert in there, by the way!). There's another article I've been working on since December of 2016 (yes, that long!) that I was hoping to get published mid-December, but I wanted to see if I could get some experts to chime in on the subject matter before haphazardly posting. The next next Dialect Dissection is still a mystery - I can go with the one that's almost entirely written, but where I don't know the musician's backstory and non-studio material well, or I can take a risk and start a new one where I am much more familiar with the singer's oeuvre, but I'd need to start over the work of collecting examples. Either way, there's plenty more Dialect Dissection coming up.

In more personal news:

  • I've been re-reading Ada Palmer's "Too Like the Lightning," which is a science-fiction novel that, among many other things, explores how language affects society. I first heard of it because Gretchen McCullough - who runs the wonderful All Things Linguistic blog - read through part of it and tweeted down her reactions. When I saw Language Log had written about it to, I felt there must be something to this book to be written about on two linguistics blogs. It's a good read, but it requires a lot of worldbuilding before you can understand the plot, so don't rush through it. If you're interested in novels that deal with language, this is a pretty good bet.
  • If you haven't noticed, I have linked my Twitter and Instagram in the upper right corner! They do not show up yet in mobile view; I'll have to work on that. I post about linguistics and music, as personal posts. If there's any demand for social media that's dedicated solely to the blog, I can do that so you only get the updates. Facebook and a Tumblr page dedicated to the blog will be coming soon.
  • I challenged myself to listen to as many newly released and unheard albums that I could in 2017. I ended up listening to something like 80 albums. I don't think I'll be listening to every release of 2018 because that was a tiring project. If you have any recommendations for newly released albums throughout 2018, send them my way.

It's very exciting to be taking these steps towards making this blog a real thing. I don't want to make commitments that I can't keep, but I know that I want to post at least once a week, not including weekly recaps. If you want to get your linguistic musical fix more often, I recommend following me (Twitter and Instagram, for your convenience) for all the thoughts that don't quite warrant a post. Once again, thank you to everyone that's read an article and been kind enough to leave a comment or point out a typo. Your thoughts and help are invaluable. Let's see what's in store for next week!

- Karen

January 25, 2018

More than a WUH-man

So I was listening to one of those easy listening stations at the grocery store when I noticed something. They were playing "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffet, the chorus of which goes "some people say there's a woman to blame." I noticed that the singer didn't say the first syllable "woman" /wʊmən/ using the same vowel in book /bʊk/, but with a vowel that was closer to 'uh' in 'one' /wʌn/. If you'll look at a chart of where vowels are made in the mouth, you'll notice that /ʊ/ is high up and in the back. /ʌ/ is in the back, but it's much lower. It sounds like the singer of "Margaritaville" was therefore lowering the 'oo' vowel.

There are weird one-off pronunciations in many songs, but the thing is I swear I've heard it before. For one, I'm pretty sure this is an existing concept. I swear it's called "FOOT-lowering." If you're wondering why the word "FOOT" is there, it's because "FOOT" is a word that happens to have the vowel we're talking about (/ʊ/) and isn't easily confused for a different word. Googling FOOT-lowering doesn't get you anything about linguistics but rather about recovering from injuries. My recollection is that it's found in Southern dialects, but I haven't had much luck yet.

Off the top of my head, the songs I can think of with this pronunciation are "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" by Dr. Hook and "More Than a Woman" by the Bee Gees. All three of these songs have something in common - both of them have the stress fall on the 'wo' part of 'woman.' "Margaritaville" and "More Than A Woman" also have the high note on the 'wo' part. We know from past articles that stress and pitch can result in singers changing a vowel's place to be easier to sing. It seems that our twin suspects of stress and pitch, combined with pop music's penchant for borrowing features from Southern and African American Vernacular Dialects, might be to blame.

But here's the rub - this usage seems to be restricted to the 70s. "Margaritaville" was released in 1977. "When You're in Love With a Beautiful Woman" was released in 1976. "More Than A Woman" was released in 1977. While I feel like I've encountered other examples of this phenomenon, they've been songs from the 70s. Not the 60s or before, not the 80s or after. Is this a short-lived trend that caught fire in the mid-70s? Is it possibly related to the peak of disco music (only "More Than A Woman" can conceivably be called disco, but I think the Bee Gees used this pronunciation on other disco-era songs)? Why did it drop off so suddenly? This is one of my Unsolved Linguistic Music Mysteries (that could surely have a better name).

January 22, 2018

What is #AccentChallenge18 Testing?

Found an accent challenge on Twitter today. So an accent challenge, as any sort of 'challenge' on the internet, is like a game. The 'rules' are that you are given a list of words and you have to read these words aloud in your accent, then state where you're from. It's a fun way for social media users to find out what their followers sound like and where they're from, and it's especially popular to do accent challenges with a friend from a different location so that they can compare accents and tease the other for saying things differently. Every now and then someone will make their own list of words and start another accent challenge. My own contribution to this challenge can be found here.

In order to be interesting, accent challenges have to show differences between people's accents. To this end, they should pick words that are likely to have different phonetic realizations. 'Water' is a good one because it tests for three different things: (a) the /ɔ/ sound in water, (b) the /t/ sound appearing between vowels in water, and (c) the /r/ sound at the end of water. All three of these features can sound very different from one accent to another and are thus easy to compare. A good accent challenge should also have variety.

I decided to run through the list of words to see what they could possible be testing for. I also listened to some of the submissions in order to see which differences were being commented on. I've split into three categories. phonology, which tests how a vowel sounds in a particular accent or if some sounds are treated a certain way. Lexical items, which is individual words that sound different between accents, but that doesn't affect every word. For example,'again' rhymes with 'rain' in British English but it rhymes with 'pen' in American English. This only affects 'again' - 'rain' doesn't rhyme with 'pen' in American English, meaning that whatever caused 'again' to sound different in British and American English only affected that particular word. There's a further subdivision which is lexical items that are split between British and American varieties (most other dialects will follow either the British or American pronunciation). The last one is 'other', for words that test multiple things or which I could not figure out what they were testing.

What's Your Sound System?

  • caught, talk, thought: The sound being tested is /ɔ/. In British English and old General American these words have the same vowel as in 'bore'. It is increasingly common for Americans to pronounce this vowel to be the same as in spa [ɑ].
  • not, lost, dog, fond, on, coffee: /ɒ/. Most Americans do not have this sound and instead use [ɑ]. If you're an American and you'd like to know what [ɒ] sounds like, say 'ah' as if you were getting your teeth checked at the dentist, then round your lips. That is the sound many English speakers use in words that have an 'o'. 'on' and 'coffee' may have the /ɔ/ sound in some American accents.
  • bath, grass, dance, last, aunt: This is a distinction between flat a /æ/ and broad a /ɑ/. Southern England accents are more likely to use /ɑ/ in these words than Northern England. The vast majority of Americans use flat a in all of these. The exception is old Bostonians, who may use broad a in those words, and the word 'aunt' in particular, which is the only word in American English to frequently have a broad a version.
  • mirror: Do you have short i or long e /i/ before r /r/ sounds? Do you pronounce mirror with one syllable or with two? Do you pronounce /r/ at the end of a syllable?
  • cat: The flat a sound, /æ/.
  • fish, chips, win: The short i sound, /ɪ/.
  • sleep, dream, cheese: The long ee sound, /i/.
  • state, cake: The long a sound, /eɪ/.
  • duck, one: The 'uh' sound, /ʌ/.
  • friend: The short e sound, /ɛ/. Note that in Southern American dialects, /ɛ/ before a nasal consonant becomes /ɪ/, so friend sounds like 'frind.'
  • fried: Long i sound, /aɪ/.
  • probably, naturally: Do you pronounce the unstressed syllables in probably and naturally?
  • rotten: Do you pronounce the t sound /t/ as a glottal stop (the sound in between the vowels in 'uh-oh!') before nasal consonants?

Do you follow British or American pronunciations for these?

  • alumin(i)um: The British variant (and more popular worldwide) is aluminium [æ.lu'mɪ.nɪ.əm]. The American variant (and the older one) is aluminum [æ'lu.mɪ.nəm].
  • lieutenant: American pronunciation is based on the French, lootenant [lu'tɛ.nənt]. British pronunciation is very complicated: lefttenant /lɛf'tɛ.nənt/.
  • garage: American pronunciation [gə'rɑʒ] based on French, British pronunciation ['gæ.rədʒ] adapted to sound more English.
  • tomato: Americans use the 'ey' sound [təˈmeɪtoʊ], the British use a broad 'a' [təˈmɑːtəʊ].
  • herbs: American pronunciation based on the older pronunciation [ɜrb], British pronunciation based on the spelling [hɜrb].
  • scone: Americans rhyme it with cone [skoʊn], Brits rhyme it with on [skɒn].
  • process: Brits use [ˈprəʊ.sɛs], Americans use [ˈprɑs.ɛs]

How do you say these particular words?

  • water: can test for how [ɔ] is pronounced, but there's also a pronunciation 'wooter' [wʊtər].
  • roof: long oo [ruf] vs shot u [rʊf]. The latter is more popular in Britain.
  • iron: aiern [aɪ.ərn] vs iron [aɪ.rən]
  • salmon: sammon [sæ.mən] vs salmon [sæl.mən].
  • caramel: Tests for whether you say 'caramel' with a flat a as in 'cat' [kærəmɛl] or as an 'eh' like kept [kɛrəmɛl]. Also tests for whether you pronounce the middle syllable or not [kɛrmɛl]. There is also a variant car-mel [kɑrmɛl].
  • route: Does it sound like root [rut] or rout [raʊt]?
  • lawyer: law-yer [lɔ.jər] vs loy-yer [lɔɪ.ər]
  • coupon: coopon /kupɒn/ vs kyoo /kjupɒn/.
  • mayonnaise: mayonnaise [meɪ.jə.neɪz] vs man-naise [mæn.eɪz].
  • pajamas: pa-jam-as /pə'dʒæ.məz/ vs pajahmas /pə'dʒɑ.məz/.
  • envelope: The first syllable is the variable one. En-velope [ɛn.və.loʊp] vs ahn-velope [ɑn.və.loʊp].
  • been: bin [bɪn] vs ben [bɛn] vs bean [bin].
  • again: agen [ə.gɛn] (most American) vs agin [ə.gɪn] (Southern American) vs againe [ə.geɪn] (primarily British).
  • milk: 'milk' [mɪlk] is the most common, but 'melk' [mɛlk] (primarily Canadian) and 'malk' [mælk], [mɑlk] (regional American) are also variants.

Other

  • theater: The older pronunciation of this word is /ˈθɪ.ə.tə(ɹ)/, theeyater. Some people are eliding the 'uh' sound to have /ˈθɪ:tə(ɹ)/. There is also an alternate pronunciation, /ˈθi.eɪ.tɚ/ thee-ay-ter.
  • bacon, beer can: The fact that these words show up next to each other makes me think it's related to the Tumblr post that says beer can in a british accent sounds like 'bacon' in a jamaican accent.
  • Alabama: Only thing I can think of is 'Alabammy.'
  • potato, barbie, doorknob, nearly, near, disenchanted, cinema, copper, epitome: I'm not sure of the purpose of these.

Overall this was alright. The words in the 'other' section seem to have been selected rather haphazardly. I'm also not sure why there was both 'near' and 'nearly.' It's a fun enough trend. Comment below if you have any explanation for the 'other' or if you have another pronunciation for some of these words not listed here.

January 17, 2018

Wow!

Yesterday I shared my Dialect Dissection article on Taylor Swift on some platforms, and wow! I was utterly blown away by the response. I'd been thinking that long-form articles with this level of multimedia wouldn't be attractive, that the subject was too niche. Instead I've received tons of wonderful comments, encouragement, and suggestions. I've had some thought-provoking conversations with some of you on how to improve this. Firstly, thank you all so much for taking time out of your day to read my article. I appreciate it immensely. If this is your first time here (and it probably is), I recommend checking out my other long-form articles on why pop singers say babih or babay and the history behind 'daddy' as a slang term.

Secondly, the Dropbox links are down. I had no idea I would have that many people listening to a page! I will be looking into options with more bandwidth immediately. I've been told the IPA audio samples don't work in Safari, so I will also be troubleshooting that for my Apple-using friends. If you encounter any other technical errors, please let me know.

Thirdly, I've begun work on the second Dialect Dissection article! I've already received a lot of suggestions for future articles. Some are ones that I've already got on the list, others are new. Due to the sheer immensity of the Dialect Dissection project, which requires listening to an artist's entire discography, researching their career, selecting the best samples, etc. I cannot get to every suggestion given to me. I will do my best to give every artist a serious look, though, and consider their appropriateness for the project.

If this is your first time here, I hope you'll keep coming back. You can get updates via RSS feed, or you can follow me on social media. Currently I'm using Twitter, but I'll be expanding to other social media networks in the future. If you read me New Year's post, you'll see I'm still working out a release schedule for articles. My current goal is to post once a month and move more frequently from there. If you're not in the mood for long-form all the time, don't worry - I post small articles in between long-form articles as a palate cleanser.

Once again, thank you all so much for checking out this passion project of mine. I hope you'll stick around, because there's more where that came from. See you soon!

- Karen

January 11, 2018

Dialect Dissection: Taylor Swift and Genre Hopping

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to make a series on how singers use dialect in their music to different ends and how it affects their perception. Taylor Swift was always my first choice, though my first attempt at writing about it was, eh, not that great. One year and one new album later, I've completely reworked it. I'd like to introduce Dialect Dissection, a series that looks at how accent and dialect appear in pop music. I'm going to be covering several artists throughout the year, and I welcome suggestions for artists and the series.

Today's topic is former country star and current pop star Taylor Swift. If you have no idea who she is, let me catch you up - Taylor Swift is a singer/songwriter who started making country music and became famous by capitalizing on the heretofore-unexploited teenage girl country fan demographic. She starting transitioning to pop in 2012 with her critically-acclaimed album "Red," and in 2014 completely cut ties with country by releasing a full-blown (and extremely successful) pop album, "1989." She released a new pop album last year, "Reputation," which deals with her media entanglements as well as her more traditional topics like love.

The reason Taylor was my first choice for this series is that Taylor’s eras have been marked by an acute awareness of the sociolinguistic importance of using the appropriate accent in each musical context. Translated back to English, this means Taylor knows that people expect certain genres to sound certain ways, and she’s played along by incorporating aspects of those accents into her own vocal performance. It's like choosing the right costume, except for her voice. Let's look chronologically through her discography. Note that if you don't understand the sound symbols in brackets [] and slashes //, you can click the 🔊 symbol and you can hear a recording of the sound by itself and the sound in a word.

Speak Now - In The Right Accent (2006-2012)

Taylor Swift fell in love with country music at a young age. She fell in love with it so hard that her schoolmates bullied her about it. She loved the storytelling of Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and the Dixie Chicks, and she knew she wanted to be the same type of artist.

Now there’s an interesting wrinkle in this. A lot of famous country singers, like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Willie Nelson, came from poor and/or rural areas in the American South. Taylor Swift was born in the Northeast to two wealthy parents and lived on a Christmas tree farm. Her own accent is not particularly distinctive, sounding very much like what is called "General American." But when she recorded her first album, she put on a fake Southern accent. She continued using this accent up until "Red," which was her last country album.

  • /aɪ/ 🔊 → [aː] 🔊 : In General American, the "ai" sound (/aɪ/) is a diphthong, meaning it's made of two vowels. In Southern English, it's one long vowel ([a:]). This means "ride" (/raɪd/) sounds a little like "rad" ([ra:d]) (Source). This is the most common Southern feature she uses, being found on all four of her country albums.
    • "I was right there beside him." - Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift
    • "For quite some time time time" - Stay Stay Stay, Red
  • /æ/ 🔊 → [ɛ(j)ə]) 🔊 : In General American, the "aa" sound like in "bad" (/bæd/) is one vowel made with the tongue flat on the bottom of the mouth. In Southern English, it's a diphthong with the tongue raised a little, so it sounds like "beh-add" ([bɛəd]) (Source). She uses this feature pretty liberally throughout her country albums.
    • "Wishing you never found out that love could be that strong." - Red, Red
  • /ɛ/ 🔊 → [e(j)ə]) 🔊 : In Gen. American, the short "eh" sound like in "bet" (/bɛt/) is one vowel made with the tongue low in the mouth. In Southern English, the tongue is raised so that it almost sounds like "bit" or "beyt" ([bet]) (Source). This feature becomes much rarer after her first album.
    • "I hope you think that little black dress" - Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift
  • /ɪ/ 🔊 → [iə]) 🔊 : In General American, the short "i" sound like in "bit" (/bɪt/) is one vowel made with the tongue held loosely. In Southern English, it's a diphthong with the tongue held tensely. This means "bit" can sound more like "beeyit" ([biət]) (Source). This feature becomes much rarer after her debut album.
    • "I was right there beside him." - Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift
  • /aʊ/ 🔊 → [æʊ] 🔊 : the tongue is more pushed forward when Southerners say "au," so "bow" like "take a bow" (/baʊ/) sounds like 'bAAH-uu' ([bæʊt]). She uses this one fairly frequently.
    • "They're trying to tell me how to feel." - Love Story, Fearless
    • "I said we should talk about it." - Stay Stay Stay, Red
  • Pin-pen merger: most English dialects differentiate the the vowels in 'dress' [ɛ] and 'kit' [ɪ] when they appear before 'n' and 'm'. This means 'pin' /pɪn/ 🔊 and 'pen' /pɛn/ 🔊 sound different. In Southern accents, they sound the same, so 'pen' and 'pin' both sound like 'pin' ([pɪn]), and 'hem' and 'him' both sound like 'him' ([hɪm]) (Source). This is one of the rarest features in Taylor Swift's oeuvre.
    • "Twenty-two." - 22, Red
  • /ʌ/ 🔊 → [ɜ] 🔊 : The 'uh' vowel as in bug, luck, strut, etc., sounds like [ɜ] or [ə], a sound similar to British 'er'. It is higher in the mouth (Source). This one is more common in her early albums, becoming comparatively rarer over time.
    • "Just a boy in a Chevy truck." - Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift
  • /u/ 🔊 → [ʉ] 🔊 : Normally for the long 'oo' vowel (in goose or true), the tongue is in the back. Southern accents move the tongue forward in the mouth so it sounds kind of like 'ew' [ʉ] (Source). This feature appears pretty evenly among her country albums.
    • "You, with your words like knives." - Mean, Speak Now
    • "I gotta have you." - 22, Red

Curiously enough, it gets harder to find examples of some of these features as her musical career progresses. Some of the more stigmatized features, like pronouncing short 'i' as a dipthong (/ɪ/ → [iə]), are almost dropped after the first album. She also does not use all of the features all of the time; e.g. not every instance of long 'i' gets turned into 'aa' (/aɪ/ → [aː]). It appears that as her career solidified, she no longer felt she had to imitate the accent so strongly, and so she both dropped some of the features and began to alternate between General American and Southern accents. Taylor appears to be aware of her own performative Southern-ness. In her self-satirizing video for "Look What You Made Me Do," she lines up multiple "Taylors" at the end, each one representing a different period of her life. The Taylor representing the Fearless era simply says “y’all!” - the famously Southern second-person plural pronoun (Bernstein, 2003).

Taylor is far from the only country singer to fake a Southern accent. Some country singers are actually from the South and their singing accent is their real accent (Dolly Parton, Luke Bryan). Others are from the South but don't have a strong regional accent, like Faith Hill. Then there's those who aren't from the South at all, like Shania Twain (Canadian), Anne Murray (Canadian), Olivia Newton-John (Australian), and Bonnie Tyler (Welsh). Some of these, like Anne Murray, don't bother faking an accent, but others, like Taylor's idol Shania Twain, put on an "appropriate" singing accent. We don't know if Taylor had any accent coaching, but it's more likely that she simply caught on to the fact that country singers "sound" a certain way. Country music is not the only genre where people change their pronunciations to fit a "sound" - looking at you, pop music.

Some Taylor fans are defensive of Taylor's accent, saying that it's her real accent because Pennsylvania is rural, Pennsylvania is part of the South, she grew up on a farm, accents rub off on you, etc. There's a very simple way to see if this is Taylor's "real" accent or not - does she still have the accent when she's speaking? When you look at her interviews, she does not have any of these features, and we shouldn't expect her to! These are features of working/middle class Southerners. Taylor's family is upper middle class and she lived in the urban parts of Berk County, Pennsylvania: Reading and Wyomissing (Conroy, 2016). The simplest explanation is that Taylor did what Shania Twain did, and put on an accent to fit the music she sang. No shame in that.

Like, Oh My God (2012-present)

When Taylor dipped her toe into making pop music on Red, she didn’t use a Southern accent (with the exception of 22, which still straddles the country-pop genre). Southern accents are unmarked in country music - nobody notices it. Southern accents in pop music, however, are very much marked. There’s a joke that goes “country music is just rock music from 20 years ago with a twang.” In other words, the mere presence of a Southern accent in a song is enough to shift its genre. If she was going to crossover into pop domination, she would have to find a new accent. Lucky for her, she already spoke it. For the most part, she simply shed her Southern affectations and used General American pronunciations. She did, however, add some non-neutral features.

Taylor's pop songs are marked by several features associated with young, urban women: using ‘like’ in a non-comparative fashion, liberal usage of slang, a wide range of intonation patterns, etc. This form of talking is looked down upon by many older folks as frivolous and silly, and appropriately enough she uses these features mostly on humorous or tongue-in-cheek songs: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Shake It Off, and Blank Space. Rarely, you'll find some of these features in other songs later country material.

  • Use of "like" as a quotative or filler. This usage is particularly despised and misunderstood by people.
    • "And so he calls me up and he's like, I still love you, and I'm like... this is exhausting, we are never getting back together, like ever." - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Red
    • "Saying this is it, I've had enough, cuz like, we hadn't seen each other in a month." - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Red
    • "My ex-man brought his new girlfriend, she's like oh my God." Shake It Off, 1989
    • "Keep you second-guessing like, oh my God, who is she?" - Blank Space, 1989
  • Use of vocal fry: a creaky sound in the voice. It's common among young women, and Britney Spears popularized its use in pop music.
    • "I can make the bad guys good for a weekend." - Blank Space, 1989
    • "Won't you come on over baby we can shake, shake, shake" - Shake It Off, 1989
    • "He's so bad but he does it so well." - Wildest Dreams, 1989
    • "He's so bad... but he does it so well." - Wildest Dreams, 1989
  • The phrase "Oh My God" is associated with Valley girls (MacNeil, 2005).
    • "Oh my God, look at that face." - Blank Space, 1989
    • "Keep you second-guessing like oh my God, who is she?" - Blank Space, 1989
    • "My ex-man brought his new girlfriend, she's like oh my God." - Shake It Off, 1989
  • Intonation that changes quickly.
    • "She looks at me like I'm a trend and she's so over it." - Better Than Revenge, Speak Now
    • "Who's Taylor Swift anyway? Ew." - We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Red
    • "My ex-man brought his new girlfriend; she's like oh my God." - Shake It Off, 1989

After the 2009 VMAs incident with Kanye West, she came under increased media scrutiny. Her boyfriends were no longer anonymous schoolmates but high-profile celebrities, so songs written about them became fodder for tabloids and were viewed as musical hit pieces. She started gaining a reputation as a crazy man-hunter who chased after famous men, only to write vindictive break-up songs once the relationship ended... and making a profit in the meantime. She became self-conscious about how the media portrayed her, and appeared to launch pre-emptive strikes on herself: on Mean, she says "You have pointed out my flaws again as if I don't already see them;" on 22, a background vocal features a self-styled 'cool kid' who makes fun of her: "who's Taylor Swift anyway, ew;" We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together has her sarcastically proclaim that her ex's indie record is "much cooler than [hers]." This culminated in 1989's "Shake It Off," where she claims she simply ignores the gossip that she "stays out too late" and has "nothing on [her] brain." "Blank Space" is similar, featuring her as a self-aware man-hunter going through the paces.

Her use of a Valley Girl accent appears to be a way to both portray people she finds snobbish (the man-stealer in "Better Than Revenge;" the cool kids in "22") and to mock herself by purposefully invoking the stereotype of the ditzy, boy-obsessed Valley Girl (Blank Space, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Shake It Off). Interestingly enough, linking these two personas with the same accent has the unintended affect of linking her with them as well. She started being portrayed as a cool kid with a 'squad' instead of the relatable girl next door, and tabloids didn't stop covering her high-profile relationships with the same old tropes. Her schtick about being self-aware of her own flaws and highlighting worked... until it suddenly didn't. If being the vocal-frying like-using ironic Valley Girl wasn't working and she couldn't go back to the ai-monophthongizing Innocent Country Girl, where could she turn? She could use General American, which she did. But she didn't just use her General American accent.

...Are You Ready For It? (2017)

There was nothing linguistically notable about the lead single from "Reputation," “Look what you made me Do.” The follow-up promo single, however, surprised everyone, because it seemed to feature Taylor Swift… rapping? Okay, she wasn’t actually rapping, but she was doing this sort of rhythmic sing-talking thing that was definitely influenced by rap. It had some African American Vernacular features, some Caribbean English features, but juxtaposed this against her valley girl-ish accent when she says “but he act like such a man so [...] he can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor, every love I’ve known in comparison is a failure." This was the preview to "Reputation," her latest album and the second one in the pop vein.

The album definitely has more urban notes in it. 16th-note hi-hats, autotune, vocoders, vocals used as rhythmic elements, 808s! It also borrows slightly from the "tropical" sound in "Delicate." This is an evolution from the pure pop Taylor of 1989. She also changed her promotional strategy to involve less interaction with media outlets. Fewer paparazzi shots, no interviews, only a couple of TV performances. If "1989" stuck its tongue out at the media, "Reputation" seems almost defeated with lyrics like "my reputation's never been worse," "they're burning all the witches even if you aren't one," and "my castle crumbled overnight." Her lyrics are more adult than her past albums, featuring more unabashed references to alcohol and sex. The old Taylor certainly can't come to the phone now.

Taylor has avoided doing interviews up until now, so we don't know who influenced this album or what her goal was. Nevertheless, it's not a coincidence that her edgiest album yet has hip-hop influences. Other artists who have done the same include Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus. Unlike the aforementioned artists, Taylor only dipped her toe musically into hip-hop, r&b, and "tropical" styles. This is reflected in her accent, which is mostly General American, but with a few features from African American Vernacular English and Caribbean English. This has not gone unnoticed: some have commented that she sounds like Rihanna, some have criticized her usage of hip-hop and the below features as appropriative, and some have merely noticed that she's not sounding the same. Taylor is not committed to her new influences in the same way she was committed to country; she's taking aspects of it to make her brand of synth-pop edgier (this is problematic, as that article explains).

  • Dropping the verb 'to be' in sentences like "where (are) you at?". This is called "zero copula" and can be found in African American Vernacular (as well as languages like Russian).
    • "Dive bar on the East Side - where you at?" - Delicate, Reputation
  • The use of the word 'chill' as an adjective meaning 'alright' or 'acceptable' is from African American Vernacular, as is the form 'gon' for 'gonna'.
    • "Is it chill that you're in my head?" - Delicate, Reputation
    • "I see how this is gon' go." - ...Ready For It?, Reputation
  • Instead of pronouncing 'oh' as a diphthong with a 'w' sound at the end [oʊ] 🔊, she pronounces it as a pure vowel with no 'w' [o:] 🔊. This is common in Caribbean varieties of English. (Filppula, 2017)
    • "But if he's a ghost, then I can be a phantom." - ...Ready For It?, Reputation
    • "No one has to know." - ...Ready For It?, Reputation
    • "Oh damn never seen that color blue." - Delicate, Reputation
  • Instead of pronouncing 'ey' as a diphthong with a 'y' sound at the end [eɪ] 🔊, she pronounces it as a pure vowel with no 'y' [e:] 🔊. This is common in Caribbean varieties of English. (Filppula, 2017)
    • "Baby let the games begin." - ...Ready For It?, Reputation

But She Fell in Love with an English Man

One final piece of dialect-borrowing is much more personal. Some fans have noticed that there seems to be some English slang in "Reputation." There's also references to Taylor's nationality in "King of my Heart" and to a lover's accent in "Gorgeous." These would be innocuous were it not for the fact that Taylor's boyfriend at the time of album release was Joe Alwyn, English actor. Her prior relationship was with another English actor, Tom Hiddleston; "Getaway Car" is rumored to be about him. Perhaps her lack of t-flapping in the final line of the chorus ("we're driving the geddaway [gɛɾəweɪ] car" vs "nothing good starts in a gettaway [gɛtəweɪ] car") is a reference to Hiddleston. She's also imitated an English accent before, when making fun of English ex Harry Styles. Maybe hanging around so many Englishmen caused the accent to rub off on her. This is "convergence," a phenomenon where we change our speech to sound more like our speech partner's (Turner, 2010). We are more likely to converge with someone if we are attracted to them - note Taylor has been romantically linked to three Englishmen. Now, it's possible she just thought it sounded cool. Either way, it's an interesting departure from her previous use of accent because it's very personal and not related to genre or public perception. In other words, it is - ironically - divorced from a genre's reputation.

  • Use of English slang like "fit," which means "attractive."
    • "My baby's fit like a daydream." - Call It What You Want, Reputation
  • Using pronunciations that are specific to England.
    • "The Range Rovers and the Jag-u-ars [dʒæ.gju.ɑrz]." - King of my Heart, Reputation
  • Pronouncing 't's as glottal stop. A glottal stop is the sound you hear in 'uh-oh' between 'uh' and 'oh'. South England varieties of English often replace 't's 🔊 in the middle of words with glottal stops 🔊.
    • "Bass beat ra'-uh-lin' [ræʔəlɪn] the chandelier." - This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things, Reputation
  • Instead of pronouncing a /t/ as a d sound in the middle of a word (this is called t-flapping) like Americans 🔊, she uses the full value of the the 't' 🔊 as in 'posh' Southern English accents. (Trudgill, 1984)
    • "No nothing good starts in a gettaway [gɛtəweɪ] car." - Getaway Car, Reputation
  • Additionally, she makes references to accents and to nationality.
    • "You should take it as a compliment that I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk." - Gorgeous, Reputation
    • "Salute to me, I'm your American queen." - King of my Heart, Reputation

Conclusion

Many - perhaps most - singers will pick one accent and stick with it for the rest of their career. Taylor Swift, an outsider to country and rhythmic music, chose to imitate icons of each genre in order to blend into the sound. She effectively camouflaged the parts of her upbringing that were foreign to country music in order to sell the notion that she belonged in the genre. Perhaps this is why, as a young teenager, she felt confident enough to call an ex-lover a "redneck heartbreak" despite her own reality of driving a Lexus instead of a pick-up truck. When she no longer had anything to prove, she dialed back many of the linguistic features she used in her first album. The fake rural accent turned into a twangy coloring, and she realized she didn't have dig into the Deepest South to sound "authentic."

Her forays into pop music show her abandoning her imaginary Southern heritage in favor of exaggerating her own reality as a young, female urbanite. Her record-breaking '1989' placed her in a tradition of anonymously-accented female singers. When she embarked upon another reinvention that drew from trap and trop house, she must have drawn from the lesson she learned after her first album: you don't have to use every feature of an accent to be effective. She imitated singers like Rihanna in slight ways. She even made her own inside jokes about her British boyfriend by injecting small doses of Anglicisms into her songs. Overall, her accent went from a long list of features to something that she downplayed.

The lessons to other singers: there's nothing wrong with imitating the idols of a genre as long as you keep your theatrical impulses in check. You can use accents artistically by drawing on stereotypes associated with that accent, as Taylor did when using Valley Girl affectations. It's also important to be sensitive to cultural concerns associated with particular accents, as we saw in the Reputation era. If you can navigate accent usage intelligently, it can be another trick in your creative bag.

What did you think about Taylor's accent-switching? Do you agree that her Southern accent got lighter over time? Is there another accent she's used I may have missed? And also, please post your suggestions for the next Dialect Dissection in the comments!

References

  1. Bernstein, Cynthia. "Grammatical Features of Southern speech: Yall, Might could, and fixin to". English in the Southern United States, 2003, pp. 106 Cambridge University Press
  2. Conroy, Tyler. "Taylor Swift: This Is Our Song." 2016, pp. 154
  3. Filppula, Markku; Klemola, Juhani; Sharma, Devyani. "The Oxford Handbook of World Englishes." 2017, pp. 501
  4. MacNeil, Robert & Cran, William. "Do You Speak American?" 2005, pp. 155
  5. Schneider, Edgar W. "The Americas and the Caribbean." 2008, pp. 72
  6. Trudgill, Peter. "Language in the British Isles." 1984, pp. 56
  7. Turner, Lynn H.; West, Richard. "Communication Accommodation Theory". Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application (4th ed.). 2010.

Acknowledgements

A special thank you to Maithili Jais, Yadira Capaz, and the other proofreaders who helped make this article possible. You're the best!

January 4, 2018

Happy New Year, 2018

Happy new year, friends! Insert obligatory statement about how time passes really quickly. I swear it was just 2016 and I was swearing to write one article per month for this blog. Looking at the archive, I see I posted six articles in four non-contiguous months. Much better than 2016, where I wrote one article and made one (bad) video. What lies ahead for 2018?

Well, I started this blog in my last year of college because I was worried nobody would hire me upon graduation and I needed a portfolio. I wrote ten articles and ideas for articles and published one of them. My notion for the blog was very vague - I was going to write about linguistics... in "real life." Gretchen McCullough of All Things Linguistic (great person, wonderful blog, please check it out) had cornered the market on "fun linguistics for linguists," but I thought linguistics could be made understandable for the layman while still being enjoyable for the expert. I also wanted each one of my articles to be long and in-depth, like "Oh Babih, Babay" and "The Deal with Daddy." This clashed with the notion that I could put out an article every month, because it took me several months to do all the research for that article, condense it into a readable length, and select relevant multimedia clips. If I could have done both those things - make a broad, pop linguistics blog with relatively frequent long-form articles, I would have created my dream blog.

Unfortunately this is not a very realistic goal. The practical realization of my resolution was "do a lot of research on these topics every month and tweak the article." I have forty-something drafts right now and am sitting on another long-form article that I'm putting bells and whistles on. You can't get an audience without consistent content production, and my goals were directly counterproductive to that. Realistic concession number one - do shorter articles (like whomst and Amewican Teen). Realistic concession number two - limit my scope. The linguistics of everyday life requires knowledge in many subfields of linguistics and I am not equally versed in all of them. It also requires knowledge about, well, everyday life, which is so broad a topic as to be meaningless. The actual result was "blog about whatever curio crosses your mind." I've decided to narrow the focus significantly for now onto a field I'm pretty confident in - music and linguistics. As this blog finds its identity, the focus will undoubtedly shift. I think this is a good place for now.

I've been creating content online for thirteen years, but I've never been able to get a following. Part of this is that I would erase all my old material and old identities due to them being old shame, which prevented the few people who liked each thing from following me. Another is that I didn't interact with other creators for various silly reasons. Did you know that good content will not automatically attract consumers? Tell that to teenage me, who wrote pages upon pages of material on some pseudonymous blog and was frustrated people did not magically show up. My goal, then, is to interact with other creators and learn about the community (yes, there is a lingblogging community!), and to promote my work and be proud of it even if it's not absolutely positively perfect.

Finally, writing a bunch and talking to people does not mean a lot if what I'm saying isn't useful or correct. To this end, I also want to improve my knowledge and skills. That means reading more in-depth material on linguistics and music. That means a lot of practice and re-writing to make well-written articles. That means learning skills to analyze more interesting data or present it in a more readable way. I'm already well on my way with this in that I have a ton of books on articles I want to write ;) but I also have to read them and then write write write about them.

2017 had a lot of behind the scenes work on this blog. I hope 2018 can be the year that work becomes visible and public. I'd get more specific (after all, specific goals are better than nebulous ones), but I'd prefer to keep that a secret for now. Just keep in mind that this blog will get busier this coming year. I'm serving long-form multimedia articles. I'm serving short observations. I'm serving social media (follow me on Twitter, @kbr_tweets). I hope you'll join me on this journey and learn some cool linguistics stuff in the meanwhile.

- Karen