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September 29, 2022

A Research Question

I'm not going to be able to get the article I wanted out before the end of the month (work, school, and volunteering will do that to you), buuut I wanted you all to know that there are articles in the pipeline. Classic rock has been on my mind for a while now, being the genre that sort of sparked my interest in the question "why and how can singers sing in an entirely different accent than their speaking one?" We more or less seem to have the answer, which is that singers copy linguistic features of other singers that they think are part of the genre. But I'd really like to elaborate on this:

  • How conscious are singers of these changes they're making?
  • Not everyone is good at copying accents, so how does natural talent play into which features get copied and which don't?
  • How do these features spread? i.e. which singers and records are 'vectors of transmission'?
  • When doing covers, most singers don't copy the accent of the original singer. What triggers the sense that "this song wouldn't be right without the accent"?
  • Once a singing-linguistic style becomes the norm in a genre, what has to happen for that norm to be challenged and change?

The sketch I have so far is something like this: at some point, a certain group of people with a consistent linguistic feature produces music. They use their own native variety because they're making music for themselves. This music is then carried across some kind of linguistic border and is introduced to an audience that is not familiar with the music.

The uniformity of the music and the language are noted by the new audience. Many of them find it so inspiring (bestowing status on the musicians) that they choose to make their own version. Some will try to make it speaking their own native variety, and some will try to imitate the accents. Depending on factors (how high status are the foreign musicians? is there a very strong sense of local pride?), the localized version or the foreign version may win out. If the foreign version wins out, it may then spread to across a different border, increasing the hegemonic sense that music produced in this genre must have that accent. Repeat.

I have some examples from non-music genres where something similar happens (the association between genre and variety is so strong that it even crosses the language boundary), but that will be for a different article, one probably much farther ahead in the future. There's a lot to potentially discuss (effects of recording media versus live performance, American hegemony, purposeful pushing back, variety spread as a type of cultural/soft power, questions of appropriation) and it's going to take a lot more work. But I wanted to get the question and my attempt at answering the question out.

Next semester I hope not to take any classes, which should give me a little more time to finish up the articles I do have. Pray no extra strange things happen.

- Karen

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