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January 23, 2023

The Carpenters Take On Californian Accents

The "Oldie but goodie" soft rock/pop/middle-of-the-road band "Carpenters" seems to have been tinged by nostalgia since it began. Active from 1969 to 1983, the band was fronted by Karen Carpenter, a singer with a contralto voice as well as an underutilized drumming talent. Her brother, Richard Carpenter, was also in the band, and provided harmonies and occasional lead.

The siblings were late baby boomers, with Karen born in 1950 and Richard in 1946. They were born in Connecticut but grew up in Los Angeles, California. Despite this, they provide a comical attempt at imitating a Californian accent. When covering the song "Fun Fun Fun", they decided to pay homage to the original band (The Beach Boys) and their Californian roots by imitating some kind of 'surfer' accent. Richard takes lead on this song and gives us these deviations from his typical accent:

  • æ-tensing, where the sound 'an' and 'am' become diphtongs. Richard tries an exaggerated version: "Well she got her daddys car and she flew to the hamburger st[ɪa]nd now"
  • Just a line later, he forgets his commitment to the accent and uses a pure æ instead:

  • "Seems she forgot all about the library like she told her old m[æ]n now"
  • But he remembers by the next line that he's playing a character:

  • "Goes cruising just as fast as she [kɪan] now"
  • The song is abridged, so we cut to the final verse, where he shows us one more trick - u-fronting, or at least his attempt at it.

  • "We got a lot of things to d[ɪu] now"
  • There is, otherwise, not much to say about the Carpenters. Karen preserves the COT-CAUGHT distinction. This may be something she preserved from her New England uprising, as elder baby boomer Brian Wilson (of Beach Boys fame), who was born and raised in California, already has the merger.

  • "Can't laugh and I can't w[o]lk, finding it hard even to t[o]lk"
  • She also distinguishes between 'w' and 'whine' - the WINE-WHINE distinction - on Desperado:

  • "[h]wy don't you come to your senses"
  • This is an affectation, as she doesn't keep this consistently.

  • "You must know [w]at I'm going through"
  • Otherwise, there is little of sociolinguistic interest on the Carpenters' songs. They, especially Karen, stuck to the conventions of beautiful singing for their time. Noticeably, despite dipping their toes into rock, Karen doesn't affect a Black American accent to the extent most rock groups did. An example of that will be covered in a future post.

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