Dialect Dissection

Hello, and welcome to the Dialect Dissection series! Dialect Dissection is a series where I look at some person or some group's speech through a linguistic analysis. This means that we're going to be going into the nitty-gritty of sound and using linguistic terminology to accurately discuss what is going on in a person's speech. I select subjects that have some particularly interesting linguistic features going on that tell a story about them.

Dialect Dissection has been a series I've been wanting to do for a very long time. It was inspired by series like Diva Devotee's series on the voice types of singers. I wished there were a similar series for accent peculiarities of famous people. English dialectology has always been one of my favorite areas of interest in linguistics. I wanted to combat the notion that thanks to mass media, everybody nowadays "speaks the same" and regional dialects are dead or moribund. The truth is that people continue to speak differently from each other, just in ways that are less obvious to us. Moreover, traditional dialects may not be natively spoken as much, but they still have some sort of cultural meaning because people keep on using them. Another goal was to bring accuracy to description of speech. Most people who describe someone's speech use very vague terms like "drawl," "twang," "slur," "groan," etc. that can mean any number of things in reality. I wanted to up the rigor in popular depictions of speech by showing that far from being this amorphous immeasurable essence, it was a measurable phenomenon with specialized vocabulary that made it clear what it means to have a "drawl" or a "twang."

One of the defining features of Dialect Dissection is sound clips of the phenomena in question. I notice some sort of phenomenon, and then I go through various clips of someone speaking or singing until I find one that is a good representation of that phenomenon. I will use the International Phonetic Alphabet to describe what is going on, while also providing as much description as possible to make it clear to a layperson what is happening. I try to get a relatively representative sample throughout time if possible. This means that I always provide evidence of these speech occurrences instead of asking you to trust me that these things happen.

    Current Dialect Dissections

  • Taylor Swift: How does a singer go from using a Southern accent to Valley Girl and ultimately copping from African American vernacular? Taylor Swift provides an interesting look at how genre and dialect reinforce each other.
  • Lana Del Rey: The woman from upstate New York who sings like a hotdog vendor from Brooklyn. Lana Del Rey unmoors dialect from place and instead takes it into the realm of aesthetics.
  • Ariana Grande: Sings like an angel, but the words are unintelligible - what about Ariana Grande's singing makes her hard to understand?
  • Founding Fathers: What did the U.S. Founding Fathers really sound like? And what if we applied that pronunciation to the Declaration of Independence and the Hamilton musical?
  • Indie Girl Voice: What is indie voice? Is it only used by female singers? Where did it come from, and what can it tell us about how change is adopted?
  • Lady Gaga: Mother Monster changes her looks, dance moves, and voice with every new era.
  • The Beatles: The boys from Liverpool who changed music in the 60s. Were they repping their hometown or giving in to the American sound?

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