Why British Singers Lose Their Accents When Singing
Mick Jagger, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Ed Sheeran, Phil Collins and George Michael all grew up in or near London and have very recognizably British accents. Once on stage, they sing like someone who grew up in New England rather than old. Yet another example is Adele, who has a lovely speaking voice, a very heavy cockney accent, yet her singing pipes do not indicate her dialect. One might argue that Adele’s speaking and singing voices were two different people if listening without visuals. Going beyond the British, we see the same thing with other non-American musicians, such as the Swedish band ABBA, and many others singing in English, yet from various places around the world. It seems like no matter where you’re from, if you’re singing in English, you’re probably singing with an American accent, unless you’re actively trying to retain your native accent, which some groups do.
There are several reasons we notice accents ‘disappearing’ in song, and why those singing accents seem to default to “American”. In a nutshell, it has a lot to do with phonetics, the pace at which they sing and speak, and the air pressure from one’s vocal chords. As far as why “American” and not some other accent, it’s simply because the generic “American” accent is fairly neutral. Even American singers, if they have, for instance, a strong “New Yorker” or perhaps a “Hillbilly” accent, will also tend to lose their specific accent, gravitating more towards neutral English, unless they are actively trying not to, as many Country singers might.
For the specific details, we’ll turn to linguist and author, David Crystal, from Northern Ireland. According to Crystal, a song’s melody cancels out the intonations of speech, followed by the beat of the music cancelling out the rhythm of speech. Once this takes place, singers are forced to stress syllables as they are accented in the music, which forces singers to elongate their vowels. Singers who speak with an accent, but sing it without, aren’t trying to throw their voice to be deceptive or to appeal to a different market; they are simply singing in a way that naturally comes easiest, which happens to be a more neutral way of speaking, which also just so happens to be the core of what many people consider an “American” accent.
To put it in another way, it’s the pace of the music that affects the pace of the singer’s delivery. A person’s accent is easily detectable when they are speaking at normal speed. When singing, the pace is often slower. Words are drawn out and more powerfully pronounced and the accent becomes more neutral.
Another factor is that the air pressure we use to make sounds is much greater when we sing. Those who sing have to learn to breathe correctly to sustain notes for the right amount of time, and singing requires the air passages to expand and become larger. This changes the quality of the sound. As a result, regional accents can disappear because syllables are stretched out and stresses fall differently than in normal speech. So, once again, this all adds up to singing accents becoming more neutral.
So at this point, you might be wondering if the musicians actually know they are losing their accents when they sing. Working in radio, I’ve contemplated how accents seem to disappear over my 20-year career. Keith Urban isn’t British, though fans of the Aussie singer swoon over his speaking voice (many women could listen to him read the dictionary) and have noticed that he sounds more American when he sings. I have spoken to Keith a few times and decided the good-natured Keith wouldn’t mind me posing the question: How is it you sing differently than you talk? (Certainly not wanting to offend Keith, I began with a few genuine compliments admiring his genius guitar skills.) He took it all in stride, laughed, then responded, ‘I don’t know.’ (More like kneh-owww) ‘Good question,’ he said. Though I don’t think I have an accent. I think you do!’ It’s quite reasonable to believe that a Hoosier like me sounds a bit hillbilly to a guy from down under. Keith could not really explain the mystery behind it, and instead went on to explain why he was wearing black toenail polish the last time I chatted him up in person. (His wife, Nicole, has since been his inspiration to stop, he says.) So it would seem, that at least with this sample size of one, the artist in question is not aware of any accent change when he sings. So what about others?
Andy Gibson, a New Zealand researcher at AUT’s University Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication also believes the change in accent between speaking and singing is not a deliberate one, nor are artists even aware of the change. A 2010 study he conducted of singers with speaking accents showed indeed that they were not aware that they sounded any different; they felt they were singing naturally. Crystal says it is unusual for a singer to hold a regional accent through an entire song, resulting in what he calls ‘mixed accents’ for most.
And then there’s Kate Nash, the anti-norm. The English-singing sensation was an unknown until Lily Allen mentioned her on a MySpace page and now she boasts more than 100,000 followers on twitter. She didn’t know she had talent until she picked up her first guitar two years ago, and the rest is history. Nash has garnered success on the music charts, accent and all, and flat out refuses to even attempt to sing with an American accent. She makes no apologies for her background and even themes her lyrics toward an English audience. She is as English as tea in the afternoon and proud of bucking the trend that so many British artists seem to follow, whether intentionally, or more likely in most cases, not.
Thanks for reading this article! If you liked it, please share it. Also, here are a few more you might enjoy:
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- The “Ye” in Things Like “Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe” Should Be Pronounced “The”, Not “Yee”
- Why the British Pronounce “Z” as “Zed”
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- Why Some Countries Drive on the Right and Some Countries Drive on the Left
- Eeyore’s name is based off the British Cockney dialect version of the phrase “hee-haw”.
- The guy who did the voice for Optimus Prime also did the voice for Eeyore and was the first person to voice Nintendo’s Mario character.
- Similar to how their are numerous accents within the generic “American” accent, it’s not quite accurate to simply say “British accent”. There are quite a few British accents- an amazing amount actually, particularly considering the entire UK could fit into Texas, and England itself is only about the size of Alabama. A few of the most common “British accents” out there include: Cockney (which was butchered by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins), Estuary English (Southeast British), West Country (Southwest British), Midlands English, Northern England English, Geordie, and Welsh English, among many others.
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It’s a bit ethnocentric to say the American accent is a neutral one. Neutral to Americans, perhaps.
Maybe American songs are more prevalent and so are considered ‘standard’, or maybe it’s equally neutral sounding in most accents.
@John: It depends on your definitions and context. To linguists, it’s not ethnocentric at all, evidenced by the fact that both the linguists Crystal (Irish) and Gibson (New Zealand) both use the term “neutral”, as well as “homogenous”, here and equate it to the American accent. Certainly there is neutral British English and neutral Australian English and the like. But when linguists refer to global neutral English, this is more or less the generic American accent. Of course, there are numerous accents within America. But, as noted, even when those with heavy accents within America sing, they still generally default to mostly “neutral”. Essentially, when you lengthen out the pronunciation of words, all those singing in English usually speak with a very similar accent, which is thus considered “neutral”. What would be fascinating is to read a research paper on why exactly the generic North American accent has developed to be mostly neutral on the whole. I’ve not yet been able to find such a paper, unfortunately.
David Crystal is a Welsh linguist, not an Irish one, haha. His two main languages are English and Welsh. His accent when in interviews is a very melodic Welsh one, too.
Such misuse of the word “accent”. Shame! Accent refers to the effect of one language on another. The word this article is searching for is DIALECT. And by the way, with the American’s hard Rs (arrrrgh I’m a pirate), how is it neutral? I eliminate those Rs when I sing and adopt a sort of mid-atlantic sound, if not go full RP british (when I’m doing Opera). So not even some (at least this one) Americans retain their native accents when they sing.
You are not understanding what the author of the article is saying AND it is not dialect actually IT IS accent. Dialect is the words that one says while accent is how you PROUNONCE those words. Sheesh, get it right please.
“So not even some (at least this one) Americans retain their native accents when they sing”
and that is actually what he just said- and you sing opera?!!!! I certainly would not pay to hear you sing.
@John: And if you’re curious, neutral British English is known as the “Queen’s English” or “BBC English”. Neutral American English is known as “General American” or “Midland Accent”, owing to the fact that it’s the accent generally found in the regions around Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Illinois. And to be clear, there is still some debate among linguists whether it’s accurate to say that General American is the global neutral English accent today. But even those dissenters usually think that at some point General English will be global neutral, even if it’s not already, simply because the General American accent is what’s taught in the vast majority of countries in the world when teaching English, particularly in Asia, but also elsewhere. But, again, I’d love to read a paper on why General American is so globally neutral, seemingly by default. From Gibson (New Zealand), he states that General American is simply the “easiest” way to pronounce things, so when putting in extra pronunciation effort when singing, people naturally gravitate towards this. So, perhaps with the melting pot of America, and general lazy American pronunciation throughout its history, perhaps it just all shook out that way. But it would be fascinating to read a technical explanation from a linguist-historian on this matter.
Standard American English and Received Pronunciation (“BBC English”) are only “neutral” in the sense that they are socially perceived as the neutral, “default” variety. They got this way because they were the dialects of the most socially powerful groups (i.e.the upper-class southern English and Americans from the mid-Atlantic states). Other people adopted the accent to advance in society.
This is all just due to historical accident–if Manchester had become the capital of England 1000 years ago, instead of London, the queen would speak like Noel Gallagher. Global English sounds most like Standard American English because the US is the most powerful country in the world and people worldwide are exposed to American media, not because American English is inherently superior.
Also, the stereotype that American English is lazier than British English is baseless.You can find examples of “laziness” in any dialect–the British even leave whole syllables out of words like “category” and ‘literally”!
It is true that singing forces you to lose certain phonetic and phonological features you use in normal speech for the purposes of rhythm, melody, etc. But there’s no inherent reason for it to sound American overall.
It’s not anything of the sort Heilwig, the “most powerful and most influential” bunkum is delusional.
ENGLISH, i.e. correct English, spoken as the English of England speak it, is what permeates far more through the Globe (due to the Commonwealth) than the “Standard American Accent” nonsense ou spout.
For an English accent to be the “standard” or “most accepted” way speaking English, the accent has to be closest to the way the majority of people speak it. If you observe that the US has a population of roughly 320million and the UK has a population of about 65million; it is pretty clear that if there was a standard or neutral dialect of the English language, it would logically have to be Standard American. (P.S. You can not tell me that your common wealth nations like India, Canada, Australia, Etc. all share your accent. It’s comical to think that a Canadian or Australian accent sounds anywhere near the Standard British accent. Every nation and every region has its own way of speaking, and it is ridiculous that any one way of speaking can be considered most correct.)
English is correct in whatever way that YOU speak it, there are certain ways that people THINK are correct but that is a social construct only, it has nothing to do with “correctness”. You think in an outdated way and with some bias too. Standard American English and British RP English are no more correct than Ebonics or any other English dialect, it is your perception and bias that leads to this conclusion.
We don’t leave syllables out of words, you just assume we do. Personally, 90% of people I know pronounce every syllable in ca-te-go-ry and li-te-ra-lly.
Not every English person does, but I’ve heard some shortened words/combined syllables; same with every other language and the dialects thereof, it depends on the person. My stage dialects teacher always tried to get us to over-emphasize those traits, but I opt for a more realistic approach, to base it on the circumstances, and the character, and only use a different dialect if my own doesn’t work for the role.
I think you mean that the standard British accent is called the “Received Pronunciation,” not the “Queen’s English” or “BBC English,” both of which refer to the language.
I take great care to listen to people when they speak… Bottom line with all these back and forth discussions about Accent and dialect…RP English is a made up mispronunciation of English…end of story, it IS a defective way to speak…Shakespeare never spoke with a RP accent( Phoney Accent!, you have to be totally conscientious to speak like that, hence the loss of this accent when 99% percent of English sing).
If anyone out there is going to debate this, please do so after looking up Rhotacism!
Poor little letter R…being replaced with a a string of H’s…The more H’s the more Oxford/Cambridge we can sound…Octobuhhh, Novembuhhh, haihhh( did you mean Hair Suhhhh…
In the United States we have the New Englanders pahhhking the cahhhh by the yahhhd…
This is not Rhotic English, proper English, and indicates a poor education, not that that is true…
How CNN, an American Station has proliferated BBC style Rhotacism on the world is beyond explanation…
To use a language is to be understood by listener, not to be envied by the listener because you are somehow superior to them.
Rhotacism is a speech IMPEDIMENT , not a badge of honor, look the word up… It started at the time of the American Revolutionary War, hence the impossibility that Shakespeare spoke so poorly.
That’s a good point, John. American accents may be “neutral” to Americans but, they are certainly not to English and other British people. They are as distinctive as other, non-English and non-British, foreign accents.
It’s just another example of American arrogance, thinking that the whole world revolves around their country and that somehow, they own the English language. Here’s a free bit of advice for the article’s author and any other ethnocentric Americans. The English language does not come from America. It comes from England in the UK. The clue is in the name!
An actual, neutral English would be more like English pronunciation in England, without a regional accent.
And you get your linguistics degree from ….. where? smh
Hey Im an American and I dont think the world revolves around me and I dont know anybody that does you must be talking about a diffrent America! The only time I have seen fellow “And they arent my fellows” Americans conducting themselves in that manner is when I see them on TV! Rhose people Piss me off too!! I’m sorry that those people have made you think that we are a nation of Arrogant Pieces of S__ t! The next time I run into one of those people, if I ever do I will personally tell them to F__k Off for you because I guarantee they piss me off just as much as they seem to piss you off! Your friend Dennis in Florida
Dennis! I don’t know why I found this comment adorable but I did- and not at all in a condescending way.
I am Australian, and I will admit that growing up with a range of television from around the world, it is a stereotype that Americans are a little on the self-absorbed side, but to put your mind at ease I wouldn’t worry too much about that perception. With all stereotypes come the good and the bad. Americans can also be seen as larger then life characters, which is a great stereotype to have. Just the same as the ‘Posh’ English accent can be seen as attractive or high class, but also can be seen as snooty or rude. And it continues on-
Australians I’ve heard can be stereotyped as drunks, idiots, bogans, but also friendly and laid-back. Every accent, every culture has its stereotypes, but I don’t worry to much about that. I know that if a person is truely good, then it doesn’t matter what culture/country they come from. A person should only be judged on how they treat others, not where they are located. In the end, that’s all that matters.
Thanks for making my day Dennis!
Tchristy, this argument about who speaks “correct” English is ignorant. It completely ignores linguistics and how language evolves. It also ignores how differently the various groups of people in England alone speak English. You are basically asserting that, however it is spoken, it is only correct or “neutral” if it is being done somewhere in England, no matter how different it may sound from one part of the country to another. Truthfully, there is no one “correct” accent or dialect. This applies to spelling differences as well as those are artificial conventions.
There is, as far as linguists know, only one place in the world that might have an accent which is the closest to how English was spoken in the early colonial era, before accents began to diverge. That place is in the Tidewater area of Virginia in the USA on Tangier Island, a small community that has been very isolated until relatively recently. It is thought that their accent is close to Restoration Era English, which is how people in England would have spoken in the 17th century.
Frankly, the Tangier accent doesn’t sound to me like any English spoken anywhere else in modern times. But it is closer to Canadian and American than it is to modern British English. This is due to the fact that modern British English has changed significantly in the last few centuries, switching from a predominately rhotic pronunciation to a largely non-rhotic pronunciation. Even as recently as the 1950s, much of southern England (south and west of London) fully pronounced most “r’s”. The fact that the geographically distant Canada and United States didn’t follow this trend shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
Lastly, I would suspect that the neutrality of American and Canadian English might have something to do with a fresh infusion of the language that English largely evolved from: German. North America had many German immigrants during both it’s colonial period and the post-revolutionary USA period. It isn’t far-fetched to think that this perhaps has had a “neutralizing” effect on English pronunciation, as settlements of mixed populations came to a common dialect over a few generations. There are direct examples of phrases, words, and pronunciations in places like southern Ohio and Pennsylvania that can clearly be traced to the German language.
I think I have to disagree with you, respectively of course. The American accent to my knowledge has evolved primarily from the large influx of Irish migrants that helped to form the great melting pot of America. I would agree with this as even though the American accent and the Irish accent sound completely different when side by side, both accents over pronounce their words. And I don’t entirely understand your point of the American accent being the closest form to the oldest English accent? The American accent has evolved after a great deal of time, from a melting pot of accents. It’s something to be proud of, but nothing close to the English accent from many years ago. The same as the Australian accent is not at all close to the old English accent. It also has evolved from a great melting pot of cultures and accents, all stuck on a great big piece of land, a long way away from Europe. Of course this is just from what I have researched, but if I was presented with any evedence to support your views then I would happily take a look.
Keln, this argument about who speaks “neutral” English is ignorant. It is based on personal opinions, which are not the same for everyone in the world. While American accents might seem “neutral” to Americans, they are not so to non-Americans.
Do they not teach math across the pond or do you feel so inferior and irrelevant nowadays that you have to put down the most powerful country in the world to make you feel better about yourself? Here is a fun little math problem regarding why the American Standard is the most accepted way of speaking English and not Standard British.
~370 million Standard American speakers> ~70 million Standard British
(P.s you are welcome for inspiring the right of freedom of speech which the UK stole from the US. It’s that thing that allows you to spit out that arrogant and pretentious crap that is your egotistic opinion without you having to face consequences from your government. You should be thankful, it was inspired by you guys.)
Thank you took the words right out of my mind lol
No, they don’t teach math. They teach maths.
> P.s you are welcome for inspiring the right of freedom of speech which the UK stole from the US.
That doesn’t make any sense.
The English language, as spoken and spelled by the English people of England-is the “de facto” standard way of using English throughout the world (with the exception of US,of course).
The maths (not math) are flawed 320 million each state speaking with completely different accents
From the twang of Californian to the drawl of Texans and the IrishNess of NY
The whole country is infused with different accents and none are standard
If you want to get pedantic, it’s “math” actually. Mathematics is not plural. 😉 Of course, it doesn’t actually matter as whether you say one or the other it’s understood, which is the point of language.
Guess what toots, everyone speaks with an accent, again we are hearing bias filter in. Nobody thinks they have an accent but everybody else sure does.
Yes, Americans are arrogant. Just ask any American and they say they come from the greatest country. lol I’ll say that Americans are the fattest people in the world. They walk around as tourists with their obesity and arrogance.
Ask anybody desirous of leaving his own country “Where’s the first place you want to move?”
There is one predominant reply.
And it renders your judgment nothing more than a silly reflection of your own personal envy or anger.
As an American, I hate my country and I loathe myself because of where I’m from. I have never thought my country was the ‘greatest country,’ nor am I obese :). My favorite country is Poland.
To be honest, I already knew this – it’s generally easier to reach notes and particularly pitches with an ‘American accent’.
THat being said, there are plenty of British etc. singers who do sing with their natural accents, e.g. Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Bat for Lashes, David Bowie etc.
This “writer” doesn’t have a clue about what he is trying to cover here. He is obviously NOT a singer. DOPEY WRITER PERSON when you sing you can only pronounce vowels a certain way unless you are trained in classical opera. Your BS comments are laughable. Just ridiculous.
An American accent is definitely not neutral! In the sweetest possible way, every single American accent sounds to like a band-saw to anyone in England, with its weird nasal quality like a cheap buzzer and constant-question inflections. However, many northerners or people with strong dialectal accents in the UK will going kind of… “soft southern England” when singing, but I reckon that’s because a Manc accent has a strong difference in pronunciation of vowels, which get naturally softened when singing.
Incidentally, I remember when I was a teenager and many of us were in bands doing pop-punk songs pretty much derivative of all the west coast bands from America, and no-one sung in a strong accent like the Arctic Monkeys; everyone put on the same nasal high-pitched voice reminiscent of Blink-182. And that was just because it’s the style of music, and it’s easy to copy. So often the accents that British people will put on when singing will be just because of general Americanisation of music. I mean, would someone on the UK X-Factor belt out a Whitney classic in a broad Middlesborough accent?
Yes.. it is the very definition of ethnocentrism. When I read people question that, my heart sinks because it’s the reputation of all the field of lingusitics that’s being affected. So… in short, when describing accents, languages varieties… there is no such thing as normal, neutral or unaffected.
i believe the main reason for this phenomenon has to do with the artists emulated and perhaps idealized,by their young fans some of whom become notable and even famous themselves,i remember hearing dozens of local punk singers (many of whom grew up listening to their elders speaking creole french) trying their best to channel johnny rotten or joe strummer,for fuck sake-what about walter lure in Johnny thunders heart breakers,joey ramone and many more americans who sang British .and the brits who aped specific american singers say rod Stewart’s Sam Cooke issue ,that fat guy that john belushi did
I don’t accept this explanation at all, because there are large numbers of singers with British regional accents, and have always been. Perhaps they just don’t sing the kind of songs the writer of this article listens to.
The real explanation is simply that they want to sell to the American market, or that they think that sounding American is ‘cool’.
Good grief, why so defensive? How does one deliberately sing in an “American” (or neutral) accent?
The article makes some good points about how singing lengthens many of the sounds, which makes the pronunciation sound more neutral. Something interesting that differentiates many accents is rhoticity, or the pronunciation of the “r” sound. Many accents, including the Received Pronunciation (i.e., “British accent”) and American accents such as the New York (“New Yawk”) City and Boston accents, don’t pronounce the “r.” Yet the “r” is actually two sounds! You have to pronounce it as “ah-rr.” Now imagine singing that for a long note!
Celine Dion clearly has a French-Canadian accent in her speech and singing. In “My Heart Will Go On,” she sings with a non-rhotic accent, as it should be sung. But I’ve always felt that she mispronounces a single word, “there’s.” (In the line: “You’re here, there’s nothing…”) See the part beginning at 3:15 in the video linked below:
If you think that’s defensive, I wonder what you’d call attacking? 🙂
I felt provoked to respond by the combination of massive arrogance and massive ignorance in this article.
“How does one deliberately sing in an “American” (or neutral) accent?” Easily! Some non-Americans do it all the time. It’s easier to do it in singing than in speaking, but I’ve heard both. Do you honestly imagine that people can’t fake accents?
Secondly, an American accent is NOT, repeat NOT, neutral… except to Americans!
Everybody, from every country and with every kind of accent, considers their own speech neutral. Everybody feels that they don’t have an accent themselves, only others do. But I guess most Americans are too insulated from the rest of the world to know this.
@MarkS: I think you are misinterpreting what “neutral” means to a linguist.
Actually, the idea of a phonetically/phonologically “neutral” language variety is utterly meaningless to linguists.
That’s an excellent point, Mark S. American accents are certainly not neutral, to English people. They stand out as foreign, just as much Indian and Mexican accents do.
It’s a matter of perspective. From an American perspective, they will seem neutral because that is what Americans are used to hearing and using themselves.
American accent is neutral
No it is NOT and only Americans are stupid enough and insular enough to believe that. American accents are so UN neutral that some people can’t bear hearing the …whine.
And can’t forget where it all started: ITALY!!! They certainly don’t sing with “American” accents. Their language is practically BUILT for singing!
I agree with you completely.
This is the correct answer entirely. The issue here is 100% cultural influence, and not primarily biological at all. It’s the reason why Irish tunes have an Irish dialect, save for the one’s that make it across the pond like Van Morrison.
Just to add to that:
Ever heard Gilbert and Sullivan operettas sung by British singers?
Opera in English sung by British singers?
Scottish and Irish songs sung for the Scots and Irish themselves, not for Americans?
Victorian songs, sung full-voice in cut-glass accents?
Her’s one to start you off. “I’ll Walk Beside You”, sung by Webster Booth
How about a Scottish accent?
The Corries singing Flower of Scotland to a Scottish audience.
Clancy Brothers – “The Rising of the Moon ”
This is a good one!
Mary-Jess Leaverland singing “Abide With Me” at the FA Cup Final last year. (Traditionally sung before major sporting events in the UK, if you don’t know.)
Did it really not occur to you that Keith Urban was embarrassed and changed the subject because he didn’t want to admit deliberately singing in an American accent for American audiences?
There are several obvious reasons why this doesn’t make sense.
1) Classical singers generally have better technical vocal skills than pop singers. So if this phenomenon is due to the *technical* requirements of singing, why don’t British opera singers, church choirs, folk singers, etc sing in American accents like the pop singers?
2) This phenomenon only dates back to the 1950s/60s. Did the technical requirements of singing suddenly change in the middle of the 20th century? Is it just coincidence that American pop music became popular in Britain in this period?
3) Just because some singers do it unconsciously doesn’t mean there must be a physical, technical explanation. People unconsciously switch dialects all the time–you might use a regional accent with your friends but a standard accent in formal situations, without necessarily noticing that your speech has changed. There’s no physical reason for this.
4) Do you really think that the dialect which is most socially powerful and internationally widespread due to US media just so happens to also be objectively the most neutral and natural?
5) What on earth would it even mean for a dialect to be phonetically/phonologically “neutral”????
Is it neutral compared to other languages as well, or just other varieties of English?
It is possible that the mechanics of singing favor certain phonetic and phonological features which happen to be present in Standard American English. But that doesn’t mean that Standard American English as a whole is objectively superior for singing.
A phonetician could probably point out some more technical reasons why this is nonsense, but the social reasons seem obvious enough.
Through all the noise lacking any logic or rationality ()including the article) this guy cracked it. Any brits trying to put it down to technical reasons are singers that attain (whether intentionally or not) an america accent. Denial is a fascinating thing.
Ps. Im british. Go on Kate nash and arctic monkeys!!!
The old rockers had to Yankeefy their voice and songs to get played on the US radio. Back then and even now most new singer in English copy from old singer and they all had American accent.
i’ll be cross-posting this to a bad linguistics website, and tagging it ‘US Vanity’
If you’re calling David Crystal a “bad linguist”, you probably won’t find much of an audience that agrees with you on a website for people in the know. The dude is incredibly well-respected in the field.
Oh, bull. *Some* accent reduction is just because of how music is, but my accent mostly stays when I sing. If an American regional accent won’t totally disappear, a non-American one sure won’t!
Also, a lot of music is sung non-rhotically (without Rs at the end of words), and thus technically would make American singers sound British. Personally, I just sing how I speak, rhoticity and all, and don’t try to sound like music is “supposed” to.
On this topic: African Americans historically had accents that were non-rhotic, or had much less rhoticity than their white counterparts. (Think of the pronunciation of “mother” and how that word would be pronounced by in paradigmatic black and white dialects/accents.) Given that pop music can broadly be traced back to delta blues sung by black practitioners, this would chime with the idea that historical precedent meant that the artform was sung most commonly with a non-rhotic American accent.
It would appear that a tender english nerve has been touched by the author. As an American, I have noticed and often wondered why so many British pop “singers” don’t actually sound very British. This article merely attempts to offer a reason beyond the untenable notion that it’s always deliberate. There is absolutely NOTHING mentioned or hinted in the subject matter to suggest a superiority with regard to the American accent. Scots and Irish singing Celtic verses with their native accents does NOT explain why Elton John or Dire Straits often sound as if they hail from rural West Virginia. English accents are the grandiose and abominable product of petty one-upmanship in that society involving the grossly affected use of speech that has truly spanned the centuries, and hence forms the very substrate of english culture. Articles like these give no offense to a rational people. The english should finally grow the [email protected]%k up!
Read Heilwig’s comment. And FYI, you might not realise it but you (not you in particular but you Americans) generally do come across as extremely ethnocentric and narrowminded.
It’s quite simple really Elton et al purposely go for a wider audience and the money
Look at simply red for example in ” money to tight to mention ” they talk about reagonomics and capitol hill etc and they’re English! !!
Is this a typical American response? If you can’t come up with rational arguments, then descend into abuse, insults, arrogance and swearing.
You seem to be under the impression that non-American accents are ‘affected’ while the American accent is ‘natural’. This is simply ignorance. Speaking and singing in British accents is as natural, normal and unaffected to speakers of British English, as South African accents are to South Africans, Australian accents to Australians, and American accents to Americans.
And, yes, Americans DO speak with an accent as far as other English speakers are concerned. To many non-Americans, the American accent sounds harsh and twangy, besides being spoken too loudly and too slowly. I’m not trying to be unpleasant. That’s a plain fact, not a value statement. That’s how American sounds to non-Americans.
I wonder why you find the idea untenable that non-Americans use fake American accents to sell their performances to Americans? Is it that you don’t like the idea of smart foreigners tailoring their accents to fool Americans and make more money?
Let’s consider actors as well as singers, because that shows the situation even more clearly.
Compare Emma Watson’s natural accent in the Harry Potter movies with the American accent she puts on in “The Bling Ring” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”.
Or listen to Charlize Theron’s flawless American accent when working in America, even though she grew up speaking English with a South African accent. She reverts to her normal, unaffected South African accent any time she visits her home country.
How about Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kate Winslet, Heath Ledger, Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, etc.? They all work in fake American accents so successfully that I suspect the majority of Americans don’t even realise they are British.
Compare Christian Bale in this interview as a teenager, using his natural, unaffected accent, with his American accent in the Batman movies.
Notice that he is speaking much more softly and much faster than the American interviewer. This is why, for non-Americans, American accents sound too loud and too slow.
Dozens and dozens of prominent actors use fake American accents with great success. It’s no different with singers.
There is more money in American accents, that’s all there is to it.
Here’s another “typical” American response:
Aware that your own pop singers often sound American while singing, frightened of any American use of the English language, or anything American at all, taken as an international standard in lieu of looking to the British by default, never skipping a beat in assailing Americans online to offset frustrations arising from cultural insecurities further inflamed by the still fresh amputation of worldly influence and importance, resentment that any residual influence that you can yet project is so much dependent upon its propping up by Hollywood/American media as well as by letting England tag along with our latest military adventures – as if some charm dug from the dirt of a by-gone era; (There wouldn’t even be that were you not, as well, pained with our singular development as a country with such considerable political autonomy.) the admittedly ill-conceived use of the word “neutral” to describe the Standard American accent by an amateur American author so arouses your ire, you demonstrate your misapprehension of his point and bless us all with a series of dull emotional yammering. The tone of each typifies the English superiority complex with which your people so often and disingenuously obscure with ceaseless knee-jerk impugnation of Americans.
We Americans do have an exaggerated opinion of ourselves on some seemingly holistic level. It was likely necessary for the successful amalgamation of settlers from so many different European countries. It had the curious effect of turning our gaze inward relative to the sniveling pompous outward side glances that mark your own view of the world around you. It does seem to shock you that we are in some ways so alien to you.
Your excessive striving for superiority as compensation for nagging fears of any possible evident inferiorities is a habit the English have demonstrated repeatedly over the years in internet forums and chat rooms.
You and others sought either consciously or otherwise, to give offense while comfortably enveloped in a safety blanket woven of righteous pretenses. You succeeded. I merely wanted to bring that to your attention and you’ve no need to thank me.
*Assumes all these writers are English (what, other countries speak English?)
*Assumes comments are due to English inferiority complex rather than American superiority complex
*Only has to bring up WWII to complete the predictable response checklist
@John: The funny part is about half my writers are British, and this sort of thing comes up a lot on both sides of the argument. You should see the comments on the article on the origin of the word “soccer”. 😉 Needless to say, what I’ve learned from this is that a small percentage of each of the American and British populations absolutely nail the stereotypes, but most on both sides of the pond are more or less the same- we all also can at times be pricks. 😉
America is the colony, Warren, it has tagged along with Britain’s “military adventures” for nearly 150 years, and has nothing to do with Hollywood. Your inferiority complex is rather bizarre; your importance is propped up by British culture and language.
stig781, tag along for “nearly 150 years”? There were no military joint ventures between the USA and Britain prior to the latter drawing Americans into WWI – to avoid bending to very fair but humiliating peace overtures from Germany in 1916. How bizarre and vainglorious is your England-centric world view. It appears none of your sniveling compatriots (assuming you’re english) descend on your comment like flies on rotting meat to challenge your farcical vanity. Could you explain in some detail your premises, if you dare? I’m curious to know more about your own little world.
There’s a reason most of the world (that’s right, not just England, most of the world) assume that American’s fit the arrogant, narrow minded sterotype. Not to forget overweight, that’s also a stereotype that (from what I’ve seen, admittedly I’ve only been to Florida) seems to hold true.
@stig781: You still think America is a colony??? LOL! What rock have you been under? We ceased being a colony over 200 years ago. That we WERE a colony of England is well known-DUH. We’re aware of our Western roots and glad we’re a part of Western civilization. Or at least we used to be until the modern fads of “diversity” and yada-yada came into being. Your comment about America tagging along with Britain’s military adventures can you elaborate? That makes no sense at all. We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in 1898 during the Spanish-American War (when Spain thereafter ceased being a naval power). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in WWI (until Germany sunk our submarines). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in WWII (until Pearl Harbor even though Churchill practically begged). We didn’t “tag along” with Britian in Korea (US dominated and led action). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Vietnam (US was virtually alone in defending against a Communist invasion). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Grenada (Britain whined it was not informed first and condemned the action). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Panama (Britain didn’t say much). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Gulf War I (US led and dominated the coalition and actions). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Somalia (US left after a few casualties). We didn’t “tag along” in Haiti (Clinton returned Aristide to power). We didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Kosovo (US again led and dominated the action). And of course everyone knows we didn’t “tag along” with Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq here recently. Britain has been known as “America’s Poodle” for over half a century now. It’s not a nice nickname and I wouldn’t ever say that but Britain’s Empire days of power are gone. Our country’s importance is based on it’s economic power and political and cultural influence, not Britain. Very little “British culture” remains in the nation today. English people are outnumbered by the other European peoples that migrated. All those different influences melted together into a culture that was new. It is hardly like Britain’s. We just so happen to speak English due to our past ties but our languages are not the same. Divergence has occurred. You seem to be absurdly suggesting that Britain is the REAL power and pulling America’s strings like some midget trying to leash a grizzly bear. You sir are quite deranged if you think
I’ve been skimming along these comments back and forth and I can’t help but feel like you are all a bunch of children arguing over who’s father has the cooler job. Britain has an amazing culture, amazing people and an awesome history. America has an amazing culture, amazing people and an awesome history. I feel like none of you can make your point without tearing each other down. Both countries are proud, nothing wrong with that, but I feel like you should be complimenting each other with your differences. One thing I will disagree with, is which of Britain and America is the most powerful? Neither. America kicks ass with your Enetertainment. Hollywood is your power. But which country is the most powerful… China: this is coming from a totally unbiased view. Not just from military, but their resources, money, economy, technology. So this argument over who is better, who has a ‘complex’ who’s more powerful, seems completely irrelevant, especially when this whole argument arose over an article about singing…
Heath was actually Australian…RIP. Great actor. AMAZING potential.
any accent of Charlize Theron’s and the aforementioned Celine Dion has no bearing on this discussion since neither has english as their mother tongue- you do know that don’t you? Charlize Theron speaks Afrikaans and Celine french of course so they learned everything in english either directly or indirectly.
USA rules. end of story
Well I’m Irish so I’ll give a fresh perspective. I think the American accent has permeated our culture through TV and radio. Here in Dublin, gaggles of middle-class school kids have developed a strong twang to their accents and inflect towards the end of every sentence, making them sound like vapid sorority girls. This has only happened in the last 2 decades with more and more exposure to American reality shows, sitcoms and pop music.
Adele does sing in an accent that sounds American, but only because she rolls her “rs” the way americans do, BUT, you can tell she’s English by the way she pronunciates certain words such as “love” and “us”… and any other word with U in it… also have you heard her albums? Such as “Melt my Heart to stone”? She clearly sounds English.
Also… Ed Sheeran? REALLY!? Have you actually listened to ANY of his songs? You need me, I don’t need you, Lego House, The A-Team… and so on. ” ’cause we’re jUst Under the Upper hand, go mad for a coUple grams…” quintessentially English my friend. Also, why are we forgetting about David Bowie, Coldplay, The Smiths, Lilly Allen, Kasabian, The Clash, The jam, The Coral, Arctic Monkeys, Blur, Oasis, Radiohead, The BEATLES, The Cure, T-REX, Frank Turner, Kate Bush, The Kinks, Stone Roses, Joy Division, Jamie T, Sex Pistols, Laura Marling, Ian Dury, The Fratellis, Belle and Sebastian, The Wombat, Happy Mondays, Mumford and Sons, Pulp, the Buzzcocks, Echo and the Bunnymen, MIA, New Order, the Specials, The Libertines, and so many more… naming 7 acts, two of which are a shamble, and saying that Kate Nash is the only exception is shoddy research… terrible article.
Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins!
Some singers do sound british, like lily allen or kate nash
I don’t understand the complexes, either. America doesn’t see Britain as a tag-along war chum and you guys don’t look anything like a puppy! It’s a terrible thing, this perception.
But I agree. British singers sound American in song, even when they are not trying to. People have known that for forever and I think it’s adorable. We can’t sound British, without much effort, if our lives depended on it. It’s just one more cute connection between the countries.
I’m french and the canadians singers ( like Celine Dion) who sing in french have no accent when they sing although when they speak it’s totally different, they have a very strong and different accent. So, I guess it’s the same in english :p
Exactly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks Yacin, this is what the author is trying to get across, albeit he choose an unfortunate word that conjures conflict and devisiveness- NEUTRAL. The way I understood it is, when english speakers sing, the phonemics of english default to a certain way and that sound just happens to “sound” most like a general american accent, instead he choose “neutral” which was unfortunate, then everybody gets in an uproar.
“She is as English as tea” – does it mean she isn’t english at all?
The 5 o’clock tea tradition was a portuguese court tradition. It was introduced in the UK by the portuguese princess Catarina de Bragança, after her arrival to get married to King Charles II.
Along with her other belongings, was a trunk full of tea and it’s said that a cup of tea was the first thing she asked for, when she set foot in the UK for the first time, in May13th 1662.
She also took the orange jelly that gave rise to the English “marmelade” which name derives from the portuguese word “marmelada” a jelly made from quince (marmelo).
She also introduced some more civilized habits like the use of porcelain dishes as a substitute of the silver and gold ones, where food became cold quickly, used until then, in the british court…
No – else they would sound like rednecks.. Its obvious their accents complement the British because obviously we are far superiour haha.
People getting defensive about the American accent being considered ‘neutral’:
Stop being butthurt. I have several English, Irish, and French friends, and I have several friends who love to sing. I once asked why they sang in an American accent, and all their answers were the same: It wasn’t intentional. Their response was ‘it’s just the easiest way to sing.’ It just so happened that it sounded American to me. They’re not doing it to make big bucks in America, they’re not doing because they think American is cool, they just sing that way. If you guys have such an issue with it, get over yourselves and listen to people who deliberately keep their dialect. American is Neutral- how do you think it was developed in the first place? All the cultures that came in over the years developed a mixed dialect that is as neutral as possible. If you don’t like that, get more immigrants in your country and see what happens after a hundred+ years.
> Implying that American accent being neutral is a foregone conclusion and not the very thing being argued here
> Assuming that America is the only country to take large numbers of immigrants
> Ignoring the fact that a truly ‘neutral’ accent would have a non-rhotic /r/ as few accents outside America and Canada pronounce final r.
>Implying the amount of rhotic accents has anything to do with phonetic neutrality
>Using greentext outside of 4chan
Because it does.
Non-rhotic is DEFINITELY more ‘neutral’ than rhotic. You’re omitting a sound! How much more neutral than that can you go?
Which takes more effort? Pronouncing ‘car’ like ‘caarrrrrr’ or ‘caa’?
>Which takes more effort? Pronouncing ‘car’ like ‘caarrrrrr’ or ‘caa’?
You mean “pronouncing an elongated vowel” vs “a normal vowel + /r/”? I’d choose the second option.
Oh, and I hate to break it to you but Middle English was rhotic.
I would say that ‘neutral’ is a rather relative concept. Basically, what’s neutral is what most people feel to be most ‘natural’, or least marked. Though ‘general American’ English might appear ‘neutral’ to many people, I would definitely react to any claim that it completely lacks regional markedness. I’ve grown up in a non-anglophone country, and the English I have been taught in school has been almost completerly based on (Southern) Standard British English – and lots of people in many places of the world would undoubtedly regard that accent as the ‘proper’ or ‘standard’ way of pronouncing English. And lots of people arriving in the US have noticed that their way of speaking is totally different from any form of English they have been exposed to previously. So even if General American may have a wider global currency than any other form of English, it does hardly lack regional connections.
The North American accent is definitely not neutral to me. Even though I’ve watched plenty of US media, it *still* strikes me when I hear it.
Again, the American accent is not ‘neutral’. These self-professed ‘experts’ need to get their ears checked. Like you said, perceived ‘neutrality’ is just relative to one’s native accent.
After decades of seeing purely American music and movies, it’s obvious that it’s just the influence of the media that makes people sing in the American accent.
They only hear songs in this accent, so it feels ‘unnatural’ to sing it differently.
It’s just what people are used to seeing and hearing, so they can’t imagine doing it any other way.
It’s got *nothing* to do with the SOUNDS of the American accent or its subjective ‘neutrality’ (it is absolutely NOT neutral. The most neutral English is the English that Australians speak. Guess where I’m from btw.)
In “The Story of English” documentary, they explain that English people speak from the front of their mouths, and Americans from the back of their mouths/throats. That could be why singing from the throat or lungs sounds “American”.
Most music that is considered ‘popular’ in England is sung in American accents, whether they’re American or not. Personally, most of the music I like is sung by people singing in their own accents. Adele sings, like many others – in an American accent because the style of music she loves and makes originated in America. Of course English people who sing in American accents know they’re doing it, how absolutely absurd to suggest they don’t. Oh, and a neutral accent to me would be a standard English accent, because I’m English.
Ed Sheeran sounds American?? What planet do you live on?
About the accent thing- There’s a wide gap between pre-90s artists and new artists here in the UK… The old generation of British singers sung with US accents because prior to the mid to late 90s as it was considered a way of forging fans across the pond, (as well as a result of all the Cold War tribalism of identity that the US and USSR camps brought with them)..
It died out in the late 90s as Brits felt they needed to regain their own separate identity, and a lot of it has to do with how you express yourself to the world.. Britpop, UKG, jungle, neo-wave, developed independent of American influence.. I was born in the mid 80s, so I am part of the post Cold War 90s to 00’s raised (anyone between 25-35 in 2014) generation and can speak for the overwhelming change in our music scene.
When I was in Reception, Shakin Stevens was still popular (Cringe. Shudder.)… 25 years later, and you’d be hard pressed to find ANY British A-list singer/band singing in anything but their own local UK accents and singing about subjects specific to their UK audience, whether in their vocabulary, their delivery, topics or their very musical sound.. Ed Sheeran, (he doesn’t sing it as “she’s in the ‘Cleyss Ey-teeeam'” like American Eng, he sings it in a London accent’.. And would Americans even know what the term “class A team” even means?.. Hint, it has something to do with the British govt classification of drugs) Ellie Goulding, Lorde, Lily Allen, The xx, 1D, Emily Sandé, the Wanted, Jessie J, London Grammar, name them…
And it’s paid off for our own sense of confidence as the Cool Britain thing has come back, but with more to offer the world especially in the arts and music…
American singers are now copying British accents or bring in Trans-Atlantic sounds and themes in their music (see indie, folk-rock, glo-fi, dubstep, D&b, and Edm, all British genres, now entering into the very American genres of Pop and Hip-hop for reference).
The ‘hipsters’ in the US take a lot of their style, music-tastes, references and attitudes from the UK..
US rappers and urban artists are discovering the very different sound and focus of the urban UK scene, and now aim to do collaborations with British singers and artists like Kanye West did with Estelle and her “American Boy” hit, or UK artist Dizzie Rascal and Tiny Tempah’s fad popularism in the US.
American artists and celebrities are even wearing modern British style clothes: with all it’s triangles and geometric lines, done up collar buttons, African design-prints and monochrome colours..
Sooner or later we’ll have to have an article on why American artists are copying British accents..
I was with you until you said Lorde.
She’s from New Zealand, and definitely doesn’t sing in an NZ accent. It’s very much an emulation of an American accent.
Folk-rock was invented by Americans (see the Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man”). There are and have been many great British folk-rock singers, but to call it a British genre misleading at best.
Also, I’m curious as to which American singers have been mimicking British accents. Not that I don’t believe you, just no examples come to mind.
British folk-rock is a very different thing to American folk-rock. The Byrds and Fairport Convention sound as if they come from two different planets. Yes, they both combine folk and rock elements, but in very different ways, and the “folk” part relates to two cultures with similar roots (eg Child Ballads on both sides of the Atlantic) that have, nevertheless since diverged sufficiently that it’s impossible to mistake the Fairports or Steeleye Span for American bands, and vice versa with the Byrds and the Band.
I will except the early Fairport stuff from that as they were pretty much trying to be a British Jefferson Airplane before Sandy pushed them in a folky direction.
NObody sings British. We bailed y’all out of 2 Big Ones.
How ethnocentric and chauvinist you are.
English people speak English. There are regional and even social class accents, but not English accents.
Americans speak English with an American accent.
Singers who emulate American idols copy the American accent when they sing in the same way that American opera singers generally sing in clear English without an American accent.
And it’s British, not Briddish, and Beatles, not Beadles. A beadle is an official from a Dickens novel. Look it up on Google if you don’t read books and don’t already know this.
What are you on about, Ken?
An English accent is an umbrella term for the various regional accents across the country of England.
There are ‘English accents’ in the same way there are ‘American accents’, or Spanish accents, French accents etc. etc.
I’m British, living in England, speaking with an English accent (West Country to be exact).
You sound like you are a bitter and have some issue with Americans in general.
I’m sorry but your comment is so stupid it hurts. Of course there’s English accents, my dad is from north England, my mum from London and believe me they sound nothing alike.
It’s all down to the ubiquity of American pop music and its dominance within the music industry. If non-Americans grow up singing along to American songs (or songs sung in an American accent), their ‘natural’ voice is inclined towards American affectation.
Since there’s the old fashioned view that you haven’t made it until you’ve made it in America, and since America is fairly hostile towards unfamiliar accents, emulating a US accent can allow penetration into the mainstream commercial market.
Some have said there’s a neutralising quality in singing that means non-American accents inevitably lean towards an ‘American sound’. However, this doesn’t account for singing which imposes an accent on what would otherwise be a clean, flat sound. You hear this in British pop music all the time – phrases and words sung with an overt American accent (just listen to Amy Winehouse).
It’s kind of sad that in order to make a lot of money across the world, non-Americans have to resort to eschewing all signs of their national heritage.
I started to read the entire column, but the vitriol began to make my eyes water. So, pardon me if I’m repeating anything.
I first heard this very discussion of British singers losing their accents on the BBC. September, 1987. Day One of my holiday to the Isles, while on the train from London to Brighton. Two British fellows, one the radio host, the other a linguist-scientist, concluded pretty much what this article did. The voice projection and cadence and the breathing all contributed to the effect. No mention whatsoever of doing it on purpose to pander to the American market.
(Odd, what I hear isn’t any “American” accent on these songs. It’s pretty much Canadian. Just thought I’d correct you there…)
I’m really interested in this topic and would like to follow up the academic discussions you refer to. Can you tell me where David Crystal and Andy Gibson have published these findings? (Crystal is unbelievably prolific and also has a blog so it can be quite an issue tracking particular pronouncements down.) (Also, Crystal isn’t Northern Irish, though I believe he had an Irish father. He spent his early years in Holyhead, Wales, and has had most of his career in England.)
I agree with other commenters that there’s no such thing as a ‘neutral’ accent of English, but I’d like to know more about the idea that the process of singing itself produces vowels that apparently sound American. A thing I have noticed is how many singers become rhotic when singing, even when their normal accents aren’t – that probably is influence from the American dominance of popular music, I would have thought,
Why is everyone so bent out of shape about this? The authors are not American. The authors do not say American English is superior. The artists listed do in fact sound American when singing. What is the fucking problem? People spewing bullshit about Americans having no concept of dialects and that we think we’re normal and everyone else is weird is complete bullshit. Where ever did you come up with that?
I’m from midwest US (near Detroit). I moved to LA. First day I was in CA someone asked me, “so how long til you lose that midwest accent?” It was a fucking joke! It wasn’t that this guy believed CA-American English is the norm. I have relatives from the rural south, we tease each other about accents. No normal fucking person in America is unaware of the concept of dialects.
Someone said “grow the **** up” directed at the “Proper” English snobs who are getting bent out of shape on this. If you want to claim all Americans are ethnocentric and this is some kind of propaganda, whatever, go ahead. The fact remains. It was non-American linguists who made the claims in this article, none of which were about superiority, and the artists listed do in fact sound American despite not being so. It does not say ALL ARTISTS SING AMERICAN ALL THE TIME. So the rattled-off examples of non-American singers sounding non-American is fucking dumb. You might as well say, “This article is stupid, because chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream”. It’s fucking irrelevant.
For the record, some American singers even sing like they have English accents. I’m not butthurt about it, because it doesn’t effect me. I cover some folk songs from across the pond and find myself adopting some of the pronunciations used by the original singers.
FOR FUCK SAKE THIS SHOULDN’T BE A NATIONALISTIC DISASTER.
Neat article! I actually came across this piece in an odd (possibly ironic?) way though… I was surfing YouTube the other day and found a band called Twin Atlantic (I specifically listened to their song “Human After All”). The band is from Glasgow, Scotland; and the singer has a very thick Scottish accent. Is there an explanation for this?
Granted, Linguistics is a rather liberal artsy science, linguists ARE experts in their field. As someone with a BA in linguistics, this makes sense to me. Neutral vowels doesn’t mean “most perfect English vowels”, so there’s no need to get sore over it. Before you start commenting “these linguists don’t know what they’re talking about”, maybe try to learn what they are talking about.
Look, it essentially comes to the market. Music is an entertainment business and since most pop music is American. I agree with adamant – when people grow up with that kind of music it appears to be more natural to fit that accent. It’s kinda similar with older music, especially theatre. Those musicals are mostly still performed with the British accent,
I would like to point out that perhaps it comes down to vowel inventories. All languages have their own set of vowels and each vowel has a certain distance from one another phonetically. perhaps to some degree, singing (because of the ideal pulmonic voicing pressure, height, and roundedness of the vowel, removing rhoticity to some degree to soften the harsh sound of the American ‘r’, etc.) has, perhaps, a type of vowel inventory which is effected by the singers place of origin. I feel this could very well explain this question, but I have not done the research myself yet. English uses vowels that are almost equidistant from one another. Despite the “standard,” where those vowels are located differs not only among dialects from east US to western US, but from person to person. and yes, country to country where English is spoken. not to mention that language is a living, breathing, ever transforming creature. but the US has been undergoing what is known as “the great vowel shift” It so happens that when a vowel such as the vowel schwa ‘ə’ as in /əndɹ/ “under” becomes əʊ almost like the vowel in “book” in American English and becomes, as in the british version of the vowel in “under”, would be pronounced /əʊndɚ/. a subsequent shift of the entire vowel inventory occurs over time and all of a sudden each vowel can nearly trade places with another vowel in the inventory, in an orderly succession.
It is enough to say that this question is fascinating on the level of phonetics. It seems completely separate that it would be effected by political, social, cultural, and political situations, but it is so strongly connected with the passionate emotions of our own country. instances where it is tied together historically are numerous. The Irish English accent is one of these, the fact that they did not undergo a change in vowels after conflicts with England. in fact they use is so distinct because they resisted the change to British English vowels because they didn’t want to be associated with England in any way because they really didn’t like each other.
Another thing is that in a research survey my linguistics professor at BYU shared with us, it was found in the European countries excluding the English language, that language dialect differences in vowels began in major cities and then spread within each country; not spreading from one country to the next. The Results today are intriguing. The survey asked several random people who only spoke one language and were asked after they were played sound bytes of native speakers in those European countries, all taken form different successive longitudinal regions, to identify when the sound of the language became a new language based solely on audio perception. What these volunteers identified as being the same languages were actually different languages but were samples taken from people living closer to the borders of opposite countries. what the people identified as different languages were often the same language, but simply different dialects. (people form different sides of the country).
The reason has zero to do with air pressure, linguistics etc. The fact is you speak from left side of the brain and sing from the right side. They can actually get stroke patients who had left side brain damage (speach side) to learn to talk again through singing.
And there are arguments about this why? Personally I always thought that singing came with it’s own accent, and anyone who sounds “British”, “American”, or anything else follows pronunciation.
Well that was an interesting fairground ride. I didnt learn anything about singing, but I learnt that a lot of americans hate english people and a lot of english people hate americans. If anyone cares, I have been taught by singing teachers (at a community choir level, not opera or professional) that you should lengthen vowels and cut off consonants – especially s and p – to make the sound clearer and the tone purer. that may be a vlaue judgement on singing, but shouldbnt be assumed to apply to speech.
It is simply amazing just how little people understand about linguistics. I am here to tell you: all that stuff you learned in English class about long and short vowels, double negatives, split infinitives, proper English etc. is bunk. An accent is based on phonetics only, i.e. the physical characteristics of your vowels, consonants and other meaningful units called phonemes that you articulate vocally as language. We categorize these sounds into phonologies, which can be generalized by languages or specified to an individual dialects and even speakers. They are descriptive, not prescriptive. We are not in the business of telling people how to speak – we just document, analyze and theorize.
Someone’s accent is how they sound – mainly (but not only) what vowels they use – remember this, it’s kinda important. Dialect is accent plus vocabulary, syntax and a host of other criteria beyond vowel and consonant qualities.
Now that that is squared away. Let’s get to the biggest misconception here: there is no such thing as a single English language – only English dialects under an umbrella of “English” – this goes for all languages. And part of what defines a dialect is its inventory of those meaningful sounds – the phonemes in the phonology.
The issue at hand here has to do with tonal qualities of sung language – what happens to someone’s phonemes when they sing. In natural speech, sounds are identified by the relative frequencies of which they are composed. This is why the vowel /o/ will sound like an /o/ regardless of how deep or high the speaker’s voice is. Vowels like /o/ are made up of multiple frequencies whose relative distances define what it is. But for a given language even these relative distances have ranges – they are not set in stone. A collective speech community sets up the threshold of leeway around what constitutes an /o/, from, say, a /u/. There are lots of /o/’s but if the variation is not meaningful, they are classed together as a single phoneme. Natural speech sounds are about the relative.
In song, pitch frequency is altered to conform to absolute frequencies, which are set in stone. Also in song, everything is voiced. It has to be.This too alters the quality of the underlying language. If your vocal folds are not vibrating, you are whispering not singing. And you basically sing on vowels. What consonants you can hold like /m/ or /s/ result in humming or hissing, not singing. Vowels are the core of both accent and song. Do you see where this is headed?
The major difference between the general varieties of English and British accents occur in vowels pushed to the bottom of the mouth – the main class of these we call the “a” vowels. Like the one in “father” or when you say “ah” at the doctor’s. Things are muddy down there because the points of articulation are cramped. And the Brits make things more fun by rounding some of theirs. Also Brits have a tendency to produce most of their vowels (especially diphthongs) with their tongues placed or ending lower in their mouths. In singing, one has to project and enunciate while trying to hit absolute pitches. That means opening up the mouth and loosening up those cramped British vowels. That means losing that British accent and moving into acoustic ranges that are described as American. When a linguist says “neutral”, they mean “towards the center of the oral cavity”, i.e. not at the extreme front, back or bottom. The most neutral vowel is the much-maligned schwa.
Next time you hear a British person speak, listen for their vowels and mimic them, especially their “ah”, “aw”, “oy”, “oh”. You can see where they are articulated and why holding them in song is less natural. Not that people don’t sing in British accents. The Clash did it. And Green Day does it in an affected pretentious way. But look at the style of music – punk is suited for those great tight vowels made down in the oral cavity. Singers can and do retain and/or put on accents. And that is a cultural aspect which is not the focus of this article.
For those of you who still revel in the false notion that the Received Pronunciation of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the BBC and the House of Windsor is the one true English accent, I will hurt you with this. The General North American accent has far more in common with how the Bard’s plays sounded than anything you will hear coming from Buckingham Palace or 10 Downing Street. We Yanks and Canucks have older English accents than anyone roaming around the modern UK. We left at the time of Elizabeth I and avoided a series of vowel shifts that brought about current English accents in the rest of the world. So when you make Hamlet sound like James Bond, you couldn’t be more wrong.
So be mindful that all these great and diverse mechanics are at work when you speak. There is more going on than you know. And we still haven’t figured out half of why. It would be a boring world if language had no variety.
“Not that people don’t sing in British accents. ”
Indeed. Unfortunately for this thesis, Brits sing in British accents in pretty much every context outside of singing pop songs. Prima facie it appears to be untrue. It is MUCH more likely that Brits have historically sung pop songs with American accents because pop music – especially its blues and rock’n’roll roots – started in the US, and a tacit precedent was established.
As far as my mother tongue, Russian, is concerned, there’s no difference in accent when people speak or sing. Even more, one can travel for thousands of miles but the accent remains almost the same. It’s one of the mysteries of the Russian language, the Russian phonetics and articulation is very stable.
I live in upstate New York and the dialect here differs from the dialect you would encounter in New York City,and both are distinct from the dialect you would encounter in New England.These places are all more or less within a days drive from eachother.I imagine that changes in dialect like this,generally occurring in such close proximity too eachother,are a common occurrence throughout the English speaking world.There really is no reason to get all “butt hurt” about it.It’s worth noting however,that seventeenth century Englishmen(from England)spoke more like Americans do today.Elocution came into practice in the eighteenth century,so it may in fact be the case that New Englanders have the most original English dialect.Englishmen of the seventeenth century pronounced the letter Z(zed) as Z(zee
I think the answer is quite simple – American is the language of pop culture, so pop songs are sung with an American sound. Sometimes they are given an incorrect American sound by British singers, where an extra “R” is sometimes placed between words that start and end with a vowel. (This is a common mistake made by English people affecting an American accent). Classical music is not usually given the American treatment, as it is not part of pop culture. English folk songs are usually sung with an English accent by English singers, while all country & western singers use a Tennessee accent, regardless of where they come from.
Well I am reading this article because of Begin Again, I mean the movie. I just for the life of me couldn’t understand why Keira Knightley’s accent was so non-English while she was singing, now I understand.
I honestly can’t fathom US’ accent of English, feels like they are hurting me with their words, so harsh, but I guess for songs it has to be borne.
PS: Oh LOL, I am not English nor American by the way.
The same phenomenon seems to happen in Spanish. There are a lot of regional accents (probably more than in English), but once they start singing, they all start sounding vaguely Mexican (a more neutral variety than any particular region). That is if we ignore some phonetic differences (the z of the spaniards, the y of the argentinians, some different conjugations etc).
It also depends on the genre of the music though.
Yea thats not true at all. Ive never heard a person singing in spanish sound like a mexican unless thats their backround. My dadis puerto rican cuban and russian and speaks ruspanol. IF he would sing he would sound puerto rican and speak like a cuban does mexicans speak basic spanish so i doubt anyone who comes from south america or from the caribbean would sound the same. They dont even say pa they say para or they dont say cansao they say cansado or they dont pronounce their R’s like h’s cahho instead of carro they say something different for bus we say guagua and i believe thats got to do with our african or taino heritage which they dont have they appear like white people that bathe once a year
I don’t agree with this at all. As a Scotsman living in Canada, this phenomenon is something that bothers me. I’m constantly telling friends that certain bands are from the UK and people are often surprised to hear that.
The easiest way that I can refute this article is to say – listen to English-speaking singers before the world was influenced by the United States. Where is the American / “neutral” accent?
Sadly, the generic American accent has become the norm in modern music and it’s now considered more unusual to sing with your own accent, which, in my opinion, is crazy.
This explanation does not match up with the facts. In any language, there is a dominant accent in the music field, be it English, German or French. In all these, singers tend to sing in the accent most widely spoken in the international music industry, or at least gravitate towards it (many singers, but not all). Austrian singers will tend to put on High German accents (in German), just as singers from Quebec/Canada will tend to put on French accents in French. Of course, there are shades of grey. Often you might here a thing or two in their songs that gives them away as Quebecois, Austrian, or British, but it will be hard to tell for the untrained ear.
Thanks to US dominance (Hollywood movies, rock and pop etc.) Amerian English tend to sound more “neutral” to a vast majority of non native speakers of English around the globe.
But you know what, thank God Bob Marley never tried to sing in “neutral” American English.
There may be some truth to the theory that the vowel elongation that goes with singing makes singers sound more US-American, but I think there is definitely a tendency for British/Australian singers alter their accent to sound American when singing American styles of music. The Rolling Stones played American Blues-Rock, and therefore Mick Jagger tried to sound like other singers in his genre, for the same reason that Credence Clearwater Revival sounds Southern, even though they were from California (they were playing Southern Blues-Rock). Listen to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Stones. Mick Jagger very clearly says “can’t” like an American, but when the boys’ choir sings the same line at the beginning of the song, they sing it in perfect RP, because that sounds more like a boys’ choir. Both vowel sounds are available to singers, and both US-American and RP use both vowel sounds, just in different words. Both vowel sounds can be and are sung (imagine if it were “Kant Can’t Always Get What He Wants,” then British and American singers would use both vowel sounds, just in reverse order). I argue Jagger changes to the US-American pronunciation, either consciously or unconsciously, because that’s the accent that makes you sound like a Blues-Rock singer. Same goes for Adele, who mostly sings Soul music and adopts the accent of an African-American woman because that’s what a Soul singer sounds like.
Exactly!! Phew, I’m glad a few people are able to see through this article.
Not a very good excuse. I’ve heard plenty of folk bands and rock bands sing with their native dialects and accents. Bands sound american because Americans were the first to make the sound of rock and pop music popular. Any other band after that copied the sound and vocal style. Hence everyone sounds American. Come on. A linguist couldn’t even figure this out? lol
Yes, this article is really disappointing.
Well, simple. Phonetics. When you sing, you pronounce the words the way they are spelled, which in my opinion is correct, of course with the exception of the few linguistic rules, i.e. “knife”.
Which explains why we hear singers pronounce “through” as “throw-ug-huh”.
English is simply not a phonetic language. Your hypothesis seems prima facie implausible. Besides which, British speakers who are singing outside of a pop context will use their own native pronunciations. They simply effect an American accent for most pop songs, because it has become a cultural expectation. The same kind of cultural expectation that means most fantasy films feature characters speaking with British accents even if the story is not set on Earth and even if the actors are American.
It has become a cultural expectation. THAT is the sentence I was looking for. Thank you.
This is absolute nonsense. Brits don’t “lose their accent” when they’re singing, but in certain contexts they’ll adopt a somewhat American one. The specific context is when singing pop songs. Why? Because blues and rock’n’roll began in the US, so that way of singing became the established norm, and it became odd to hear pop sung any other way. It’s not universal, but it’s by far the most common way to sing pop songs, especially for an international market.
But British people would not sing this way in other contexts. If they were singing at school, or in church, or singing a traditional song like “Auld Lang Syne”, they will NOT adopt anything like an American accent. If the word “dance” appeared in a Christmas carol, for instance, a Brit would sing that work with their native pronunciation, not an American style “dahhnce”.
Consider Sting. The Police started out singing a lot of reggae-style songs. Sting adopted a cod-Jamaican accent because it seemed to fit the material better; somehow reggae sung in a Newcastle accent would have seemed too odd to audiences. He was sometimes mocked for this, but it’s understandable why he did it. It seems more offensive appropriate the accent of a poor predominantly black country than that of a wealthy predominantly white country. Also, I think people don’t even notice the mock-American when singing pop any more; it’s so heavily ingrained in our cultural expectations.
Yes! I totally agree. I’m shocked by this article!
Dance is dance u limey
There are actually hundreds of British accents. Each town has it’s own variations, and a county can have several. There’s at least 10 distinctly different ones in “Northern England”. Even within a town there’s variations between classes and even local areas.
Britain’s a small country. It’s been inhabited forever. People have generally stayed where they are for centuries. So accents can develop separately from each other. The USA experienced a massive expansion in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The English-speaking white population all came from different parts of Britain, but they were spread out thinly enough that there weren’t enough people in any particular area of the same origin, for their accents to stick. So they all sort of averaged out.
Generally places with the strongest history, the oldest established populations, have the strongest accents. In Britain this is everywhere.
America was also dominated by Native Americans, the Spanish, and the French, which have all influenced the American accents and dialect in the southeast. Italian, Irish, Russian, Dutch, and Scottish accents influenced the northeast. And all traveled westward. Some of the English-speaking white people in the USA have accents from various parts of Europe as well.
Alot of petty wound-up people here.
Ofcourse there’s a technical explanation.
The idea that it’s conscious on te singer’s part to appeal to Americans, not only is an insult to these singers (making them like phony whores), but it ignores the fact that for 50+ years pop music has been dominated by British singers. So what, they’re imitated other British singers imitating other British singers imitating American singers?
Also, those early American singers that those early British pop singers were supposedly imitating were often blacks and southerners, who had a southern or black accent. I don’t recall the Beatles singing in a black or southern voice.
How silly. It’s an involuntary unconscious phenomenon, is all.
Nonsense. The Beatles were imitating the likes of Elvis and Eddie Cochran. You are probably correct about the accent adopted being unconscious, but wrong about the details. It was likely an unconscious imitation of the “American rock and roll sound”. It certainly isn’t any kind of natural phenomenon. As I say, there is a very easy way to demonstrate this: listen to any Brit singing in a choir, or singing Christmas carols, singing in school etc. You will find no trace whatsoever of an American accent outside of the context of singing pop/rock songs. It’s simply convention in that context.
Growing up in Australia then England I sometimes wondered why it was often hard to tell where singers were from even though their speaking voices were so different. I came to the conclusion that they were accentless like me when they sang – which at first meant Australian and later Southern English. In spite of what’s written here it seems to me that for anyone to consider their own way of speaking accentless or “neutral” is absurd as its all relative to one’s own experience. “Mainstream Americans” are not identifiable by the lack of accent but rather the way they speak gives away where they are from just like anyone else.
If this was true, the L and R sounds would not be affected. This naive article is absolutely shocking coming from an established linguist. At the very least, people sing with an American English accent because it is considered acceptable and attractive in the pop world, whereas a British accent is associated with folk music, older people and traditions, stiff uncoolness, besides which obviously people change their accent to market to wider audiences. I sing every day in a what people have called a neutral British accent, because I have one after living in Spain. My vowels do indeed change to an extent when I sing because I prefer sweeter sounds than the ones some of my speaking vowels may allow, but I never “go American” unless I’m imitating someone who sings with an American accent. Music is culture, and a lot of what we learn by ear comes out of our mouths as we’ve heard it. People who struggle to accurately reproduce what they hear, will likely sing a Sinatra song in their “mother” accent so to speak, and this is what makes them “uncool”. Look at all the “worst X-factor auditons”. Some of them are bad because the singing is bad, but this is so often coupled with a non-American accent to make it extra embarrassing. Something I would like to see change!
I have to disagree with you. I grew up in a very rural area and had what an American would call quite a powerful accent. I hadn’t really heard any Americans speak until my 20’s when I actually moved to the city and purchased a TV. Eventually I moved here and now I’ve been told my accent is fairly tame these days. Anyway I’ve had the same singing voice since I was young, I used to sing weddings in my village, there is a very old and very poor quality camcorder video of me singing one several decades ago, the contrast of my accent is quite striking even to me looking back. As I said at that time I’d never even heard an American accent since I’d never been to the city and there was no TV reception. Some had TV’s with VHS but my family did not. I just grew up singing, many of the pub songs and classics that were taught to me by my grandfather and such. It makes sense about the neutrality of English and pronunciation. At least that’s how it feels to me.
I will have to disagree there, Now, I’m Californian, so my native accent is closest to the generic “American accent” as you get, but I’ve been in Choir all my life, and lived all over this country, and one thing I’ve noticed, is it doesn’t matter how your accents sounds where you are, The very act of singing changes things like Rs and Ls. When you sing, you are taught to open up your passages, sing in your “head voice” not your “chest Voice” and open all your vowels and consonants. You can’t sing an R like an American would pronounce it, “Arr” because it’s closed off. So “Arr” becomes “Ahh” L’s on the other hand, become very cut off, because the L sound can only be achieved by closing off the mouth, Listen to any high school choir student sing “Carol of the Bells” and you will notice immediately that it’s the “Eeh” not the “LL” that gets elongated. The thing about most accents is they are achieved by closing off sounds more than opening them, So when a singer sings to Open, like most singers, especially classical and Rock Singers, it will change the accent.
Poppycock, to use a UK colloquialism. Ramones, anyone? From the US yet they CHOSE to sing in a British accent. I will float my theory thus: The majority of commercial and far reaching popular music is generatedin the states, and performers default to what thier environment influences them to sound like. Look at the confusion & furore Iggy Izalea caused in the states.
I don’t know if the Ramones is a good example they are clearly forcing hard pronunciation for the punk appeal. If anything it backs up the articles statement because they actually sound like they are trying to overcome the neutrality of the pronunciation to be edgy and raw.
Yeah, except if your Iggy Azalea (aka Amethyst Kelly). When she sings, she loses her Aussie accent and gains one that would imply that she is a Hood Rat from the Ghetto
that’s not accent. that’s dialect. but i see your point.
It’s not “Hood Rat” language, it is an accent and dialect derived from the South. Most black people have spoken with the same accents since the 1800s. Most black people lived in the Southern part of the USA. They started moving into the Northern cities during the Great Migration of the 1920s, but they brought their accents and manner of speaking with them. Black people’s ancestors learned how to speak English from southerners, where English was broken and eventually mixed with “cajun” or “archaic French” accents (the Spanish owned some of the south first, then was taken over by the French, and then later English). As they migrated to the north and other parts of the US, they carried the accent with them. A dialect was also developed. Black people sometimes call it ebonics or they simply see it as their manner of speaking developed from their grandparents. It would not imply that she’s a “hood rat”, as black people of all social classes speak that way. It implies that she’s appropriating black culture and mocking black people.
We are talking about the Mid Atlantic accent, that even The Beatles used, at times it’s quite a natural thing for Britts to do, But in the same way as Britts can not sing American Country
songs without sounding British, It’s the same in reverse, Dick Van Dyke comes to mind for the
his terrible imitation of a Cockney
Tom Jones has no American accent he sings from the heart and many say he sounds more
like a Black American than most of his American Peers
Most of the Lennon Mc Cartney songs can only sound right sung with the Liverpudlian accent
so they cant be used as an example for the writers question
Did Joe Cocker sing with a yankey accent ???, NO Does Shirley Bassey sing with a Yankey accent ?? No she don’t so And does Adelle sing with a Yankey accent No so there you are
The Spice Girls always sang with their Brit accents as well.
Funny enough, I hear all of you in perfectly Midwestern American English. . .as I’m reading it. . .in the Midwest. . .
For all of the dissenters to this post — start your own blog and do what these people do. If you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t read it. From how I see it, life isn’t about being correct at everything — it’s impossible. It’s more about being less incorrect. Knowledge — which I believe is what this blog is about — is constantly in flux. There’s so much to know, and even when you “know” it, you could find out later that your “knowledge” wasn’t correct. Let’s all stop pretending that we’re experts in every field, logically formulate dissenting opinions, and remove any malice and hatred from our responses.
I got here the strangest of ways. I was watching a documentary that featured some Australian news footage and I noticed some of them had, not exactly Americanized, I’d say an extremely toned down Australian accent. I googled to see if that was a thing. (It’s totally a thing, in big cities)
Then I clicked this, a subject I have pondered since the late 70’s.
It was explained to me that the accents of Brits, Aussies, etc. were simply lost or extremely faded when they sang. That is basically what this article is saying. Only it was “lost” to me because even though they talked funny, they sang just like one would in a “normal” American accent.
I think there is an identifiable Standard American Manner of Speaking. Tens of millions of Americans speak it, many more are a little off from it or have drifted from it, but have a complete and total understanding of what it sounds like and how to speak it. This is the “neutral” that caused so much drama way up this thread.
I think singing is a totally different thing that evolved in a totally different way that comes from a completely different part of our brain. Singing to the world was invented with Rock & Roll. Chuck Barry and others invented a thing and others like the Beatles tried to emulate that thing and it evolved in such a way that our brains send to our tongues a sound that closely resembles a “neutral” American/Midwestern/TV newscaster accent.
The brains of English speakers recognize and can replicate what “singing on the radio” sounds like. Keith Urban says “what do you mean?” because he hasn’t set out to sound “American.” Since singing isn’t talking, it’s not something he has to try to do. No native English speaker needs a special teacher to learn how to sing like a “neutral” American.
I actually think it’s the opposite. I think anyone who sings popular music (or non-traditional music in general) in anything but this accent is doing so intentionally. But, I think that it very quickly becomes easy and natural to sing with whatever inflection or accent you initially put on. And I can sing along with Frank Turner and drop every R he drops and pretty effectively mimic his every inflection and I’ve stood in crowds of his American fans that can do the same.
I think there are many, many exceptions to all these things I think because brains is crazy.
Being a fan of the British accent myself, this article made me rage, but I take it it was written to get attention, same reason singers put on the american accent. I’ll just stick to listening to “Number One” by N-Dubz if I feel like hearing a non-fake accent in a song.
I just saw Mick Jagger singing a blues song in his faux American accent. I often wonder why he sings like that. He managed to sing “Mother’s Little Helper” in his normal accent!
Then it got me thinking the American type accents have become the norm in all music including Rap and country music. It is hilarious to listen to a born and bred Irish person, putting on a nasal accent to sound like they are from Tennessee! That is how you have to sing country music?!!!
American English is not a neutral speech; it has very heavy/strong diphthongs. Also, when proper or professional singers sing, they change most of their sounds to neutral (radio/TV announcer) English, making the vowels more soft/less harsh. ‘a’ becomes ‘Ah’ instead of ‘Ay’, like ‘had’ is ‘had’ or ‘hahd’ not ‘haed’; Rs are less stressed as in ‘art’ is not ‘aRt’ or ‘arrrt’, but ‘aht’ or ‘art’. When you take elocution lessons in England, they teach you this. This is the way you are taught in singing lessons, for solos, even for public school choruses & church choirs, as it is a more pleasing sound to listen to. They teach it this way in the USA, too.
The article has got it all wrong. When we sing we unconsciously mimic the accent associated with the style of music were singing. Rock n Roll originated in the USA and since the 50’s has dominated musical genres. Listen to a British singer from an earlier period and you’ll find they all sang with regional British accent, be it Scottish, Welsh, whatever. Most people (including Americans) when singing Punk Rock, for example, will do so in a British accent because that’s where it originates. The same is true with country, folk, etc etc….
only one guy I think of thats punk american and thats the lead singer to green day… hes a poser
So I wonder if the “American” accent came about by or through this musical historical fact. Music had this “neutral” sound first and our ancestors would mimic this linguistically when speaking as well as singing. Sorry over patriotic americans, the cart comes before the horse.
It seems more beautiful in that sense: U.S. accents evolved musically. What an elegant concept.
I have recently read that America didn’t evolve an accent different then England.. actually England has since changed theirs over the last 300 years… In America we have dictionaries.. in those if you look up a word it has a pronunciation key and tells you how to say the word right… long R short A all sounds have a correct way of saying them… If you take an average American not a southern hill billy or a north eastern Boston/ east coast accent and have them say a word and compare it to its correct pronunciation most will say it very close to as it was meant to be… do the same with some brits take out the strong accents and you probably wont get the same results… in America all classes speak the same … a rich guy from California will speak the same as a poor one from there.. assuming their ethnicity are the same… in England as far as Ive read the rich talk different and it evolves as the poor tries to catch up and be like them…. as for America being full of ourselves and forcing our way of life and talking on the world heres a thought … dont watch our movies or TV or listen to our music… no one makes you ….
“Don’t watch our movies or TV or listen to our music” is easily said and done when you are American, because America creates a very big portion of it. If you travel to many other countries and turn on the television however, you’ll often find way more American content than you find foreign content on American TV.
Simply wrong I’m afraid. It’s because British artists tend to sing in an American accent. There’s really no such thing as “neutral”; it’s a matter of perspective. Why do they sing in American accents? It’s because it’s part of the culture of the Blues, and of Rock and Roll.
Some British artists sing in their own accent – listen to The Jam for example, or Robert Wyatt.
I looked this up because I’ve often wondered the same thing. There are many groups whose songs I’ve heard and never even knew they were British. But this isn’t always the case. There are the occasional singers whose British accents come through loud and clear in their songs. One in case is Ian Hunter (leader singer of Mott the Hoople) who has a strong British accent while singing – which happens to be part of his appeal. So now I wonder how it is that he would retain his accent while most others don’t. ???
Good point. If there is a linguistic/phonological reason for so many British singers “losing” their accents when they sing, then I guess there are several singers who retain their British accents on purpose, i.e. they try hard to sing with their native accent. Examples that come to mind are: Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) and Ray Davies (The Kinks) — both singers sing with very pronounced British accents.
You say singers don’t affect an American-style accent on purpose, then go on to say Kate Nash refuses to do so. Ehh what?
Then how do you explain the children’s voices on “The Wall”?
please make a video on this
Spice girls lose their accents when singing too….most times.
I think Brits singing without an accent is a way to admit their accent is shit and is ugly as fuck. I’m French by the way and I cannot stand British, Irish and Australian accents. American and international English is the standard norm for me.
they change their accents when they sing to appeal to American ears, as The United States is probably THE largest market for English language music in the world.
there are plenty of singers who don’t “put on airs” and default to an American accent when they sing.
R.I.P. Dolores O’Riordan
Just leaving this here for all y’all arguing. http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180207-how-americans-preserved-british-english
I’ve never had my self-esteem crushed more than now reading what people think of us Americans, so I thought I’d like to clear things up.
Not all Americans are full of themselves or think their country is the ‘best.’ In fact, I really loathe myself because of where I’m from. (P.S, my favorite country is Poland!)
Reading through, I see a lot of hatred towards the American accent. Obviously, we can’t control how our voice sounds. I see a lot comments talking about how our accent is twangy and nasally, in which I’m sorry that our voice sounds that way to you.
Clearly there’s more getting into petty things such as obesity, stupidity, etc. I wish some people could keep this about the actual subject of the article and not personal jabs at the country itself.
Thanks for reading and have a swell day! 🙂 Love from the US.
This “neutral” theory is ridiculous. Do you think that Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart are singing “neutral”? They are singing like black Americans.. Rock and Roll is really a black American sourced music.
Again this theory is, if unconsciously, racist. Refusing to give credit to black Americans is wrong no matter dressed in academic BS
I’m always interested in these types of topics and I hope I can contribute without offending anyone.
Where I think the author went wrong was she used “neutral accent” in the same way as “accent reduction” and then insinuated that general American accent is the accent that pop singers were defaulting to. However, if she just started off with “accent reduction,” meaning removing a part of what makes the accent unique, then I think she would have came across less polarizing. One can say that singers, like Adele, are exhibiting accent reduction because they are vocalizing English in a way that is different than how they would normally speak, but also in a way that is potentially more original to the language.
I think this is where a big debate comes in, the idea is that because language usage changes as well as the enunciation so we now have new accents.
So when the author draws the conclusion that the American accent is neutral she obviously is then over generalizing. It also might have been better if she used the term Standard American English, which is to mean all of North America, not simply the States. With that usage if a person was to remove the accents that were developed after the language was standardized then a person could view one accent as being more “neutral” over another.
However this becomes another debate. Since one can argue that at a certain point new standards are established. So then an accent reduction would mean different things to different people. Thus the many “standard” English languages, like Standard Scottish English, RP English, Standard American English, etc.
So in that regards if a singer from the UK starts to sound like they have an American accent using the term “neutral” becomes incorrect because “neutral” or an accent reduction in the UK would default to whatever is considered their “standard” which of course is not Standard American English.
It is still a very interesting topic to see why specific genres end up singing with a particular accent. One example where the term “accent reduction” would properly be used is with American country singers. I remember watching the US version of The Voice and the country singer coach was giving tips to the other country singers and one of the common bits of advice was that they had to be careful with their country accent because he stressed in country music the story is most important and sometimes the accent can make it difficult to hear what the singer is saying. In short he wanted them to try and dial back their accent, effectively making it more neutral. That is a textbook example of accent reduction.
Because the neutral “American” accent is the way English should be spoken.
So you are a fellow ‘who’s there’. A topic for another time about our unusual state nick name (probably already been done). Funny you should mention Lily Allen. I was just listening to some of her songs 2 days ago. Realized she was singing with her accent! Of course accents are in the ear of the beholder. I was talking to a woman from Georgia several years ago and she said she had a sexy voice. I asked why she thought that and she said she was from Georgia! Actually, I didn’t hear the accent. My mom was a mimic. If her and dad were around someone with an accent for the evening, by the end she would be talking with that accent. I think I am that way also, but no one has ever mentioned it. Maybe I think with an accent!! I bet America has more accents than England does. It is just theirs is more prominent to us.
I totallly agree with those who don’t understand why British singers change their accent from English into American once on the stage. It’s incredible unacceptable. Rod Stewart is one of the most evident cases. When he sings it seems he comes from a remote land between Arizona and Nevada. Horrible. I ask myself why? why? why? Our pure English accent is soooooo musical and sweet! Actually, there are also good examples. I mean Brit singers who have never forgotten the place they come (or came) from. The past David Bowie and Mick Jagger just to cite the most famous. Currently young Jasmine Thompson that delights my ears with her very remarkable Londoner accent. I adore her! Thumbs up for singers who refuse to turn their accent from English into cacophonous American.
The same holds true for spanish speaking singers…. their accents are almost lost except for a few telltalel signs like the way spaniards pronounce their their z, c and s which sounds like a “th” in english. A neutral accent is I believe like the one in central Mexico, but of course others will think I am biased since I live in Mexico.
vocal chords ?
Similar to how their are numerous accents ?
Please buy a dictionary!
For someone my age (69), it’s simply that we grew up with jazz, rock’n’roll, gospel, soul, and Motown as the predominant influence on the airwaves. I listen to old recordings of myself and I sound thoroughly American. I wasn’t TRYING to sound American as such, it was just the way that kind of material was sung.
Latterly, I moved into writing songs with a more traditional Scottish feel, and an American accent just didn’t fit the style. I knew I had been singing with an American accent, but it wasn’t really a conscious choice, it was just how that style of music was sung. I’ve sung in the States, and everyone assumed I was American until I spoke to them (when, generally, they didn’t understand a word I said unless I slowed to a crawl) (“What part of Ireland are you from, honey?”).
From Bowie onwards, other accents crept into the rock idiom, but I still mainly hear bands, even young ones, using at least an edge of American twang. It’s a touch of cultural imperialism, but not necessarily a bad one. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Born to Be Wild would sound daft in any other accent but an American one – and I’m pretty sure its German-born singer, John Kay, aka Joachim Fritz Krauledat, would agree with that!
Lastly, the “neutral” assertion. I studied philology and dialectology. There is no such thing as a “neutral” accent – that only exists in the mind of the speaker. The nationality of “neutral” accents is immediately apparent to listeners from other regions, so there can be no question of them being “neutral.”
A “neutral” Québecois accent would identify its speaker to a French national as coming from Canada, and vice-versa.
A “well-spoken” person from Burgos, Spain (where the Castilian is reckoned to be very “pure”), would stick out like an auditory sore thumb in México.
Any American would identify a so-called “neutral” British English accent as coming from England (to us Scots, it sounds like posh English from the Far South).
And any British person would identify a so-called “neutral” American accent as definitely American.
The accent this “neutral” one replaced over time would perhaps be a touch more problematic. Roosevelt’s “neutral” accent had quite a lot in common with some upper-class English ones.
Actually I accent and dialect when my a cent disappears its mostly because I’m going against my impuls to do a voice perfectly however I do it so wel you don’t hear my voice so I’m experimenting with using my normal voice and perfect duplicate