The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

November 21, 2012

Slate's Explainer: Why do British singers sound American?

For the newest James Bond movie, Skyfall, English singer Adele recorded a song with the same name. Though Adele speaks with a strong London accent, her singing voice sounds more American than British. Why do British vocalists often sound American when they sing?

Because that's the way everyone expects pop and rock musicians to sound. British pop singers have been imitating American pronunciations since Cliff Richard, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones began recording in the 1960s. These musicians were largely influenced by the African-American Vernacular English of black American blues and rock and roll singers like Chuck Berry, but their faux-American dialects usually comprised aspects of several American dialects. Imitating an American accent involved both the adoption of American vowel sounds and rhoticity: the pronunciation of r's wherever they appear in a word. (Nonrhoticity, by contrast, is the habit of dropping r's at the end of a syllable, as most dialects of England do.) Sometimes Brits attempting to sing in an American style went overboard with the r's, as did Paul McCartney in his cover of "Till There Was You," pronouncing saw more like sawr.

Linguist Peter Trudgill tracked rhoticity in British rock music over the years and found that the Beatles' pronunciation of r's decreased over the course of the 1960s, settling into a trans-Atlantic sound that incorporated aspects of both British and American dialects. The trend also went in the opposite direction as new genres developed: American pop-punk vocalists like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day took on a British-tinged accent to sound more like seminal artists such as Joe Strummer of the Clash. Contemporary singers continue to adopt various accents according to their genre; Keith Urban, who is Australian, sings country music with a marked American Southern accent. A recent study suggests that the default singing accent for New Zealand pop singers utilizes American vowel sounds, even when the singers aren't trying to sound American, perhaps because today's singers were brought up listening to American (and imitation-American) pop vocals.

Even when singers aren't trying to imitate a particular vocal style associated with a genre, regional dialects tend to get lost in song: Intonation is superseded by melody, vowel length by the duration of each note, and vocal cadences by a song's rhythm. This makes vowel sounds and rhoticity all the more important in conveying accent in song.

          

 

1
Text Only
Top News
  • 10 things to know for today

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

    April 18, 2014

  • World Book Night A big love for books CLINTON -- Sharing a love for books is something members of the Clinton Public Library have always promoted and embraced. On Wednesday, they will join the rest of the world in spreading that love throughout communities. World Book Night, which conve

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Taylorville couple wins $20M lotto jackpot

    A Taylorville couple has celebrated winning a more than $20 million Illinois Lottery drawing.

    Steve and Wilma Durbin were presented with their winning check Thursday afternoon at a grocery store in the central Illinois city where they purchased the ticket. The couple took a lump sum payment of $8.1 million after taxes.

    The Taylorville Breeze-Courier reports the Durbins hit the jackpot in the April 10 Illinois Lotto drawing. That was just two weeks after they were married.

    April 17, 2014

  • Branstad signs school radon bill into law

    The Iowa Department of Education must gather information from schools about whether they are testing for radon gas under a bill Gov. Terry Branstad has signed into law.

    Branstad signed the bill Thursday to require school districts to tell the department about radon testing by the end of this year. The department must then report to the Legislature by January.

    April 17, 2014

  • VIDEO: Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 17, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Golf turns into snooze-fest without celebrities like Tiger and Phil

    The Masters lumbered on last week without two of pro golf's biggest names, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and fans changed the channel. The PGA needs someone with star power if it's going to lure people back to the game.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet

    Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected — a distant, rocky world that's similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot and not too cold for life.

    The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

    April 17, 2014

AP Video