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to imitate a particular vocal style associated with a genre, regional dialects tend to get lost in song: Intonation is superseded by melody, vowel length by the duration of each note, and vocal cadences by a song's rhythm.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
  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • UN calls for probe of plane downed over Ukraine

    The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday demanding international access to the site of the plane downed over eastern Ukraine and an end to military activities around the area, following intense pressure on a reluctant Russia to support the measure.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hatch blasts Branstad for nixing $1M solar grant

    Iowa Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch says Gov. Terry Branstad's decision to return a $1 million solar energy grant shows that utility companies are calling the shots in his administration.

    July 21, 2014

  • Iowa sheriff faces questions about jailer's affair

    An Iowa sheriff says he's been subpoenaed to testify about his office's investigation of a jailer who had an affair with a slain pregnant woman.

    July 21, 2014

  • Truce elusive as Hamas, Israel stick to positions

    The top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip signaled Monday that the Islamic militant group will not agree to an unconditional cease-fire with Israel, while Israel's defense minister pledged to keep fighting "as long as necessary" — raising new doubt about the highest-level mediation mission in two weeks.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hopkins to pay $190M after doc taped pelvic exams

    Johns Hopkins Health System will pay $190 million to more than 8,000 women whose bodies may have been videotaped or photographed by a gynecologist using a pen-like camera during pelvic exams.

    July 21, 2014

  • Lawmaker: Texas to send 1,000 guardsmen to border

    Gov. Rick Perry, a vocal critic of the White House's response to the surge of children and families entering the U.S. illegally, plans to deploy as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border, a local lawmaker confirmed Monday.

    July 21, 2014

  • Sparring justices find little disagreement at the opera

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed a different view of U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday when she described about her passion for opera, one she shares with Justice Antonin Scalia.

    July 21, 2014

AP Video