Stilistisk variation i popsange: Et casestudie

Erika Anne Marie Larsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis explores stylistic variation in pop songs. Since the 1950s, British singers have modified their accents when singing, employing features that are not present in their speak-ing accents, but are widespread in American accents. It has also been noted that, despite dimin-ished American influence on popular culture, which has resulted in fewer American features in pop music, the US pronunciation model is still prevalent in singing. This area has been studied by a number of scholars, and various theories have been proposed to account for the variation. Some have seen the modification as an attempt to express an American identity while others are of the opinion that the themes of the songs, the audience, or the time of recording determine the accent. In this study, four different theories covering these views are reviewed and applied in the analysis of empirical data to determine how and why this phenomenon has developed over the past 60 years. Two hypotheses were formulated on the basis of the theories: (1) American features would fall gradually over time or (2) the sung accent would reflect the genre of the song, with fewer American features in non-American genres regardless of the time of recording. As a quantitative study covering various singers over a long period of time would be too time-consuming, the investigation was carried out as a case study. A total of 25 songs re-corded by the British singer Cliff Richard in five decades were analysed. Five phonological vari-ables with different realisations in British and American accents were chosen for the study. These are pronunciation of non-prevocalic //, //-voicing, "g-dropping", the use of // in the BATH words, and monophthongisation of //. The tokens for each variable were identified, and each instance was recorded as either British or American. Percentage scores of American realisations were calculated for each song and for each set of songs. The results showed that American realisations did not diminish over time for most variables. The vowel in the BATH words was consistently realised as // while //-voicing showed only insignificant variation. On the other hand, g-dropping and //-monophthong-isation exhibited considerable variation and were almost non-existent in one set. Non-prevocalic // was pronounced in 10 % of the tokens in the first and last sets with both lower and higher levels in the intervening sets. Thus the first hypothesis was refuted. The second hypothesis could not be fully confirmed either, but was not rejected to the same extent as the first as some variables did vary considerably in different genres. Overall, the results seem to indicate that the variables are affected differently by several factors. The time elapsed since the 1950s did not appear to be a determining factor for the accent chosen as there was no gradual reduction recorded for any of the variables. The themes of the songs appeared to have little influence with only slightly fewer American realisations in the songs with explicitly British themes. Apparently, the most influential factor is genre conventions as an American accent has become the expected norm in pop singing. Furthermore, formality seems to influence the (ng) and (ai) variables Other factors that also influence the chosen variant include constraints in the singer's native accent, sonority, i.e. whether a sound is easy to sing, the length of the note in which the variable occurs, and attention to the variable. This study has shown that it would therefore be useful to supplement the existing theories with these factors.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages82