Britishness in British heavy metal: a sociophonetic perspective

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Somebody’s pronunciation says a lot about who they are: geographical origins, education level, or socioeconomic background. The way we speak contains a great deal of information about our identity and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world. This observation does not only apply to speaking; it also holds true for singing. In 1983, sociolinguist Peter Trudgill published a study entitled Acts of Conflicting Identity: the sociolinguistics of British pop-song pronunciation, in which he identified a tendency for British pop artists like The Beatles to adopt an American-like pronunciation when singing. He concluded that this Americanization in songs by British artists was a consequence of the American domination of the music industry at that time, because it seemed appropriate for artists to sound American when performing a predominantly American activity. The aim of this study is to see whether this principle applies to Heavy Metal in its original form as a distinctly British genre. Indeed, Heavy Metal was born out of the daily struggles of Northern England’s working class youth facing de-industrialization in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and can thus be considered emblematic of a particular Northern British and more generally British identity. To study whether British Heavy Metal has followed the popular pattern of Americanization, or if it has maintained its British roots in terms of pronunciation, we analyzed sung and spoken productions by two British Heavy Metal bands: Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. We focused on two pronunciation features that distinguish Northern British English from Southern British English and in turn, Southern British English from American English. The first one relates to the pronunciation of the two types of vowels found in words such as foot (/ʊ/) and strut (/ʌ/), and is technically referred to as the FOOT-STRUT Split. The second pronunciation feature we looked at concerns the consonant /t/ when found in the middle of a word, such as in water, atom or better. In American English, this /t/ is pronounced in such a way that it sounds more like a /d/. This process is known as T Voicing and is one of the main distinguishing characteristics between British and American English. The following questions were thus addressed: 1. Based on analyses of the FOOT-STRUT Split and T Voicing, do Iron Maiden and Def Leppard show a tendency to Americanize their pronunciation in their sung productions? 2. If so, what are the factors influencing this preference? Is it only a question of imitation as Trudgill suggests or do other factors come into play?

Jun 17, 2019 1:00 PM