What separates accented speech from “neutral” speech? How can accent habits be undone? Fascinating answers to questions like these can be found in a seemingly unlikely place—music. Just think about the popular songs on your playlists. If you stop to really listen, many of these songs will sound like they are being sung with a North American accent, even if the musicians singing aren’t North American natives.
From Ed Sheeran to BTS, artists with a wide variety of accents all seem to default to standard North American pronunciation when singing. When we study the causes of this fascinating phenomenon, there’s a lot we can learn about how accents are formed, providing excellent insights for those interested in modifying their accents. Let’s take a look at some of those reasons:
Music Makes Us Reconsider Vowels and Resonance
To make music pleasant to the ear, singers need to focus on what is known as “resonance”. Creating a resonant tone often requires long and sustained vowel sounds. This means that when a person sings, they have to adjust the shape of their mouth and throat to suit a resonant vowel pronunciation, a process that is often counter-intuitive to a person’s native accent. The necessary reshaping of vowels in a song is one reason why people tend to lose their accents when they sing.
Melody and Beats Can Neutralize an Accent
Every language has its own specific stress and intonation patterns—the rhythm of speech. You usually don’t notice these distinctive prosodic patterns until you start to adapt to a new accent. When you speak in a non-native language, it can be hard to leave behind the rhythmic features of your native tongue, even if you’re otherwise very fluent in the new language.
However, when people sing, having to adapt to the song’s melody effectively abolishes the intonation patterns of speech, and the beat of music cancels out the speech rhythm. Since most popular songs have North American language features, this means that when people sing, they’re likely to adapt to a North American rhythmic accent pattern as well.
Cultural Influence Of American Media
Decades of popular music tradition have shaped the way we expect songs to be sung. Through the influence of American music culture on the global music and media industry, a North American accent has come to be seen as a default “neutral” accent that becomes associated with a typical musical style. That’s one reason why so many artists who aren’t native to North America adapt to the accent when they sing.
They say that music is a universal language. When we look at the way music affects accents, this statement seems even more true. If you have been looking for ways to shape a more “neutral” accent, start examining the way accents change when people sing. With the help of a certified Speech-Language Pathologist, you can find the strategies for successful accent modification that will help you maximize your potential.