Why Do Accents Disappear When Singing?

(Last Updated On: February 27, 2021)
A British lead singer is able to sing without accents.

If you are an avid song listener, you will notice that accents disappear in songs. By listening to songs, for example, you can’t differentiate American singers from British singers. But why the heck can’t you hear the accent of a singer when he/she sings? Moreover, it seems that all singers in the English language have the same accent. They seem to come from the same country or region when they sing.

Understanding Rhoticity

There is, for example, what we call “rhoticity in English.” Rhotic consonant, for instance, like “r” is pronounced differently in different accents. This rhoticity, therefore, is a prominent distinguishing factor in the classifications of accents.

The General American accent, for example, pronounces “r” when it is the end letter of a word, as in the case of “car.” But they would often not pronounce the letter “r” in the way they would speak when they sing. Instead, they push the “r” towards an “ah” sound, which is similar to how the British would pronounce it. So, the rhoticity of the “r” disappears when singing.

Possible Explanation Behind the Loss of Accent When Singing

There are some plausible reasons behind the loss of accent when singing. Here are some of these plausible reasons:

1) Vocal Techniques When Singing!

Singing and speaking, of course, are two different things. When you sing, you sustain sounds. This sustaining of sounds changes the manner you would pronounce a word. This is because your pronunciation of words would be more drawn out. This elongation of your pronunciation also alters the way the audience perceives the words that you pronounce. This is because when you sing, you don’t enunciate all the parts of the syllable. You only expose a part of every syllable. 

The vocal technique, of course, focuses on diction and vowel shape. Nevertheless, diction and vowel shapes are essential parts of why there are distinctions in regional accents. Yet, when singing, singers—who employ proper vocal technique—tend to drop some of their typical regional accents. This is because they tend to focus on utilizing clear and crisp consonants and warm and open vowels. 

Your manner of enunciating syllables and words would differ when you sing. This is too obvious when you have classical music training. This is because you don’t focus on these techniques when you are trained in classical music. But if you are not, you will just sing like the way you talk. 

2) Accent Neutralization

Sometimes you may be amazed at hearing a guy (with an accent) lose his accent when he sings. Why is it so? One succinct explanation of this phenomenon is that—intonation, vowel length, and quality create accent differences. However, singing affects all these factors. When singing, for example, you elongate syllables, you increase your airflow, and you even less articulate words. Hence, our rendition of the song hides our accent. Thus, our accent becomes indistinguishable when we sing. 

But accent neutralization doesn’t happen all the time. Some singers may sound like they have a neutral accent when they sing. Yet, some singers, however, sing with an accent. This, therefore, makes some singing theory about accent neutralization when singing not universal. 

The important thing to note is that singing sometimes requires you to attenuate syllables, makes you inhale more air, and muddles your articulation of words. These tendencies result in a neutralized and generic accent. 

This is particularly obvious when singing an English song. Singers with distinct spoken accents will habitually sound like Americans when they sing English songs. This loss of accent, of course, doesn’t only occur among English speaking singers. It also occurs among non-American artists as well. 

3) Vowel Sounds

It seems that most singers of English songs transition into the standard neutral American way of singing once they sing an English song. Experts explain that this may be due to the way the mouth forms words. It is due to the mechanical aspects of how words are formed. 

When you are singing, for example, you stress some vowels and syllables. You also go with the natural groove, cadence, melody, and rhythm of the song. So, you would hear a singer with an accent effortlessly sing a song without his accent being prominent. 

English Accents, of course, are characterized by how some vowels and consonants are pronounced. The “r”, for example, is attenuated or shortened depending on the accent you have. You can distinguish English accents by the way vowel sounds are lengthened and how the speakers inflect. 

Lip rounding when pronouncing letter “o”, for example, is often done in London and some places within England. It is done to get the real sound of this vowel. However, with the standard American accent, the lips are more relaxed when pronouncing “o,” and thus “o” sounds more like an “Ah.” It is more of a jaw-dropping than a lip-rounding. 


Why British Singers Sound American?

Many experts argue that it is due to the dominance of American music. This leads non-American singers to transition into a neutral American accent when singing. They further bolstered their argument by saying that most popular music and songs were created and produced in the U.S for the past few decades. 

Moreover, they would say that many popular songs had come from American record labels. So, what they are insinuating is that America is the hub of global music. So, this could explain the natural transitioning of singers into neutral American accents.

The thing is, for a song to be considered a world-wide hit, it needs to become popular first in the U.S. For this reason, many singers want to sing their songs in an American accent to get their songs accepted by the American audience. In a way, they consciously develop an American accent when singing songs to appeal to the mainstream audience.

Many singers have been branded as consciously altering their accents when they sing. Singers like Mick Jagger and Keith Urban, for example, have been accused of this. 

Other Theory for Explaining this Phenomenon!

Other theories try to explain this tendency to transition into a neutral American. One theory is the “Accommodation Theory.” But what is this theory? This theory says that when we talk to someone, we subconsciously alter our accents. We alter our accents to fit or diverge from the person we are talking to.  

This is done to either identify or distance oneself from the person we are conversing with. But this theory obviously cannot account for the natural tendency to lose one accent when singing. This is because there isn’t any back and forth conversation between the audience and the singer when the singer sings. Moreover, there is no reason to accommodate the accents of the audience when one is singing. 

Another theory used to account for the disappearance of accents when singing is the “Theory of Appropriate.” This theory says that we tend to adjust our pronunciation based on its appropriateness to an occasion and situation. Hence, singers may deem singing in an accent that is appropriate to an audience or situation. 

Social Stereotyping and Factors

Many experts have indicated that singers who don’t belong to the pop genres don’t tend to adopt a seemingly neutral American accent. They are resistive to this tendency as compared to pop singers. These other genres, of course, include folk, punk, country, and indie music. Singers of these genres often stick to their regional accents. Moreover, these singers do exhibit authenticity in their expressions of music and are more faithful to their accents. 

The tendency of pop singers to sport an American accent may be due to certain expectations that pop music should sound American. Thus, pop singers tend to transition to a neutral American accent. 

Origin of Contemporary Mainstream Music

Many mainstream music genres have mostly American origins. Hence, those who would like to identify themselves with mainstream music usually tend to identify themselves with their American origins. Even British pop singers, therefore, who identify themselves with American music also tend to sport an American aura and outlook. Subconsciously, they adapt themselves to what is typically the “American label.” 

The Americans, of course, have dominated mainstream music for the past several years. This overpowering dominion has engendered a feverish tendency for other musicians from different countries to mimic mainstream American music. This tendency to adapt to the more dominant culture and to the culture that one admires is understandable.   


Conclusion

The fact that many non-American artists sing in an American manner is not easy to explain. If you haven’t heard, for example, how Bono or Elton John speaks, you may mistake them for being Americans. Yet, you can technically explain this disappearance of an accent when singing. You can also allude to many social theories like the Theory of Appropriateness, and Accommodation Theory to account for this tendency. Moreover, the dominance of American Music and Culture may also account for this phenomenon. Though this tendency to lose one’s regional accent when singing in English usually does not appear among genres other than the popular genre. 

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