My argument for why Standard American English really is "no accent" -

And I’ve gotten at least one Brit to agree:

Because no matter how thick a person’s accent might be, or where it’s from in the whole wide world… when they SING their accent disappears. (With some rare exceptions). They pronounce the words in singing them the way I do when I speak. I am always startled when someone like Sia or the lead singer from Garbage speaks and this incredibly thick accent comes out, (Australian & Scottish, respectively). Judging from their singing alone, I would be expect them to speak exactly the way I do.

The most frequently heard exception to this is Southerners singing country music. But there’s a lot of Southerners singing other kinds of music and their accent isn’t noticeable. I would never have dreamed that Harry Connick hailed from Louisiana when he was crooning Sinatra tunes, for example, but the man has a very thick accent when he speaks. Less so now, but still unmistakable.

Therefore, since the majority of English-speaking singer’s accents disappear when they sing and they sound like someone who speaks Standard American English,I contend that Standard American English is as close as it gets to representing a genuinely neutral pronounciation of English.

So, you’ve never heard Dexy’s Midnight Runners? Or, say, The Proclaimers?

Uh, no. Especially if you’re putting forth the argument that someone automatically slips into a flatter american accent when singing. Non-american people singing in an american accent are making the conscious effort to do so, usually because mainstream music tends towards an american accent and they want to match it.

David Crystal on singing and accents.


Has it occurred to you at all that the adoption of what you might call a newscaster American accent is a standard convention in pop and rock music? It’s done because it is expected, not because we have some special non-accent. And I’m not even going to bother to list all the artists who don’t follow this convention but 30 seconds worth of thought will show that there are many more than just your “rare exceptions”.

Good god.

Exactly. And there are plenty of singers who speak SAE, but when they sing, they adopt foreign accents that are typical of the genre of music they are singing.

Yes, a singing voice is different than a speaking voice.

People who speak in an accent different than yours,* but whose singing voice you’ve had occasion to hear, are generally professional singers with some degree of success and exposure beyond their home dialect community. Those singing voices have a greater tendency to be more American-standardized (as noted, often by design). The success of Garbage outside Scotland isn’t unrelated to the fact that Shirley Manson’s singing voice isn’t as Scottish as her speaking (though I wouldn’t actually call the speaking voice you’ve heard “incredibly thick”–she herself said it gets much broader when she drinks, which suggests that she’s modulating it for or because of international exposure at other times).

Of course there are plenty of exceptions, but they will often be pigeonholed and limited; the Proclaimers had one massive international record, if I’m not mistaken, and that was sufficient overtly Scottish singing for most of the non-Scots who bought it.

  • This is a generic “you,” not just for Stoid.

Expected by whom? And if it is expected of singers from around the world singing for their local populations, why would those populations, who have such different accents than Americans who speak with a Standard American accent, expect their singers to sing in a manner that sounds very much like SA?

Why not? I’d like to be educated, because I did think about it for a lot longer than 30 seconds and I didn’t come up with many at all. In fact, what led me to this was listening to some early Bowie songs where his accent was, unusually, noticable. (I did come up wtih the Proclaimers, and there is a similar quality to the Sinead O’Conner and the lead singer of the Cranberries, although neither one sounds particularly Irish when they sing.)
And I’m not saying that Standard American is “special” - it’s just very bland and flat compared with most varieties of accents among English-speaking people. It doesn’t bend and twist the sounds in the language in interesting ways, and it doesn’t have any kind of lilt in it. It’s pretty close to neutral.

In any case, whether a person’s pronounciation flattens out to sound like SA naturally when they begin singing, or there’s some worldwide agreement that singers should strive for this effect, it still leads to the reasonable conclusion that SA does in fact come the closest to a neutral pronounciation of the English language.

Well, I googled.

Having googled, my argument stands, and here’s why: everyone is representing it as singers “losing” their accent - so if “losing” your accent when you sing means you end up sounding like Americans who speak Standard American English, Standard American English is obviously the closest thing that exists to a neutral pronounciation, whether it happens automatically or is learned, the bottom line remains the same, and it was that fact that was my point, not how it happens.

A singing teacher on YouTube explains it in a news segment.

Pet Shop Boys (Neil or Chris), Erasure, Bjork, Oysterband, Mika, Great Big Sea, are six examples I thought up in six seconds of artists who don’t have anything resembling an American accent when they sing in English. Also, what about classical/choir singers who are trained to use a very distinctive accent (nothing like American English) when singing?

Why would you say that? All it means is that it leads to a pronunciation that is considered neutral because it’s hegemonic. Not that there’s anything particular about the accent itself that makes it that way, only the social values connected to it. Of course it sounds “neutral” without “bends and twists” to it; you’re accustomed to thinking of it that way, and it’s the yardstick you’re using with which to measure other accents. It becomes a tautology: American is neutral because neutral means American; it’s the accent that differs least from itself.

And here’s several written answers that all describe singing as removing accents, which leads to the singer sounding like me, which means the way I speak is relatively unaccented.

See my last answer for this answer.

I think that the use of internationally commercially successful artists lays a faulty foundation for anecdote-based inferrences. Going to local open mics and coffee houses might give a more accurate example of what English speakers sound like singing.

I know you feel like you’re being objective, but I promise you, you only think this because it’s what you’re accustomed to hearing. Everything you’ve said here - bland, flat, no interesting “bends” or “twists”, no “lilt” - is totally subjective and relative. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find people who have grown up speaking other dialects who would agree with you.

There’s no such thing as a default or neutral way of speaking a language. However, there can be a standard dialect; one that is the most popular, and therefore, most commonly understood, even by people who don’t speak it. That’s what Standard American is. But it’s not because of any linguistic factors that make it more “neutral” or “easier” or whatever. Standard American just got lucky and had some really good PR. It’s not popular because it’s easy to understand; it’s easy to understand because it’s popular.

Your own link supports my point:

Again, if the result of accents “disappearing” when a person sings is that their pronounciation sounds like Standard American English, then Standard American English obviously lacks accent.

Which is my only point. Not that it is better or worse, natural or deliberate, right or wrong, only these things:
[li]There is such a thing as speaking English without an accent, which people have recently insisted was not so.[/li][li]Speaking English without an accent sounds like Standard American English.[/li][li]Singing is the evidence that this is true, because people with all kinds of accents describe singers as either “losing” their accents OR sounding like Americans.[/li][/ul]

My argument for why Black Vernacular English really is “no accent”:

When I listen to rap music, no matter where it’s from in the whole wide world, the singer’s accent vanishes and turns into Black Vernacular English.

What do you think “losing an accent” means? You can’t “lose an accent,” you can only replace it. You have to realize phonemes somehow, and if you’re choosing one regional way of realizing them instead of another, that means you’re just shifting from one accent to another.

But because one way of pronouncing is hegemonic and the others are considered peripheral, the hegemonic accent is considered “not an accent” and the peripheral ones are considered “accents,” just like the accepted standard variety of a language is considered “not dialect” and other varieties are considered “dialect.”

The fact that moving from one accent to a particular other one is considered “losing an accent” says more about the relative social values attached to the two accents than it does about any linguistic facts about them. It’s a matter of sociolinguistics, not phonetics.

As demonstrated by the examples of numerous singers who sing in “accents,” there’s nothing special about the phonetic processes that occur when we sing that cause “accents” to “disappear.” Of course many popular singers assume an American accent when singing, precisely because it’s sociologically considered “not an accent.” But that doesn’t mean anything phonetically interesting about Standard American English.

And other accents have been hegemonic in other times and places – look at Pygmalion: Eliza “loses her accent,” but she doesn’t start speaking Standard American, she starts speaking an upper-class British sociolect. That’s because that’s the hegemonic lect in that time and place.

Or, as I mentioned, classical singers are trained to assume a special kind of pronunciation (characterized in particular by monophthongal vowels, among other things) that sounds nothing like American English. Because that’s the accent that’s favoured in that context.

In sum, (certain) singers don’t lose their accent and start speaking American English; they start speaking American English because that’s considered to be losing your accent because it’s sociolinguistically favoured.

No, “standard” American English (which isn’t truly standardized anyway, but NM) is just the most widespread and culturally dominant English accent. When people speak of “losing,” they really mean eliminating the signal characteristics that separate their natural accent from that one.

That kind of American accent is “neutral” or “no” accent in exactly the same way that WASPs are “regular” or “not ethnic” people.

To my understanding, the knowledgeable parts of your link (not the narration) explain part of why all singing voices are at least a little different from speaking voices. Since accents can be differentiated from each other in a slew of different ways, it stands to reason that some voices would naturally shift more when moving into singing. Maybe you can make an argument that the variance between your native speaking accent and your natural singing accent is smaller than for some other people, but if so, the features that make it so are themselves characteristic of an accent. Assigning a null centrality to that feature set is still, well, ethnocentric.

No, there isn’t. There is such a thing as speaking English in the most commonly spoken and understood accent. That accent, for many people, happens to be the Standard American accent.

To speakers of Standard American English, yes. But there are plenty of people who consider Received Pronunciation to be clear, unaccented English. There are also quite a few who feel that way about Indian English. They’re just different standards.

Yes, because Standard American English is the accent they consider standard. If you ask someone who considers another dialect to be standard, they would probably say they are adopting an American accent.

You’ve misinterpreted what Crystal wrote. The features to which he refers aren’t what you’re hearing as shifting towards an American accent. Those things happen when anyone sings, including someone who already speaks Standard American English. SAE has its own intonation patterns, rhythm, and vowel length, which also get assimilated.

The features he refers to are called suprasegmental features, and they’re part – but only part, and a small and frequently non-obvious part – of an “accent.” What you’re hearing when you characterize singers as singing in SAE is how they realize *phonemes *(segmental features) - the specific speech-sounds (phones) they produce when they articulate vowels and consonants.

Once again, if it were true that there was just something about singing that made people with accents sound like they were speaking SAE, this would obtain to some extent for all singers, when it’s been shown that that isn’t so.

When Oysterband sings, their intonation patterns, rhythms, and vowel length get occluded; but the way they realize phonemes isn’t, so their regional accent is preserved. When other singers shift from one regional accent to another (SAE), it’s not because they’re singing, but because they’re altering the way they realize phonemes.

Except that the experts answer the questions “Why do British singers lose their accents when they sing” “why do people lose their accents when they sing” and “why do people with different accents sound like Americans when they sing” exactly the same way, by describing what happens and/or what the training does as “neutralizing” accents. Hence, the more neturalized an accent is, the more it sounds like SAE, therefore SAE is a pretty neutral way of speaking English.