Sung v. Spoken English

I’ve a terrible feeling this has been asked before, but I couldn’t find a thread on it so here goes:

What is it about singing that minimizes accents? I’m sure everyone sees interviews with performers from alleged “English”-speaking places (like, say, Yorkshire) and looked desperately for subtitles, only to understand every word when the interviewees finally shut up and start singing. What’s happening here? And does this happen in other languages?

They learn the song by rote. They are not “speaking”. They sing it as they learned it.

My girlfriend is Korean. She speaks English pretty well (I rarely have a hard time following her), but she does have a “typical” Asian accent. She will never be confused with a native speaker.

Except when singing. She likes to sing, and plans on joining the church choir. Even if she has never practiced a particular song, her accent doesn’t come through. (She has a beautiful voice by the way. Unlike me who croaks through the hymns.)

I think there is more to it than rote learning, but I’ll be damned if I know what.

Does it have something to do with rhythm, musical beats, words sung much more slowly that regular speech? There is a rap hour music show on one of Bamako’s favorite radio stations [West Africa francophone Mali] played around 5pm on weekdays. Little kids who speak diddlysquat English would call in to sing American rap songs by Public Enemy etc with the filtiest language - songs you and I would NEVER hear on American radio - with no accent, the full attitude, and probably having no real idea what they were singing about. Ca la, c’est super! Ca c’est fortmidable! Come to think about it, French singers tend to accentuate syllables while singing, esp. the last one. Does that make it easier for nonFrench speakers to sing in French? c’est trieste veneeiize… I hate French music especially disco.

Good question:

I remember being at a reception at which Frank Sinatra was present. From his talking speech you’d think he was a dockworker. But when he sang, it was pure gold!

I suspect that substantially different brain function is involved in singing vs. speaking. When singing, I sometimes become distracted and lose all sense of the meaning of the words, even though English is my native language. Do you suppose that lyrics run on two separate mental “tracks”? One track carries the words as music, while the other track carries the meaning of the words. That would explain why my grasp of “meaning” can become derailed without affecting my singing. Also, despite a knack for accent mimicry that far exceeds my singing talents, I find it very difficult to introduce an accent into a song that I originally heard without one.

I have also noticed how many British bands and singers sound American when they sing. But there are also some American bands, who sound British when they sing. I think REM is a good example.

Supporting the notion that it’s a different part of the brain, I’ve heard from a very unreliable source that stutterers don’t stutter when they sing. Another theory might be that much of what makes an accent distinctive is things like rising and falling tones and rhythm, which are specifically regulated in music.