Dialect change

Herbert Stahlke hstahlke at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Mon Nov 4 17:14:55 UTC 2002

Like James Smith, I'm an active choral singer and conductor.  As I linguist
I've often been bemused by the instructions that conductors give their
choirs about diction, hardly a new reaction, since Pike talked, I think in
his Phonetics, about taking voice lessons just to learn the vocabulary and
theory that voice teachers apply to diction.  The reason, I think, that
choral conductors, including me, try to derhotacize choral diction is that
the American retroflexed cenral approximant involve also increased
pharyngeal constriction, which seriously cuts resonance.  The whole choral
sound weakens at a postvocalic /r/.  As far as the r-lessness of much pop
music is concerned, I think there is also some vocal training involved here.
I have read that when Motown was at its height in the 60s-80s, they insisted
on rigorous voice training for their vocalists, and any good vocal training
will train the singer to drop the postvocalic /r/s.

Herb Stahlke

> I'm not a professional musician, but having sung in a
> number of chorals during my life, I can say that, to
> make the sound more pleasing, dropping the "r" at the
> end of words and eliminating diphthongs as much as
> possible are two things which are stressed
> consistently.
> --- Karl Krahnke <krahnke at LAMAR.COLOSTATE.EDU> wrote:
> > The discussion on dialect change in song raises an
> > issue I have been
> > vaguely aware of for some time and on which I
> > recently received some
> > surprising evidence.
> >
> > I do not regularly listen to popular music of any
> > kind (that is not meant
> > as a snobbish remark--I just don't), but when I do
> > hear sort of mainstream
> > vocals (sorry, I can't be more precise, yet) I
> > frequently notice the singer
> > using a relatively r-less pronunciation and
> > monophthonizing /ai/
> > diphthongs. There may be other features, but I have
> > not noticed them. Yet,
> > as several of you have noted, when the singer is
> > interviewed, s/he uses a
> > fully r-ful dialect with diphthongs.
> >
> > I thought I was on to some unrecognized
> > sociolinguistic change that I would
> > get around to researching some day, when I mentioned
> > this phenomenon to a
> > freshman class of mine--extremely linguistically
> > naive and r-pronouncing,
> > diphthongizers. They shrugged and said that it was
> > nothing new to them,
> > that several had taken pop singing lessons and that
> > was a basic part of the
> > instruction.
> >
> > I haven't gone any further with this. Is this common
> > knowledge? Any similar
> > experiences?
> >
> > Karl Krahnke
> > English Department
> > Colorado State University
> =====
> James D. SMITH                 |If history teaches anything
> South SLC, UT                  |it is that we will be sued
> jsmithjamessmith at yahoo.com     |whether we act quickly and decisively
>                                |or slowly and cautiously.
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