Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gotta Love That Glottal Stop

Some themes I've touched on before that I will attempt to bring together in this post:

1. British pop song pronunciation
2. The astonishing ability of musicians to be huge in England and practically unknown in America
3. Good music you may not know

Here goes. Ahem...

One of the most popular musicians in England right now is Corinne Bailey Rae. In a month or so she will be popular in America too (her album just came out in the states a few weeks ago), though she probably won't have the same meteoric rise that she did in England, where her debut album -- umm -- debuted -- at #1 back in February. The hit single from this album is "Put Your Records On," and it's fantastic. You can hear it here. It's retro but not derivative, has a great melody and smart production. I fear it's popularity may wind up killing it, but at least it won't languish in obscurity.

I'd been led to believe she writes her own music, but a little research suggests she's just the lyricist. Oh well. When will people learn that writing the lyrics to a song doesn't make you a songwriter? I went through the same disappointment with Norah Jones and Macy Gray. In a way it's sad that artists like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera don't at least get some critical respect for writing their own material, which, whether you like their music or not, bespeaks of much deeper musicality than merely having a good voice. Female R&B artists seem especially snubbed in this regard.

So on to pronunciation. Bailey Rae is from Leeds in Yorkshire, and like fellow overnight sensation Yorkshiremen (Yorkshirepeople?) Arctic Monkeys, she opts out of employing the generic American-British singing pronunciation I've written about before, using features instead of her own dialect. One of these struck me as odd -- she replaces some [t]s with a glottal stop ("three li?le birds", "go?a love that afro hairdo"), a feature I always thought of as limited to the London area. In fact, this feature is found in Leeds and Manchester as well, at least according to one website. I wonder if this feature is found independently in these cities, or whether it spread as a marker of urban working classness.


nbm said...

Thoughts sought. Someone asks: Did Andy Warhol have an identifiable regional accent? A link: Another one:
What do you think?

Ben said...

Excellent question, nbm. It's hard to tell from the links you provided, but listen to this interview . If I didn't know he was from Pittsburgh, I could still tell from this clip that Warhol's either from southern Pennsylvania or northern Maryland. How? The giveaway mid-Atlantic upglides in the /o/ in 'over' at :46, and in 'so' at 1:29. That's one of the most distinctive vowels in American English. Also, to me the way he says 'on' at 1:04 sounds like he's saying 'awn', which I always think of as a Pennsylvania thing.

Anybody else have anything to add?

nbm said...

Thanks! I'll pass this on to my inquirer.

Anonymous said...

I know this post is four years old, but just saying, actually glottalisation of /t/ is very widespread in Britain among the younger generation. I do it all the time and I'm from Lancashire. It's not particularly stigmatised, and middle-class people do it as well as working-class people, in my experience. The first records of /t/-glottalisation are from Scotland, though I don't know what extent this was to (I think nearly all English speakers will glottalise the /t/ in 'Gatwick', for instance).