Posted: Sat 24th Feb 2024

University of Chester experts fill in blank space in discussion on Taylor Swift’s accent shifts

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Changes in Taylor Swift’s accent across music genres have been outlined by University of Chester English Language experts as part of a world-first summit focused on the pop phenomenon.

Dr Helen West, Senior Lecturer in English Language/Linguistics, and English Language graduate, Esther Humphries have added to the discussion from Swift’s fanbase around her earlier music being performed with a Southern American (USA) or Tennessee accent, and her more recent music, with a Northern American (USA) accent.

They presented a paper on the subject online – the only speakers to discuss accent or speech – to the Swiftposium academic conference, at the University of Melbourne this month, which was among 130 selected from more than 400 submissions.

As Melbourne prepared to welcome Swift’s Eras Tour on Friday (February 16), the two-day summit, days before, looked at the significance of the icon’s effect on culture, music, politics, critical theory, the economy, law, and more.

Dr West and Miss Humphries’ presentation shared an analysis of contrasting phonetic features of the words ‘price’, ‘kit’, and ‘dress’, and the suffix, ‘-ing’, said by Swift in Northern and Southern American English. Comparisons were drawn between Swift’s speech during interviews from 2006 and 2012, and 20 of the most-streamed songs from four of her albums – Taylor Swift (2006), Fearless (Platinum Edition, 2008), Red (Deluxe Edition, 2012), and 1989 (Deluxe, 2014).

Dr West said: “Taylor’s accent changes between her country and pop music styles has generated quite a lot of public attention, but until our research, had not been analysed in any depth.

“The results reveal significant stylisation dependent on the musical genre Swift performs, with Southern American English accent forms more prevalent in her earlier country-style music. Her popular-style performances demonstrate a transition to Northern American accent forms.

“However, while there is clear evidence of accent shift between the two genres for all the accent sounds investigated, our results reveal that the shift between the genres is more subtle than we had hypothesised, with Swift using less perceptible Southern accent forms in her country area, rather than some of the features that index (are very recognisable in) a Southern American accent.”

Miss Humphries added: “These results suggest that Swift is not performing the accent simply for her music but indicate a form of bi-linguilism, with some linguistic awareness.

“The changes could be attributed to a range of factors including her emersion into the Nashville/South American English speech community, having moved to Nashville at the age of 14, and they could also carry some social meaning about ‘countryness’, youth culture and lack of pretention.”

Organisers of the Swiftposium have shared how despite a career spanning more than 17 years, being one of the highest-earning and most-celebrated artists of all time, with millions of fans worldwide, intense media attention, being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year and groundbreaking awards success, academia has not always taken Swift seriously. But they add that “Swift’s influence, fanbase, and general mainstream popularity, have become too big for academia to ignore”.

Papers at the Swiftposium looked at everything from the effect on the local economy of where Swift tours and how she keeps her sound relatable yet fresh, to the feminism of anti-heroism and how her music can be used to improve cardiovascular health.

Based on Miss Humphries’ Bachelor of Arts dissertation, the University of Chester experts’ paper was titled: “Everything has Changed” Or has it? A real-time sociophonetic analysis of Taylor Swift.

Dr West added that there was an increased interest in the language of popular music due to what it can reveal about performers’ identities, perceptions of the audience and more.

For more information on the Swiftposium, which ran from February 11 to 13, please visit: https://swiftposium2024.com/.

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