[New publication] Language and Literature, 28 (1) 2019
Language and Literature, 28 (1) 2019
This Special Issue is intended to revive the words of songwriting for contemporary stylistics. This is important for two reasons. First, because song lyrics are an integral part of popular music, which itself is a domain of human experience that has enormous significance. Since its emergence through revolutionary media at the beginning of the twentieth century, and particularly since its explosion in popularity and availability in the late 1950s, popular music as we now know it has probably been the most significant cultural form created and experienced by the human being – to such an extent, indeed, that it is now more or less omnipresent. I think that it is important that we, as stylisticians, have something to say about it. Second, because song lyrics have value. It is not for nothing that popular music has such a wide and profound appeal; and song lyrics, as the most salient element, quite clearly have a crucial role to play in how people experience popular music. I do not want to plead the case here that song lyrics are valuable because they are a kind of ‘poetry’. They might share a number of common features, but song lyrics also have their own specificity, derived precisely from the fact that they are an integral component of a multimodal experience: they are sung and accompanied by music, and, when performed live, they are connected to a real physical human being whom we can see. What I want to argue instead is that song lyrics have their own value as lyrics, and that we should judge them by their own criteria – not as ‘poetry’, but as ‘song lyrics’ written to be sung and to be accompanied by music. At its best, popular music can provide the listener with an experience that is truly transcendental, and song lyrics are clearly integral to such an experience. To discover how that power works should be a priority for stylisticians.
‘Y’all don’t wanna hear me, you just wanna dance’: A cognitive approach to listener attention in OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya!, by Matthew Voice and Sara Whiteley
Abstract: In his article on ‘musical stylistics’, Morini demonstrates (with reference to a song by Kate Bush) that lyrical and musical content can work in harmony to produce consonant meanings and stylistic effects. Our article develops Morini’s musical-stylistic approach by employing cognitive theories to track how music and lyrics can work together in a different way. ‘Hey Ya!’ by OutKast (2003) employs a knowing dissonance between the song’s lyrical content and its rhythm and key, the reconciliation of which leads to a drastic and surprising re-reading of the song’s meaning, often documented in online articles and listener discussions. Combining a cognitive poetic approach with theories of ‘habituation’ and ‘fluency’ in music psychology, our analysis centres around the shifting position of the song’s lyrics within the Figure and Ground of the composition, in order to account for listener (in)attentiveness. This leads to a consideration of the attentiveness of readers to lyrical content in music more generally, and its implications for stylistic analysis of the genre.
Song lyrics and the disruption of pragmatic processing: An analysis of linguistic negation in 10CC’s ‘I’m Not in Love’, by Lisa Nahajec
Abstract: The lyrics of 10CC’s ‘I’m Not in Love’ revolve around a musical persona asserting that he is not in love and directing his addressee not to mistake his behaviour as indicating that he is in love with her. However, despite the negative assertions and imperatives, the feel of the song is that the musical persona is in fact in love. This article examines how the complex multimodal context of a song interacts with the prototypical pragmatic processing of negation to allow listeners to reach an interpretation of the song that contradicts the assertions made by the musical persona. The article outlines the nature of negation and examines the language and musical features that create a context of mixed messages that interferes with pragmatic processing.
‘Please could you stop the noise’: The grammar of multimodal meaning-making in Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’, by Clara Neary
Abstract: This article uses Zbikowski’s theory of ‘musical grammar’ to analyse Radiohead’s song ‘Paranoid Android’ from their 1997 album OK Computer. Invoking the close structural and compositional parallels between language and music, Zbikowski’s approach appropriates some of the core elements of cognitive linguistics to provide a means of ‘translating’ music into meaning-bearing conceptual structures via the construction of ‘sonic analogues’, which are a type of conceptual construct formed when incoming perceptual information is compared to existing cognitive knowledge stored as image schemas. The result is an analysis of the interactions between the linguistic and aural constructions of a multimodal text that not only sheds new light on the text’s meaning-making devices, but also endeavours to unlock the strategies through which such distinctive semiotic modes act and interact within texts to create meaning potential.
Relevance theory and metaphor: An analysis of Tom Waits’ ‘Emotional Weather Report’, by Hazel Price and Jack Wilson
Abstract: ‘Emotional Weather Report’ is a song by Tom Waits from his 1975 album, Nighthawks at the Diner. ‘Nighthawk’ is a US colloquial term popularised by its use as the title of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting ‘Nighthawks’, which depicts a nocturnal scene in a New York diner. The term is used to describe people who habitually seek entertainment or companionship in the night-time hours. Waits refers implicitly to Hopper’s work throughout the song, using metaphorical language to present a first-person account of the emotional state of a nighthawk by drawing on the weather report format. Waits’ language relies on the listener’s specific geographical, meteorological and cultural knowledge to understand his communicative intention. The song prompts the listener to bring different levels of encyclopaedic knowledge to an interpretation, and affords differing levels of understanding without distorting the extended metaphor of ‘weather is Waits’ emotions’. This article explores the advantages of a relevance theoretic approach to the stylistic analysis of lyrics. We discuss how the figurative language in Waits’ lyrics is foregrounded by the listener’s schematic/encyclopaedic knowledge of Waits’ history as a performer, of meteorological phenomena and of American culture. We argue that a comprehensive stylistic analysis of a song necessitates a consideration of numerous factors in addition to linguistic choice, including the presentation of the performer, the genre of music and the performer’s history. Such a consideration is paramount to (a) successful metaphorical mapping for the listener, (b) a full analysis of the text as a cultural artefact for the critic, and (c) the achievement of a cohesive and distinct style for the performer.
‘A Certain Romance’: Style shifting in the language of Alex Turner in Arctic Monkeys songs 2006–2018, by Paul J. Flanagan
Abstract: This paper reports on a diachronic study of the language employed by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner in his songs over a 13-year period. The analysis adapts Simpson’s (1999) USA-5 model for studying accent in vocal performance, and focuses on the realisation of three phonological variables and two dialect variables in a 16,000-word corpus of 69 songs across all six albums released by the band. Hailing from High Green, Sheffield, Turner speaks with a vernacular Yorkshire accent, and the band’s early appeal (particularly in northern England) is often accredited partially to their authentic down-to-earth image, content and performance. Throughout their career, the band have evolved in terms of their musical genre and style, and, having recorded their first two albums in England, later albums were recorded and produced mostly in Los Angeles. Simpson’s model is modified in order to analyse trends in usage of five linguistic variables with non-standard variants iconic of northern British identity, with a view to analysing how Turner’s changing linguistic practice relates to his affiliation with vernacular and institutional norms, and thus his performance of different identities within songs.