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Off topic: Clarity of English song lyrics
Thread poster: Nesrin

Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
English to Arabic
+ ...
Mar 2, 2012

This may be silly, but I've always wondered if there's any linguistic/phonetic explanation for the fact that English song lyrics are very often so hard to figure out. I can hear a song in languages I'm not particularly fluent in, and make out every last word they say (even those I don't quite know the meaning of!), but even non-rock songs in English are sometimes completely undecipherable.

No need to take this question very seriously, I'm not conducting research or anything, just sitting there with nothing better to do with my brain cells on a Friday night.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Hebrew to English
Never noticed/never had a problem Mar 2, 2012

Can't say that I have a problem with most songs, unless...

a) the song lyrics are in a thick accent or dialect (http://youtu.be/D3B6x2bLZWU)

b) the lyrics are mumbled rather than sang ( a French teacher I knew once told me that the French open their mouths more than the English, so there may be some truth in the mumblingness of English lyrics)

c) Non-sensical/Seemingly non-sensical lyrics (The Killers song: "Are we human or are we dancer") - Unless you knew the quote this refers to it doesn't make much sense, even then - artistic licence has a lot to answer for.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
Right Mar 2, 2012

You are absolutely right. It probably has to do with the nature of the senseless "pop" culture that dominates the English'language music industry. Not only are song lyrics clear as mud, but many of the entertainers are personally quite unintelligible as well, to say the least.

There was a time, up through the 1940's, when English language song lyrics were very clear. The youth culture started to take over the music industry in the 1950's, but 50's music was still fun and understandable. The big decline came in the 1960's and still continues getting worse.

I'm sure many who are younger than I will disagree with my opinion, but that's what it is.


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Aisha Maniar  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:08
Member (2003)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Don't try this at home... Mar 2, 2012

Wot, do you mean something like this?!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQt-h753jHI


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Decipherit  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Oh Lord! Mar 2, 2012

Aisha Maniar wrote:

Wot, do you mean something like this?!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQt-h753jHI



I think I may have wet myself!


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
English to Arabic
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Haha Mar 2, 2012

Aisha Maniar wrote:

Wot, do you mean something like this?!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQt-h753jHI



No, I'm not that bad, but oh well, just me then


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
It wasn't always as bad as it is now Mar 2, 2012

Try this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWn3d0_Nyos&feature=BFa&list=AVGxdCwVVULXd7aWGlbFP4-89i4YRLpTIt&lf=list_related


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patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 06:08
Spanish to English
+ ...
It's the schwa. (Maybe.) Mar 2, 2012

Ooooh, great video clip!

I think one of the culprits is the English schwa, that mid-central vowel sound which appears in practically all words of more than one syllable and which can be pronounced without moving a facial muscle. It makes us very lazy, I fear. Just watch speakers of English on TV with the sound turned off and then do the same with Spanish (for example) speakers. You'll see how hard Spanish speakers' faces work compared to English speakers'.

Interesting thread.


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PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:08
English to Polish
+ ...
Yeah! Mar 2, 2012

What is this song all about?
Can't figure any lyrics out
How do the words to it go?
I wish you'd tell me, I don't know
Don't know, don't know, don't know, ooh no
Don't know, don't know, don't know...

Now I'm mumblin' and I'm screamin'
And I don't know what I'm singin'
Crank the volume, ears are bleedin'
I still don't know what I'm singin'
We're so loud and incoherent
Boy, this oughta bug your parents
Yeah!


Production will have a lot to do with it.

I have always found the singing of Robert Plant (with or without Led Zeppelin) completely unintelligible, wheras Frank Zappa, for example, I always understand, but that's because lyrics always play an important role in his songs, so the voice is at the front of the mix.

[Edited at 2012-03-02 20:37 GMT]


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Decipherit  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Indeed Mar 2, 2012



I'm sure Engelbert Humperdinck will fly in to the rescue. We'll all be crooning and enunciating correctly in no time


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2008)
Italian to English
See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen Mar 2, 2012

Nesrin wrote:

This may be silly, but I've always wondered if there's any linguistic/phonetic explanation for the fact that English song lyrics are very often so hard to figure out.


Everything is explained here:

http://www.kissthisguy.com

[Edited at 2012-03-02 21:30 GMT]


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Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
French to English
+ ...
Great Mar 2, 2012


I do like clear enunciation in songs - I like to be able to hear what they're singing about
PS: But I also like the way you can look up so many lyrics on the web for those songs where you can't work out what they're singing

[Edited at 2012-03-03 15:17 GMT]


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Xavier84  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:08
English to French
+ ...
When a man loves a wombat Mar 2, 2012

Someone once told me that in the Southern soul classic "When A Man Loves A Woman", what they hear Percy Sledge say sounds more like "When a man loves a wombat".

http://youtu.be/vQh112HQsoE

Although they were joking, I have to say it does sound like he says "wombat" and I'll never hear the song the same way again. It truly takes on a whole new meaning. A very disturbing one...


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:08
Member (2008)
Italian to English
? Mar 2, 2012

patyjs wrote:

Ooooh, great video clip!

I think one of the culprits is the English schwa, that mid-central vowel sound which appears in practically all words of more than one syllable and which can be pronounced without moving a facial muscle. It makes us very lazy, I fear. Just watch speakers of English on TV with the sound turned off and then do the same with Spanish (for example) speakers. You'll see how hard Spanish speakers' faces work compared to English speakers'.

Interesting thread.


the schwa? WHat's that? Examples please.

I did once know a woman who taught English to foreigners. After a few weeks they asked her if she liked parties because she was always saying "Festival".

Actually she was saying "First of all".

While we're on the subject I can't stand British pop singers who put on what they think is an American accent. Worst offenders: the Rolling Stones.


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patyjs  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 06:08
Spanish to English
+ ...
I'll try to explain... Mar 2, 2012

Hi Tom,

The schwa is the vowel sound we use for many vowels which don't carry the stress in a word.

I used to teach English and so many students struggle with the pronunciation of words like "comfortable" and "fortunate" because they want to give the full value to each vowel (I believe Spanish vowels all have the same value and length but someone will correct me if I'm wrong). Hence, they would always say come-for-table and for-tune-ate whereas an English speaker would use the schwa for the last two syllables in both words. Indeed, the second syllable of "comfortable" is practically lost altogether.

Say the words out loud and you'll see that in these two words an o, an a and a u are all pronounced the same.

I'm no expert, so apologies if I don't have this exactly right.


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