Author Topic: Can Phonetics explain why certain music was made for certain languages?  (Read 313 times)

Offline bharathk98

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I’ve been analyzing Foreign rap and it seems rather unnatural. Foreign languages don’t sound good with the beats. It seems for the Modern Music; Pop, Rock and Rap go well with English but not Foreign.

Cultures are struggling to modernize. More Foreigners are preferring English because contain various themes (Politics, Love, Swag, Sex, Drugs, Alchohol, Violence) which is easy to listen at the same time. Most cultures have songs that are either about love and heart break or sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. Few songs mix either themes with Swag and Politics.

Lastly some Foreign music is too poetic, so the youth don’t enjoy it much. It’s isn’t very conversational or trendy in other there is hardly any swag. This is the case in India’s Bollywood and other Asian Nations.

Besides this, can linguistics explain why Modern Music sounds natural in English. Is there a reason older genres better in other languages? (Opera sounds better in Italian, Bhangra sounds better in Punjabi, Brazilian Funk sounds better in Brazilian, etc.)

It seems other nations are confused on how to properly modernize their music as they absorb other cultures at a rapid rate.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Can Phonetics explain why certain music was made for certain languages?
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2019, 08:15:33 PM »
On the one hand, I disagree with the premise that some languages are "struggling to modernize" in general. The most popular music in the world is somewhat generic "pop" music, found really everywhere, and that's quite "modern". There are also other very recent (in that sense of "modern") styles like death metal that actually are especially popular in some non-English languages (German, Swedish, etc.), even among English speakers.

On the other hand, the globalization of English, along with the extreme popularity of English music, now means that English music is overtaking other local music everywhere, even in countries where there is no (immediate) linguistic threat of English taking over the local language (e.g., France or Spain). The situation is complicated and mixed, so at the same time you also do find some music in the local language now copying English trends (like pop, and other styles) rather than continuing traditional music from the local culture.

Beyond the linguistic and social factors, there's also a huge branding and marketing perspective: it might be more appropriate to compare the spread of English music to the spread of Coca-Cola than to the spread of the English language in general. What do radio stations play? It seems that everywhere in the world you can turn on the radio and find English music. This creates a feedback loop: English becomes normalized as a language of music. Without the big labels and money behind local bands, they may struggle to get airtime or gain popularity, although of course the opposite factor of local interest helps them too.

Anyway, as for purely linguistic issues, there are some factors, but probably not as broadly as you suggest. The relevant literature would probably be about how poetry varies by language, and local traditions conforming to linguistic features. For example, rhyming is a feature of English poetry (and less often but still frequently in English music), but in a language like Latin where the endings of words are so often the same there may be other strategies like meter. These of course have an effect on local music. My guess would be that any complex traditional music styles might have features particularly suitable for the local language, and then they might not translate well into English. This is of course why pop (and perhaps death metal) translate from English so well: there really aren't any (linguistic) rules, so any language can fit. But that's not true of some local traditions. Related to this is the issue of popularity versus tradition, where any particularly limited and traditional musical style may fall out of fashion as younger generations look to new trends-- a somewhat natural cycle, but interrupted and shifted when those new trends are international.

In the end, music is a product, and it will be whatever sells. That doesn't mean that the current situation is the only one that would create sales, but it is hard to interrupt. So I'm guessing that's part of the issue: the current model is basically selling English music around the world, and that works (in some sense, at least in terms of profit), so it's hard to replace that with local music instead, although that would also likely work.

This reminds me of a German filmmaker visiting my university to present a film she had made. It was in German, with subtitles for us. But all of the music was in English. Afterwards during the Q&A, I asked about this choice: why choose English music? There are various answers I can imagine, such as capturing this zeitgeist we're talking about here. But her answer was surprising, and perhaps insightful: she said she didn't even really think about that, she just picked the music (which happened to be in English). She even seemed a little surprised by the question, as if it was obvious.
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Offline panini

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Re: Can Phonetics explain why certain music was made for certain languages?
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2019, 08:11:01 AM »
As for the question you ask in the title, to the extent that it's true, there is a fairly simple and general phonetic explanation: a given musical style is created post-hoc with an aesthetic purpose. Sound is the major means of transmitting that purpose in music, so the instruments and the voices are the major contributors to defining a musical style. Leaving out a few non-linguistic vocal styles like throat singing and joik, that means that language, specifically phonetic properties, is going to be front and center in evaluating the effectiveness of any singing style is achieving that aesthetic purpose.

Algerian Chaabi would really crash and burn if sung in Chinese or even Levantine Arabic (probably) – Chaabi exploit the speech rhythm and short vocalic content of Algerian Arabic. Finnish / Karelian vocal music sung in French would be all wrong – Finnish music needs a strong trochaic rhythm. I would venture to say that Karnataka music sung in Hindi would just not sound right.

The main reason why foreign language rap "doesn't work" for some people is that foreign music is foreign, i.e. not familiar. You might try listening to Tinariwen to see if you think they are "too weird", then listen to a lot of it and see if you warm up to it.



Offline Forbes

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Re: Can Phonetics explain why certain music was made for certain languages?
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2019, 09:38:35 AM »
I think there is something in what has been said above, but that it is not the whole story.

A very basic proposition is that when setting words to music the music should follow the prosody of the text. If there is too much of a mismatch it sounds awkward, if not plain wrong. If you want to translate the text into another language you cannot change the melody and so, assuming you do not want your version to sound awkward, you have try and come up with text with a prosody which fits the music. That can get tricky and more often than not you end up with a text which is a rewrite. If the version is satisfactory someone hearing the translated version who has never heard the original will be fine. However, someone who knows the original may find the new version all wrong - but if he heard the new version first and got used to it and then heard the original it is the original which may sound odd.

I do not think there is any strong connection between the phonemes of a language and what songs sound like. Fado sung in English only sounds wrong because we are used to hearing in Portuguese. Flamenco is strongly influenced by North African music, but does not sound wrong even though the phonology of Spanish is quite different from Arabic. If popular songs apear to sound better in English it is only because most popular songs you get to hear are in English.

Rapping is a special case. It is a halfway house between speaking and chanting with the emphasis on rhythm rather than melody. If you try to rap in a language whose prosody does not match English and you want to keep to the sort of rhythm the well-known rappers use you have a problem.