Country-music hell and fake accents

A few months back I had to do a two-hour road trip with A&D regular Susan Sons, aka HedgeMage, who is an interesting and estimable person in almost all ways except that she actually … likes … country music.

I tried to be stoic when stupid syrupy goo began pouring out of the car radio, but I didn’t do a good enough job of hiding my discomfort to prevent her from noticing within three minutes flat. “If I leave this on,” she observed accurately to the 11-year-old in the back seat, “Eric is going to go insane.”

Since said 11-year more or less required music to prevent him from becoming hideously bored and restive, all three of us were caught between two fires. Susan, ever the pragmatist, went looking through her repertoire for pieces I would find relatively inoffensive.

After a while this turned into a sort of calibration exercise – she’d put something on, assay my reaction to see where in the range it fell between mere spasmodic twitching and piteous pleas to make it stop, and try to figure what the actual drive-Eric-insane factors in the piece were.

After a while a curious and interesting pattern emerged…

I already knew of having some preferences in this domain. I dislike anything with steel guitars in it; conversely, I am less repelled by and can sometimes even enjoy subgenres like bluegrass, fiddle music and Texas swing that are centered on other instruments. I find old-style country, closer to its Irish traditional roots, far easier to take than the modern Nashville sound. Blues influence also helps.

But it turns out that most of these preferences are strongly correlated with one very simple binary-valued property, something Susan had the domain knowledge to identify consciously after a sufficient sample but I did not.

It turns out that what I hate above all else about country music is singers with faked accents.

I had no idea, but there’s a lot of this going around, apparently. The rules of the modern country idiom require performers who don’t naturally speak with a thick Southern-rural accent to affect one when they sing. The breakthrough moment when we figured out that this was what was making me want to chew my own leg off to escape it was when she cued up a song by some guy named Clint Black who really natively has that accent. We discovered that even though he plays the modern Nashville sound, the result only makes me feel mildly uncomfortable, as opposed to tortured.

The first interesting thing about this is that I was completely unaware that I had been reacting to the fake/nonfake distinction. But once we recognized it, the entire pattern of my subgenre preferences made sense. Duh, of course I’d have had less unpleasant experiences with styles that are less vocal-centered. And, in general, the longer ago a piece of country music was recorded, the more likely that the singers’ accents were genuine.

I think it is even quite likely that I acquired a conditioned dislike of steel guitars precisely because they are strongly co-morbid with fake accents.

It is not news that there is something distinctly unusual about the way I acquire and process language phonology: recently, for example, I wrote about having absorbed the phonology of German even though I don’t speak it, and I have previously noted the fact that I pick up speech accents very quickly on immersion (sometimes without intending to).

But this only raises more questions that belong under the “brains are weird” category. One group: what in the heck is my recognition algorithm for “fake accent”? How did I learn one? Why did I learn one? What in the hell does my unconscious mind find useful about this?

A second is: how reliable is it? We think, from Susan’s sample of a couple dozen tracks, that it’s pretty robust, at least relative to her knowledge about singer idiolects. But in a controlled experiment in which I was trying to spot fakes, how much better would I do than chance? What would my rates of false negatives and false positives be? The question is trickier than it might appear; conscious attempts to run the fake-accent recognizer might interfere with it.

The third, and in some ways the most interesting: How did my fake-accent recognizer get tangled up with my response to music? They do communicate (nobody doubts that people with good pitch discrimination have an advantage in acquiring tonal languages) but they’re different brain subsystems; the organ of Broca doesn’t do music.

Does anyone in my audience know of research that might bear on these questions?

UPDATE: My commenters were insightful about this one and we’ve arrived at a theory that fits the observed facts. I now think what I am reacting to is severe exaggeration of dialect recognition features; this fits with the fact that I find spoken accent mockery in comedy unpleasant. The visceral quality of my reaction may be explained by superstimulation of my “You’re a liar!” social-deception circuitry.

113 thoughts on “Country-music hell and fake accents

  1. Interesting. My wife likes country music and I grew up listening to it, so I’m usually pretty happy to play along. There’s even some of it I’ve come to like. The artists I like do tend to have actual rural backgrounds, and speak non-standard English.

    But I’m curious if you have any examples of artists you particularly didn’t like.

  2. I wonder if this is related to my own general loathing of vocals in music, with a partial exception for Latin chants and large choruses. I dislike popular music in general because I’ve come to associate it with vocals, and I don’t see why muzak is so utterly vile because – hey, at least it lacks vocals. Also I prefer classical – except for opera.

    Do you loathe opera? If you do, could that be due to it triggering your fake-accent detector? If you don’t, then why doesn’t opera trigger that fake-accent detector?

  3. Modern country has been influenced by classic rock to the point that it’s hard to draw a line between them. (I was on Jimmy Kimmel one night with Tim McGraw, and spoke briefly to his band members after the show. They grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf.) Considering that, I’m not surprised that it’s something aside from the music itself that bothers you.

  4. I’m curious–do you like or dislike Judy Collins’s cover of “Someday Soon”? It has one of the classic pedal steel guitar solos, but Ms. Collins doesn’t affect an accent.

  5. Jay: I’m a big fan of classic rock, and generally dislike country(though admittedly, not as much as Eric). Many folks I know feel similarly.

  6. I’m wondering what your hit rate is, if you’ve got false positives, etc etc There are some interesting cases in country- like Keith Urban who is Australian, sounds like one when he talks, but not when he sings.

    There are also other genres where people fake accents. Would you be willing to try listening to punk revivalists? Just as a test of the fake accent theory, for science, it’s not because we hate you, honest. :)

  7. There are a lot of really subtle phonetic things happening in speech. Consider for example the concept of voice-onset time:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice-onset_time

    As the article points out, we distinguish the words “tie” and “die” based on a difference in voice onset time of just 70 milliseconds – which means you can confuse someone as to which word you’re speaking by being off by just 35 milliseconds.

    Someone like you (ESR) who is really good at picking up an accent may be mastering more of those sorts of subtle things, either consciously or unconsciously. Possibly country singers, because they’re paying attention to singing, are able to devote less conscious attention to getting the accent right – or maybe most of them just aren’t so good at faking accents in the first place. It may be that a crappy fake accent puts them a place analogous to the uncanny valley associated with creepy anthropomorphic robots, and creeps us out in a similar way.

    Whether spoken or sung, I hate crappy fake accents, although good ones can be pretty seamless. Hollywood actors with professional language coaching *usually* do a good job of picking up a new accent and suppressing their native tongue. If you watch Alan Cummings on “The Good Wife,” his American English is so good you’d never guess that he normally speaks with a substantial Scottish brogue. OTOH, Morgan Freeman’s fake Bantu accent in “Invictus” was extremely grating to my ear.

  8. I’d take a hell of a lot of coaching to sound like i was from anywhere but Houston…

    Alsadius, I would generally agree with that sentiment, but, for example, Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road is in my regular playlist. Rock, country, or both?

    For that matter, The Eagles?

  9. I wonder if the fake-accent detection occurs with other things. The accent affected by Dick Van Dyke in the movie Mary Poppins is, I am lead to understand, an unforgivable insult to those whose accent he was allegedly attempting. Thus I wonder if that would also be off-putting.

  10. Perhaps it’s because you have become such a linguistic precisionist and developed such an ear for music that it’s easier for you to detect errors that others cannot. Why this is so is a mystery for now, but perhaps your linguistic center is running over TCP, while the rest of our linguistic center is running over UDP.

  11. I suspect that at least part of the effect is due to noticing the sigma from the accent’s mean. Humans are known to be able to detect rhythmic jitter quite reliably, and high-end drum synthesizers have started adding infinitesimal random-but-nonuniform jitter to drum timing that makes the resulting sound sound more like a human drummer. If a speaker or singer is attempting a non-native dialect, the variance in the different inflection parameters would probably be much larger than for a native, possibly enough to cross the boundary that’s equivalent to the difference slow-but-fluent and halting speech.

  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WySgNm8qH-I

    In addition to making you, if anything, hate country more based on its universality of theme regurgitation and banality, it gives you a lot of small-slice samples of fake southern accents.

    One of the reasons why I cannot stand The Closer starring Kyra Sedgewick is because her “Southern accent” is faux antibellum Georgia…by way of a Houston rasp. It sounds like a Southern accent only if you’ve never talked extensensively to anyone from that part of the country.

  13. One thing I’ve noticed singing in church is that certain musical styles cause me to affect an accent without really intending to. Country is one such style (I’m not really a fan of it either).

  14. >Do fake accents in other contexts drive you crazy?

    Shrewd question! No, generally not, though I do notice them and they do register as bad performance.

  15. Accent and dialectic patterns are a huge part of how our brains assess my tribe / competing tribe / unknown tribe-ness of others. Close enough and you’re “one of us”, far enough and you’re exotic (think “fresh blood”) and attractive…in the middle and you might be a threat. Think about that, and our brains have good reason to flag on accents that sound ingenuine. We flag on all sorts of other subtle signs of deception, too.

    One of the reasons I find it easier to mix in SECs higher than my culture of origin than most do, is that I happened to be born in a community that spoke the reference accent for the US. That is the accent considered “neutral” and most often used in TV, movies, etc. It’s also an accent that’s considered educated and upper class in most circles. I can put on others, and if I’m not thinking about it I’ll often subconsciously mimic the dominant accent around me.

    There’s an amusing and relevant anecdote to this…

    I did a great deal of singing in my youth. By my teens, I was a classically-trained vocalist in a choir and ensemble at school as well as a bunch of solo work with a private voice coach. At one competition, I was approached by one of the scouts who occasionally weasel their way in to the bigger venues about singing backup for some wanna-be pop starlet of his.

    I’m not sure whether it was a sales pitch to what he thought was an impressionable high school girl or indicative of how the industry feels, but when I said I wasn’t interested, he inquired what music I liked and I said “country/western, some bluegrass, mostly older stuff in both cases”. He informed me that I didn’t have the accent to be “taken seriously” in country and should stick with pop. I giggled and suggested that, given that I actually grew up on a hog farm in the middle of nowhere, I probably didn’t need a fake accent to get cred.

  16. >Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road is in my regular playlist. Rock, country, or both?

    That’s a genuine edge case. And not bad to my ear.

    >For that matter, The Eagles?

    There’s a significant country influence in some early Eagles, but musically it almost vanishes by the time of Hotel California. Sometime it works, sometimes not. Curiously, I find that the country vocals get more annoying in the later tracks: Old ’55 isn’t bad, but I find Victim of Love unpleasant.

  17. “Do you loathe opera? If you do, could that be due to it triggering your fake-accent detector? If you don’t, then why doesn’t opera trigger that fake-accent detector?”

    Intriguing. One way to check would be to see if native Italian opera singers (Caruso, Pavarotti, etc.) were less offensive than non-native.

  18. >Think about that, and our brains have good reason to flag on accents that sound ingenuine. We flag on all sorts of other subtle signs of deception, too.

    I find this theory plausible.

    >One of the reasons I find it easier to mix in SECs higher than my culture of origin than most do, is that I happened to be born in a community that spoke the reference accent for the US.

    Yes, this helps a lot. It’s a particular advantage among hackers, who I have noticed tend to acquire almost unnaturally neutral accents in American English regardless of where they’re from.

  19. >In addition to making you, if anything, hate country more based on its universality of theme regurgitation and banality, it gives you a lot of small-slice samples of fake southern accents.

    I compulsively stabbed the kill button halfway through the second sample. Oh, Goddess, that was horrible. I absolutely couldn’t make myself listen to more, even for science.

  20. >Do you loathe opera?

    No, actually I rather like opera. My fake-accent detector doesn’t trigger on it at all, which is especially interesting because I have lived in Italy and have an exceptionally large sample of reference Italian in my memory.

    I actually think I may know why. Italian has very simple phonology. If you can get over the hump from the dipthongized vowels in English to pronounce the pure (undipthongized) vowels Italian uses, I think having a bad accent in Italian is actually rather difficult.

    As a separate point, I too prefer instrumental music, but am not as put off by vocals as you seem to be.

  21. ” Close enough and you’re “one of us”, far enough and you’re exotic (think “fresh blood”) and attractive…in the middle and you might be a threat. ”

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a threat– I think the way people react to the third case is frequently more like “these people could be allies– but THEY JUST WON”T COOPERATE BY BEING LIKE US!”.

  22. >Intriguing. One way to check would be to see if native Italian opera singers (Caruso, Pavarotti, etc.) were less offensive than non-native.

    I don’t find either offensive, but I do notice a difference (which doesn’t have the loading of ‘fake’). It’s pretty subtle, which may relate to my earlier point about Italian being exceptionally easy to pronounce correctly once you get past pure vowels. Spanish has the same property.

    French emphatically does not; bad French accents are quite noticeable to me and annoy me. Bad Southern accents are like being hit by one of the trucks they sing about.

  23. >THEY JUST WON”T COOPERATE BY BEING LIKE US!

    Here’s an alternative hypothesis I just came up with, which fits a wide spread of facts about my reaction to other kinds of botched or fake accents in English and elsewhere. Also it feels right.

    I think it may be that people who fake country accents are exaggerating the recognition features, and I am specifically registering the exaggeration as grotesque and ugly.

    In fact, I now feel almost certain this is correct.

  24. “who fake country accents are exaggerating the recognition features”

    That’s close to my theory about the difference between imitation and mockery– mockery exaggerates recognition features and neglects more subtle features.

    Related– someone who’s mocking will stay with their own phoneme set.

    Still, your theory doesn’t explain why fake country music accents annoy you more than other fake accents.

  25. >I think it may be that people who fake country accents are exaggerating the recognition features, and I am specifically registering the exaggeration as grotesque and ugly.

    Interesting philosophical dilemma as the crux of your hypothesis, ” grotesque and ugly” is one having to do with how you define quality. This was covered pretty well in “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.” How could you ever test this hypothesis? Why are you having this reaction and not Susan?

  26. Hackers [...] tend to acquire almost unnaturally neutral accents in American English regardless of where they’re from.

    Have you ever noticed how the MIT community seems to have an accent all its own, distinct from the rest of the area (particularly, distinct from Harvard)? I think I’ve spent enough time around MIT folks to have a trace of it in my own speech, but just a trace. One particular aspect that I key in on when I hear it is unusually strong modulation of speed and pitch. I suspect that speakers may be unconsciously communicating some additional semantics through this modulation.

  27. >Still, your theory doesn’t explain why fake country music accents annoy you more than other fake accents.

    You missed part of my implication. What I now think is that country singers are exaggerating dialect recognition features to a much greater degree than is normal in other kinds of accent-faking (e.g. spoken dialogue in movies, opera singing, etc). I think that’s what’s giving me the superstimulated hit-by-a-truck feeling.

    And now that I think of it, I do find spoken-word accent mockery unpleasant in a way that spoken-word fakery is not. I dislike it when it’s done in comedy.

    Mission partially accomplished, people. This theory fits all the facts I observe about my responses, and it feels right.

  28. > mockery exaggerates recognition features and neglects more subtle features.

    That is also plausible and might indirectly help explain how my fake-detector works. What’s likely going on is that my brain is sorting obvious phonological recognition features from subtle ones and attending to whether the subtle ones are reproduced as well as the obvious ones. So we have several cases, including:

    bad production of even obvious features = very bad accent, no feeling of mockery, no visceral flinch.

    good production of obvious features, bad production of subtle ones = noticeably not a good accent, no feeling of mockery, no flinch.

    exaggerated obvious features, little or no production of subtle ones = AAARRGGH NO MAKE IT STOP!

  29. >nobody doubts that people with good pitch discrimination have an advantage in acquiring tonal languages
    >
    Not “nobody” — when I was studying Chinese, the people who were teaching it explicitly denied that. Pitch is not what’s being discriminated; it’s the shape of the graph of pitch change during a syllable.

    Mandarin’s four tones are – / U \ (high-level, rising, falling-rising, falling)
    and if you can hear the end of a list — 1/ 2/ 3/ 4\ — you can hear and produce the tones adequately in isolation

    What’s hard is internalizing that those differences are *phonemic.”

  30. >Have you ever noticed how the MIT community seems to have an accent all its own, distinct from the rest of the area (particularly, distinct from Harvard)?

    Hackerspeak. Which is a sort of hypercorrect form of educated neutral American (I mean ‘hypercorrect’ in the exact technical sense sociolinguists use here). I have a bunch of observations about this which I’ll blog sometime.

    I’ve seen a summary of a talk at an SF convention some years back in which a sociolinguist described ‘fanspeak’ similarly, fearing she would offend her audience but actually delighting them.

    >I suspect that speakers may be unconsciously communicating some additional semantics through this modulation.

    Almost certainly related to something else I’ve noticed about hackerspeak – it is written English spoken (see ‘hypercorrect’ above). When hackers talk you can actually hear the semicolons and parentheses. That’s what your speed/pitch modulation is doing.

  31. I am specifically registering the exaggeration as grotesque and ugly.

    You probably shouldn’t ever watch Paula Deen’s cooking shows…make sure there are no firearms nearby.

    Great food served with a pantomime accent that makes me beg for merciful death.

  32. >Pitch is not what’s being discriminated; it’s the shape of the graph of pitch change during a syllable.

    Sure. The thing is, for people with good pitch-interval discrimination that’s a much more prominent feature. I agree absolute pitch isn’t necessary.

  33. This one is more interesting than I thought. To start, I’ll introduce you to one of the worst pieces of “music” that I have ever chosen to listen to:

    http://youtu.be/UzcXya4obkk

    It should take you about twenty seconds to see what I’m getting at. I have quite a bit of respect for Mythbusters, but I think here they inadvertently created a two-and-three-quarter minute Mythbusters episode on how “good” music has departed so much from actual concepts sound and content quality. In my opinion, the best Justin Bieber has ever sounded on Youtube, and the only time I’ve ever deliberately listened to him for more than thirty seconds:

    http://youtu.be/emsLrZg160s

    Yes, if I were left with such limited choices, I’d rather loop that than listen to his so-called music.

    I enjoy music on a very different level than most people. I have met people who like something, a movie or song, or hate it, but can’t articulate any reason why. I have a tendency to try to understand why I like or hate a piece of creative work. I surprise many, many people, and subsequently convey understanding, by discussing why I absolutely loathe the John Lennon classic Imagine:

    http://youtu.be/es-XkGNk8EU

    I linked this particular upload because I’m a space fanatic, and prior to the original version of “And For Other Purposes” regarding STS-107 Columbia, I did not even realize that I hated this song. After realizing that I hated it, I needed to figure out and articulate why. It’s this little synopsis: “Imagine that everything that everything that ever motivated human beings to get out of bed in the morning didn’t exist.” You see, I care about what a song is saying first, and then about what it sounds like.

    Eric, I think you do as well. Think about it: What does a fake accent to fit a genre formula indicate? Is it just that it sounds awful, or is it because you have a loathing for social deception, people pretending to be things without actually becoming them?

    This is my favorite song of all time, with my favorite music video of all time:

    http://youtu.be/NDGwlEJTjc4

    I can explain exactly why BT’s The Antikythera Mechanism is my favorite song, and favorite music video, but there is so much in the reason that it would take several days. Even though it was love at first sight when I first heard the song on 2009 December 6, why it is my favorite song developed over several months both prior to and after that date, encompassing an entire year. As for the content – that’s tricky, since I didn’t understand what the song was “saying” until the end of that year, and I now have lyrics for it. The quality of sound is very interesting, because it doesn’t really fit anywhere, and has elements of glitch and dubstep (which I generally hate) even though it was made three years before the market started splitting their hairs regarding those genres or subgenres (see, I don’t really care.) I read a review that this one track covers five such genres in its ten minutes.

    Now, a couple of things that come to mind as I read the comments… for Deep Lurker (” wonder if this is related to my own general loathing of vocals in music, with a partial exception for Latin chants and large choruses.”) I’m curious as to what you think of these two songs, both in Latin:

    http://youtu.be/b6u4FV93H9Y

    http://youtu.be/9y2P3AuCM6U

    And… both from production adaptations of Japanese video games, respectively Tales of Symphonia and Final Fantasy VII, about as far removed from the archetypical cathedral choir as you can get and still be in Latin, I think.

    And for Jon Brase: “One thing I’ve noticed singing in church is that certain musical styles cause me to affect an accent without really intending to.”

    I’ve noticed this as well, but there seems to be a generic accent, slightly different from the Canadian neutral that I tend to use in conversation. I might have called it “British Commonwealth Generic”, but I also adopt it when singing in other languages. Here’s the one I’d like you to check out

    http://youtu.be/zJ4ZXmVxZKI

    Maybe you can tell the vocalist is Australian, and, despite being a Christian high concept song, I have never heard it, nor heard _of_ it ever being sung in church. But I did get to see Michelle Tumes in concert in 2001, back when this song was still fairly new, and I was stunned by her pasty conversational accent. I picked this particular song because it is the most accented one she sings. What do you think?

  34. >Is it just that it sounds awful, or is it because you have a loathing for social deception, people pretending to be things without actually becoming them?

    I do have a loathing for social deception. While this is probably relevant, I doubt it is sufficient explanation in itself.

    It could be that fake sung country is superstimulating my “You’re a liar!” detection.

  35. >>Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road is in my regular playlist. Rock, country, or both?
    >That’s a genuine edge case. And not bad to my ear.

    That’s probably because, to my ear, Earle’s vocals sound like he could easily have come from Johnson County, Tennessee, instead of San Antonio where he actually grew up. Then again, having a genuine Texas accent probably doesn’t hurt.

  36. @esr:

    > It could be that fake sung country is superstimulating my “You’re a liar!” detection.

    And possibly for good reason. I don’t know how you would perform the study, but a priori, I would expect that fake country singers are doing it to try to get rich; most non-Italian opera singers, not so much.

    Any halfway intelligent would-be pop singer has to notice that Taylor Swift sells more records than the next 3 female pop artists combined…

  37. > What in the hell does my unconscious mind find useful about this?

    Maybe an ancient thing — detecting persons who fraudulently claim to be part of one’s tribe? Some sort of weird uncanny valley thing? I could see how that may have been an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps faking an accent or speech pattern requires a somewhat generic straining that manifests itself in similar ways between languages?

  38. @me:

    Any halfway intelligent would-be pop singer has to notice that Taylor Swift sells more records than the next 3 female pop artists combined…

    I should qualify this: According to Vanity Fair, for albums released in roughly the same time period, in the first week of the release, Katy sold 286K copies, Miley 270K, Gaga 258K, and Taylor 1.2M.

  39. >Then again, having a genuine Texas accent probably doesn’t hurt.

    There are some (genuine) Southern American accents I find unpleasant. Louisiana Cajun is a notable one, first time I encountered it I thought the person had a serious speech impediment. None of them are Texan; that whole group sounds OK to me and (as I have previously noted) I have little doubt that I would acquire them relatively rapidly from immersion.

    One of the minor bits of accent trivia I’ve picked up is that the Texas accent is actually descended from the native dialect around Arlington, Virginia – which is still nigh-indistinguishable from it. The person who explained this to me was an Arlingtonian I met in an airport lounge. I guessed we was from Texas, and he said “No, but you have a good ear” and told me the connection was genetic. Many of the early settlers of Texas – “leading families”, as he put it – were from there; it thus became the prestige accent of Texas.

  40. ESR> I think it may be that people who fake country accents are exaggerating the recognition features, and I am specifically registering the exaggeration as grotesque and ugly.

    I noticed this exact same preference selection in myself, and I’ve found there are two points that irritate the fool out of me, one being the above about exaggerated accents (if you ain’t from Texas, don’t try the drawl, you just screw it up :^), but also I hate the fact that modern country tries it’s damnedest to be rock, but without the soul and without most of the blues.

    Throwing a steel guitar or a fiddle into what should be a rock song would be like throwing a sitar into a Beethoven movement, which probably explains your dislike of steel. If you like old country (think early Grand Ole Opry, or the Texas Playboys), then it isn’t the steel that you dislike, but how it’s being abused in a style that $Deity never meant for it to have to suffer.

  41. >Throwing a steel guitar or a fiddle into what should be a rock song would be like throwing a sitar into a Beethoven movement, which probably explains your dislike of steel

    I don’t think this works, because rock/country crossover does not intrinsically offend me. A lot of it is boring as hell (Gram Parsons, Poco) but some has been pretty interesting; Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road has been mentioned, and I was a big fan of Little Feat back in their day.

    For that matter, a sitar in an orchestration of Beethoven wouldn’t necessarily offend me either. It would depend entirely on the interpretive subtlety of the arranger and player. While it is wildly unlikely that the result would be other than a clumsy botch, the theoretical possibility exists.

  42. > Shrewd question! No, generally not, though I do notice them and they do register as bad performance.

    What do you think of Hugh Laurie’s American accent? The fact that it’s the accent of much of the intended audience of the show he was in, rather than being a ‘foreign’ one, makes me think it might be done to a higher standard by necessity than most fake accents.

  43. >What do you think of Hugh Laurie’s American accent?

    Sorry, I have no idea who he is or what he sounds like.

  44. >Have you ever noticed how the MIT community seems to have an accent all its own, distinct from the rest of the area (particularly, distinct from Harvard)? I think I’ve spent enough time around MIT folks to have a trace of it in my own speech, but just a trace. One particular aspect that I key in on when I hear it is unusually strong modulation of speed and pitch. I suspect that speakers may be unconsciously communicating some additional semantics through this modulation.

    Has it changed since the 90′s, when it, so help me god, sounded like Pauly Shore trying to speak standard english, pedantically. The semi-random pauses at inappropriate times… aaargh.

  45. >Has [the MIT accent] changed since the 90?s, when it, so help me god, sounded like Pauly Shore trying to speak standard english, pedantically. The semi-random pauses at inappropriate times… aaargh.

    I never encountered this. Though come to think of it I’ve spent almost no time there since before 1990, so perhaps my sample is stale.

  46. > I think having a bad accent in Italian is actually rather difficult.

    Of course, even if someone does have one, it’s not really a ‘fake’ accent. It’s a genuine “English accent”, the same as someone whose native language is Italian has an “Italian accent” in English. So unless you’re listening to operas in which the performers put on a fake Italian accent for lines in English, it’s not a good comparison. It’s not a fake accent, it’s just an accent. I suspect it might even only work for people whose native accent is closer to yours than is the one they’re faking [my question about Hugh Laurie might be related to that].

    I’ll second Greg’s question about punk revival.

  47. > Sorry, I have no idea who he is or what he sounds like.

    The lead actor in House M.D. If you haven’t seen it I suppose you can’t answer.

  48. >Sorry, I have no idea who he is or what he sounds like.

    He’s probably best known in the US as the title character in ‘House’. You may have also seen him not trying to sound like an American, if you’re a Blackadder fan.

  49. >I’ll second Greg’s question about punk revival.

    Sorry, I don’t have an answer. Links to representative videos would be helpful.

  50. I don’t know enough to do so; I just was taking his word that it could be another data point.

  51. Hackerspeak. Which is a sort of hypercorrect form of educated neutral American (I mean ‘hypercorrect’ in the exact technical sense sociolinguists use here).

    [...]

    Almost certainly related to something else I’ve noticed about hackerspeak – it is written English spoken (see ‘hypercorrect’ above). When hackers talk you can actually hear the semicolons and parentheses. That’s what your speed/pitch modulation is doing.

    MIT-speak has characteristics more specific than that, though. One example, which I’ve picked up in my own speech, is in greetings. An MITer is more likely to greet you with “hello” than with “hi” or “hey”; okay, there’s your hypercorrection. But — and I think this is unique to MIT — “hello” will be pronounced with a particular tonal inflection: rising on the first syllable and rapidly falling on the second. Furthermore, I’ve noticed this even out of MITers who aren’t hackers per se, such as Sloan graduates.

  52. This reminds me of something I’ve noticed. Every serious anime fan knows that subtitled anime is WAY better than dubbed anime. But nobody has totally nailed why, and part of it that goes unmentioned has to do with horrid accents. One subtype of bad dubbing accent is when the actors read English as if it were Japanese, with short, clipped vowels, to better match the lip movements of the characters. Speed Racer is an often-parodied example of this. Another is the fact that until recently, most anime was imported by small companies, dubbed in Canadian recording studios with second- or third-rate Canadian voice talent, and their Canadian accents are obvious and grating. Some Canadians pronounce their vowels farther back in their throat and/or nose than do Americans, and their speech sounds “heavier” or more “leaden” as a result. Most American fans can’t place the accent, but just interpret it as a bad reading. It takes an ear for subtlety to identify the speaker as a Canadian who hasn’t learned the reference North American accent and register enough to deliver a performance that would be perceived as smooth throughout the continent.

  53. A coworker referred to Emmylou Harris as “The Queen of All Music”. She sings the way she talks. What do you guys think?

  54. I wonder if this is related to my own general loathing of vocals in music, with a partial exception for Latin chants and large choruses. I dislike popular music in general because I’ve come to associate it with vocals, and I don’t see why muzak is so utterly vile because – hey, at least it lacks vocals.

    I suspect this is because the frequencies and harmonics of the human voice trigger an IRQ in your brain somewhere and if you are not being spoken to, it can be irritatingly distracting. A lot of hackers say they can zone out and code to nonvocal trance or other music lacking vocals, but the moment someone starts to sing the flow is lost.

    Or maybe it’s that the vocals in modern music are really, horrendously bad. Katy Perry sounds like an overblown clarinet with pitch correction; without it she sounds like an out-of-tune overblown clarinet.

    This one is more interesting than I thought. To start, I’ll introduce you to one of the worst pieces of “music” that I have ever chosen to listen to:

    Take it in the spirit in which it’s offered: as a nifty hack, not a serious attempt at music. Though admittedly, it did work better with Carl Sagan‘s poetic, rhythmic delivery.

  55. Does Tim McGraw qualify as country, or more like pop-rock-country? A friend of mine introduced me to this kind of music around 2008 and both my wife and I turned out to like it so much that It’s Your Love was our wedding song. And now that my father is gone, Live Life Like You Are Dying is touching I cannot even listen to it without… just cannot, better not. There is just no point in making myself weep. Clearly, this is at some level pop, MTV music, mainstream, commercial, also a kind of music I cannot be very proud of liking. Still, I do. Consider it a guilty sin, a small surrender to the pop-culture of the masses.

    Now, Johnny Cash is a bit harder to get into… that is something really different from my frame of reference. However, Kris K. and Me And Billy McGee is entirely OK for me. Understandable and relatable – or so I believe.

    My friend also showed me a very interesting sounding Aussie country singer, but I unfortunately forgot his name.

    (BTW – slightly offtopic, but interesting, at least historically – the essence of punk rock was invented as early as 1964 by a Peruvian band called Los Saicos – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haVaaDLwWvI – is this something well-known or new info?)

  56. @ESR

    >I think having a bad accent in Italian is actually rather difficult.

    My experience – relevant mostly to Veneto, Lake Garda and Toscana – is that people put so much expressivity into the variety of tone and pitch even into a simple question like “Perché?” that I would find it difficult to imitate. Even trying a good accent would sound _flat_. Have you noticed that it is hard to tell the difference between Ramazotti (a Roman) singing and him talking, because even the way he talks is musical – as in, using the bandwith of tone and pitch for expressivity? This seems common around there – but maybe not so much in the South where you lived.

  57. @HedgeMage

    >in the middle and you might be a threat.

    “Uncanny valley” is IMHO one of the weirdest yet most enlightening concepts describing human behavior. It is almost a cliché that in the past people used to hate more heretics of their own religion or politics than people of entirely different persuasions, and we used to explain it by competing for the same market niche.

    That is surely part of the picture, but the deeper, more instinctive “uncanny valley” effect is another one and perhaps more important – a walking skeleton in a horror movie is not even scary (these days), looks more like borderline comical. A walking corpse in a horror movie that _almost_ looks and behaves like a living person blows our pants off (except for the horror aficionados who got desensitized to this through lots of exposure). (I think the Terminator movie characters are on the _other_ side of the valley – sufficiently non-human to be not too scary.)

    IMHO this can be a useful practical lesson. This suggests trying to ally with others by trying to look and be like them can fail in the middle – this kind of attempt should either be done very well or not at all, but mediocre attempts can backfire. For example it suggests that minorities should either assimilate very well or not at all, but never get to the point when they become an almost-but-not-like uncanny-zombie-like imitation of the majority culture.

  58. @ESR

    >and I am specifically registering the exaggeration as grotesque and ugly.

    Sounds just like porn (bad porn i.e. most porn) (or low-level streetwalker prostitutes) or the Android Marketplace / Google Play for games, where the icons of most games seem so “immature”, like, a cartoon guy with a sword whose blade is wider than his head, that I don’t feel like investing a few minutes into trying whether it can be any good.

    There is always a certain sense of childishness in exaggeration. When I was like 10 years old I liked to draw Warhammer-like characters with battleaxes larger than their upper bodies. Finding some of those old drawings, it comes accross to me as entirely natural that a child should do that, but for an adult like myself now it comes accross as clearly immature.

  59. @Jon Brase

    I know reading Kipling out loud tends to make me shift towards something vaguely british from whatever it is I have (I grew up in GA, Tx, FL, MA, and VA – a marine brat who spent summers in NE with family) – but then the way the words are written tend to force that a bit.

  60. @Jeff

    >Every serious anime fan knows that subtitled anime is WAY better than dubbed anime.

    Any movie is better subtitled rather than dubbed, no matter what language from or to, because voice acting is an important part of the toolset of the original artists to express whatever they had to express. I.e. whoever wrote, directed, produced, whatevered that anime intended it to sound a certain way, made picture and sound into a whole that can never be fully reproduced in other languages. At least not without a full rethinking – i.e. artists, producers, writers of a similar caliber basically re-writing, re-doing the whole thing in their own language, not just translating it.

    Fun trivia: Tolkien earns that kind of respect from most translators kinda automatically. There are some stories of truly creative Tolkien translations – can share some if anyone is interested.

    Fun fact: I had no idea why Shakespeare was so popular as long I was only exposed to translations. Having read the original, I suddenly understood the musical, tonal aspects of how he used the English language of his age, the thundering, threatening deep bass sound of the “from his mothers womb untimely ripped” that cannot really be translated with the same kind of the musical expression, and then I got enlightened.

  61. For Jeff Read’s “This reminds me of something I’ve noticed. Every serious anime fan knows that subtitled anime is WAY better than dubbed anime. But nobody has totally nailed why, and part of it that goes unmentioned has to do with horrid accents.”

    I absolutely agree, and to explain why, it’s easiest to examine the exceptions to define the pack. The most notable example of the pack is probably Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, which, much to my astonishment, is on Youtube full length at this time:

    http://youtu.be/l_4ZXgOZuhs (Japanese with good English fansubs)
    http://youtu.be/C14ZH6slFD0 (English dub)

    My biggest peeve with the pack is that they don’t sound quite natural, for the reasons that you give, plus that the accents disconnect from the character’s culture (which is why Cait Sith and Red XIII sound like crap in the Japanese: they’re based on European cultures. Barrett, based on the Will Smith/Wesley Snipes archetype black badass, comes across better, but I think that might be because brawny Japanese is closer to that archetype than to Cait Sith’s Highlander parody or Red XIII, which is closest to MIT-speak, and gets only one line in the whole freakin’ movie. Bear in mind that the characters are based on an extremely popular game from seventeen years ago where the speed run world record is still twenty minutes longer than the movie’s longest available cut! Three CDs full of text box dialogue and some imagination…)

    Exceptionally bad: Castle In The Sky, quite probably the worst thing in the world to feature Mark Hamill (who happens to be the two competing player characters in 1990s space shooters: Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and Christopher Blair of Wing Commander.) The reason why Castle In The Sky sucks is because Disney changed the dialogue so much that much of the original’s meaning and depth has been removed.

    Exceptionally good: Haibane Renmei:

    http://youtu.be/tQVMjmB-qVc (Episode 1 English dub)
    http://youtu.be/xepPTdiUAog (Episode 3 Japanese dub, official English sub)

    Much of the reason why it is exceptionally good is because the Japanese voice talent wasn’t. That isn’t to diminish how good a job the English voice actors did… you might have heard of the Washi, Michael McConnohie, made famous in the Diablo franchise, but he isn’t the only one, obviously.

    Other exceptionally good: Fruits Basket:

    http://youtu.be/8Sc5PPJyXHE (Opening theme only; looks like they’ve looked after the Japanese uploads)
    http://youtu.be/3r2i4LcNo7I (Episode 2, Part 1 English dub)

    You can tell how the opening theme is not syllable matched, but is more like an adaptation of English to the backing melody. In the rest of it, you can hear how they struggle when they need to match lip movements (especially Laura Bailey as Tohru.) On the other hand, they open up completely when they don’t have to, and take full advantage of that …and they rarely have to, which is really nice. Another factor in their favor is that when they do, it’s usually during awkward moments for the characters, where sounding awkward at the microphone is a requirement anyway.

  62. Any movie is better subtitled rather than dubbed, no matter what language from or to, because voice acting is an important part of the toolset of the original artists to express whatever they had to express.

    True, but that doesn’t account for the vast gulf between the extremely competent handling by Disney of the English dubs of Studio Ghibli films and the hard-to-listen-to crap that passes for a dubbing of even a great anime TV series.

  63. (This makes for a weird first comment, but hey.)

    That supercut video is probably my basis for hatred of country music, but the played-up accent doesn’t help. Ugh, how grating.

    But that got me thinking about other played-up accents in popular music, like the “indie girl” accent and the “Creed” accent. I find it hard to believe that the singers just *naturally* all sound like that.

  64. How about when politicians like Hillary Clinton speaking to a black audience fake a southern accent? Speakin’ instead of speaking, I ain’t in no ways tired….

    Personally I find this like fingernails on a chalkboard…

    And how about so many English bands that sound American when they sing? The Stones and Zeppelin and many others just don’t sound very British. Why is that? A deliberate choice I guess?

  65. I already knew of having some preferences in this domain. I dislike anything with steel guitars in it; conversely, I am less repelled by and can sometimes even enjoy subgenres like bluegrass, fiddle music and Texas swing that are centered on other instruments. I find old-style country, closer to its Irish traditional roots, far easier to take than the modern Nashville sound. Blues influence also helps.

    no surprise that you’d dig bluegrass. if mainstream country is akin to classic rock — although these days, much of it is more like pop top 40 in how it’s written, orchestrated and performed — then bluegrass is shred metal (with a few elements of classic-jazz tradition mixed in).

  66. The modern Nashville sound really ain’t country. It’s twang-pop. It’s contemporary pop with a heavy dose of religion && smarm && ( steel guitar || banjo ) && twang. If you want to give steel guitar a fair shake, divorced from faux country accents, go here and listen: http://redfloorrecords.net/?page_id=1845. Daniel Lanois loves steel guitar, and being French-Canadian, doesn’t do a fake southern accent. You mention that you sometimes enjoy Texas swing. As I recall, Texas swing has a fair amount of steel guitar in it too.

    I’m surprised you don’t know of Hugh Laurie. You strike me as the type to really enjoy Jeeves & Wooster (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098833/).

  67. >The Stones and Zeppelin and many others just don’t sound very British. Why is that?

    Those two bands started put closely emulating the style – and vocals – of American bluesmen of the more flamboyant type, such as Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Screaming Jay Hawkins. Their singing accents were thus a sort of British-filtered version of southern Black American. Generally speaking they managed not to overdo it except occasionally for comic effect, as in Mick Jagger singing The Girl with the Faraway Eyes.

  68. Worst country song ever: Dixie Chicks cover ‘Yesterday’ thru their nose.

    Best country song ever: Johnny Cash ‘Ring of Fire’. Not AT ALL nasal.

    The country songs that annoy me are covers of pop songs, but nasal like a fake head cold. Ancestral memories of Viking spies sneaking into my Mercia to rape it into the Danelaw?

  69. I have to admit, most of it bores me too. Acadie and For the Beauty of Winona are good, but the rest are… repetitive.

  70. It’s not just country music. To this day I cannot hear Credence Clearwater Revival sing “Born on the Bayou” without ROFL. They’re from Mill Valley!

  71. >Best country song ever: Johnny Cash ‘Ring of Fire’. Not AT ALL nasal.

    Johnny Cash didn’t give me an allergic reaction. I now think this is because (a) his accent was real, (b) he didn’t play it up, and (c) it wasn’t all that marked to begin with. He was born in a border state where southern American shades into the lower Midwestern accent.

  72. >To this day I cannot hear Credence Clearwater Revival sing “Born on the Bayou” without ROFL.

    I was actually thinking about Creedence in this connection earlier. Yes, John Fogerty is from California, but his singing accent is pretty convincing Southern. In fact, that song works exactly because he sounds more Louisiana than anything else; I’ve heard natives of the area around New Orleans speak very similar idiolects. I guess he has a good ear.

  73. “It is almost a cliché that in the past people used to hate more heretics of their own religion or politics than people of entirely different persuasions”

    This is still true; consider e.g. the Objectivist split between ARI & TOC.

  74. @Shenpen:
    >Fun fact: I had no idea why Shakespeare was so popular as long I was only exposed to translations. Having read the original, I suddenly understood the musical, tonal aspects of how he used the English language of his age, the thundering, threatening deep bass sound of the “from his mothers womb untimely ripped” that cannot really be translated with the same kind of the musical expression, and then I got enlightened.

    The interesting thing is that a lot of English speakers, having been exposed to Shakespeare in the original, have no idea why Shakespeare is popular either. For me, at least, it doesn’t read naturally and ends up deep in the uncanny valley. I think part of it may be that the meter falls apart in modern dialect, and partly that unrhymed poetry isn’t especially common in the modern Anglosphere, so it ends up sounding half like botched poetry and half like really wacky prose.

  75. But that got me thinking about other played-up accents in popular music, like the “indie girl” accent and the “Creed” accent. I find it hard to believe that the singers just *naturally* all sound like that.

    Which is the “indie girl” accent? The breathy near-whisper used by the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Imogen Heap? The faux-Joplin screech used by Alanis Morissette?

    Also the “Creed” accent is more properly called the “Eddie Vedder” accent.

  76. >The interesting thing is that a lot of English speakers, having been exposed to Shakespeare in the original, have no idea why Shakespeare is popular either.

    Was never mysterious to me. But then I figured out early that the way to really appreciate Shakespeare is to speak it. As Shenpen said, the music is there; the power is there. You find it by reciting it.

  77. >Which is the “indie girl” accent? The breathy near-whisper used by the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Imogen Heap? The faux-Joplin screech used by Alanis Morissette?

    You missed the most common one – heavily feminized but neutral American English completely without the southern or black-influenced coloration found in non-indie girl singers. I first heard it from Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of the B-52s in the mid-1970s, and it was then really startling to hear women sing rock without any blues coloration at all. I think my reference for it is the Deal sisters who sang for the Breeders in the early 1990s. Gwen Stefani is a good recent exemplar.

  78. Eric, here are a few more data points that I’d like to know your evaluation of. They’re all by James Keelaghan, a folk singer from Alberta.

    First, as a control, listen to a few of these, particularly “Cold Missouri Waters”, “House of Cards”, “Fires of Calais” and “Medusa”. The brass section in “House of Cards” is a bit of a novelty for him, but otherwise these are all good representatives of his signature style and his more-or-less-neutral native accent. I predict that your reaction to these will be somewhere between neutral and positive.

    Now take the $2 that I’m about to send you on PayPal and download “Princes of the Clouds” and then “Number 37″, which are two of Keelaghan’s experiments with country music. “Princes of the Clouds” is only half-way there: the sound isn’t much of a departure from his usual style, but on the other hand, he loses his wife, his friend, his farm, and his plane all in the space of four minutes, which has got to be some sort of country music world record :-). “Number 37″ is straight-up Nashville, with one exception: when he sings about living in a “High Plains Western town”, the accent he’s faking is actually good enough to convince someone that he really does. What do you think of these?

  79. >Eric, here are a few more data points that I’d like to know your evaluation of. They’re all by James Keelaghan, a folk singer from Alberta.

    Musical settings uninteresting and predictable, performance competent but I’ve heard better and occasionally done better. All the value here is in the lyrics, which are accomplished and occasionally quite moving. I’m surprised you didn’t recommend Kiri’s Piano, which I thought was the best of the half-dozen-or-so tracks I listened to.

    You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I found Number 37 annoying. The cornpone instrumentation was unnecessary and felt like a marketing maneuver rather than an artistic statement; his usual spare arrangement would have served as well. The accent was not very obtrusive, but it wasn’t necessary, either.

  80. Language, dialects and accents are linguistic habits acquired via assimilation during early formative years. As Susan pointed out above, these are de facto tribal identifiers and aid in determining whether a stranger is friend or foe. Our ancient ancestors may have used these verbal cues at a distance in order to assess potential danger, and an unfamiliar (or imitated) verbal cue may have triggered a visceral anger or fear response.

    During the past few thousand years of cultural evolution, language has become the primary mode of memetic conditioning. One of the shortcuts to reformatting mental habits is the music/lyric combination. Eric is naturally averse to any form of memetic deception, but rap is far more insidious than country music.

  81. I’ve got a weird interaction with “singable” poetry. Backstory – I was a Foreign Service brat for the last 8 of my first 10 years and child of a pair of born-and-bred SoCal natives who had wandered far afield prior to my birth; then lived in NoVA until 18, then moved to NJ. I find myself absorbing accents when talking to non-”standard”-accented folks, but don’t have a good enough ear to know if I’m faking it or not. (I suspect it’s not good, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and can’t tell an off note to save my life).
    When reading children’s books (almost all of which are rhyming couplets) to my toddler, I will tend to affect a southern accent; and I really can’t turn it off without making a serious effort to read instead of singsong it, which then causes me to mentally grind the gears something fierce. When reading Kipling, this doesn’t happen, I use my default accent. When reading liturgy on sunday that I haven’t memorized, I tend to slip into a different southern accent, unless it’s a piece I’ve memorized, which I use my normal accent on again.
    (Overseas I lived in New Delhi for 2-6 and took preschool in a local school, Panama City Panama where I was educated in the DoD school on base from 6-8, and Casablanca from 8-10, where I was educated in a school for american expats and didn’t have a lot of exposure to local kids; I am still able to count to 5 in Hindi, which made for a “waitaminute” moment from a college roommate when I switched codepages on him in the middle of a sentence, and used to speak spanish but the vocabulary has atrophied from non-use, and when I do dredge upt he remnants I again, speak with the southern accent I use for singsong child stories)

  82. I’m surprised you didn’t recommend Kiri’s Piano, which I thought was the best of the half-dozen-or-so tracks I listened to.

    The tracks I suggested aren’t my favorites; I picked those because they’re freely available and are good representatives of what Keelaghan’s voice sounds like when he isn’t trying to affect a dialect. If you want to actually hear him at his musical best, try “Henry’s Fall Down”, “October 70″, “Sinatra and I”, or his covers of “Jack Haggerty” or “Harvest Train”. Also, here’s a new recording of “Cold Missouri Waters” with a tempo and arrangement that I find more compelling than the original one. You might like “River Run” for the lyrics.

  83. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I found Number 37 annoying.

    Yes, I paid you to listen to that one because I figured I’d need to :-)

  84. @Daniel Franke

    ” he loses his wife, his friend, his farm, and his plane all in the space of four minutes, which has got to be some sort of country music world record :-).”

    I think Steve Goodman has the record. ;-)

  85. TomA, my bet is that Eric’s reaction is not an evolved defense against memetic deception, it’s an aesthetic revulsion against something where the pieces don’t fit together.

  86. >TomA, my bet is that Eric’s reaction is not an evolved defense against memetic deception, it’s an aesthetic revulsion against something where the pieces don’t fit together.

    Plausible. Or possibly both?

  87. Jeff Read: “True, but that doesn’t account for the vast gulf between the extremely competent handling by Disney of the English dubs of Studio Ghibli films and the hard-to-listen-to crap that passes for a dubbing of even a great anime TV series.”

    Did you really just say that? After what they did to Castle In The Sky, I avoid other Ghibli English dubs, so I don’t know how good/bad they are. This is because the Disney dub of Castle In The Sky is a total misrepresentation of the original Japanese! Do you want me to go over the specific problems? (i.e. Yeah, Mark, there’s a big difference between “3?” and “one minute”, so I can’t believe you read that, thanks.)

  88. >After what they did to Castle In The Sky, I avoid other Ghibli English dubs, so I don’t know how good/bad they are.

    I don’t know Japanese, so I can’t directly certify. But the topic experts I know (including at least one Japanese-speaker) seem to agree that the English dubs for many Ghibli/Miyazaki films (notably including Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa: Valley of the Winds, and Spirited Away) are exceptionally good of their kind.

    I note that Castle In The Sky was Studio Ghibli’s first release. I think it’s at least possible that it got a poor dub because Disney did not yet know that it would be worth their money and time to buy a good one.

    Related note: Most anime fails to interest me, but I am a Studio Ghibli fan. That is art for adults.

  89. Eric, I’m not sure how you’d test which it is, but I don’t see the evolution theory as very strong, considering that most people aren’t revolted by fake accents– that country and western music is popular and you aren’t nearly as put off by fake accents in other contexts.

  90. @Nancy Lebovitz:

    > Eric, I’m not sure how you’d test which it is

    Perhaps by seeing what realcountry people listen to?

    If it is an evolutionary adaptation, then perhaps Eric’s is merely more highly-honed than average. A lot of people who aren’t country are going to want country-lite anyway, and there are a lot of those:

    http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/country/1177554/new-statistics-about-country-music-fans-revealed-at-billboard-country

  91. ESR: “I note that Castle In The Sky was Studio Ghibli’s first release. I think it’s at least possible that it got a poor dub because Disney did not yet know that it would be worth their money and time to buy a good one.”

    It sounds like they spent a lot of money and time on it. Actually, the dub sounds rather good, it’s the translation that’s bad. If later collaborations of Ghibli and Disney are better, I would not be surprised, since what would actually surprise me is if I were the first to go ballistic about significant changes to Castle In The Sky’s meaning. The first time I watched the Disney dub, I was so unimpressed that I didn’t even remember having watched it by the time someone gave me the Japanese original c/w an accurate set of subtitles in mid-2010. It was about an hour into it that I realized I had seen it before, and it was a very different experience for me, so much had Disney changed the script’s content.

  92. You missed the most common one – heavily feminized but neutral American English completely without the southern or black-influenced coloration found in non-indie girl singers.

    That covers a lot of singers — Belinda Carlisle, Debbie Gibson, and even Madonna might qualify, and none of those are particularly indie. Nor is Gwen Stefani. Unless by “indie” you mean “white pop princess”.

  93. Terry,

    My comments regarding accent were about dub (voice acting) quality, not translation quality. A lot of anime is just painful to listen to even if competently translated.

    Related note: Most anime fails to interest me, but I am a Studio Ghibli fan. That is art for adults.

    Damn straight. Recently I took my father to see The Wind Rises — a romantic, poetic fictionalization of the life of the A6M Zero designer, Jiro Horikoshi — and, supposedly, Miyazaki’s for-real-this-time last film. My father was so impressed, he was talking about it with my mom even hours later. Never had I seen such an accurate representation of what goes on inside an engineer’s mind as he works, anywhere in cinema. I’m referring to the sequences that show Jiro at his desk, sketching out a design, and then he flies the design in his mind, observing the wing loads on the struts. But the rest of the movie is just full of moments like that, including a frighteningly, dramatically accurate representation of an earthquake shockwave and… an unusual method of creating sound effects. :)

  94. @esr:
    >Was never mysterious to me. But then I figured out early that the way to really appreciate Shakespeare is to speak it. As Shenpen said, the music is there; the power is there. You find it by reciting it.

    I don’t find it by reciting it. I looked up Hamlet on Youtube and am actually finding I hear it a fair bit better listening to trained Shakespearean actors: The timing they speak with makes it flow well, but it’s not a timing that is natural for modern American English (or at least for the suburban Denver dialect I grew up with), so it ends up sounding really weird when I read it aloud.

    OT: I’m looking at acquiring a new desktop soon and have been considering building one, as vendors that sell machines with Linux pre-installed tend to have fairly limited selection. So I skimmed through your “Unix Hardware Buyer HOWTO”, wherein I noticed a rather anachronistic line: “Some PC vendors, being Windows-oriented, still bundle two-button mice. Thus, you may have to buy your own three-button (or two button and a scroll wheel) mouse.” I’d be surprised if that line was true a decade ago, and it certainly was long out of date as of the last revision of the HOWTO four years ago.

  95. >it’s not a timing that is natural for modern American English

    Hm. I guess you’re right about that. I can’t remember when I didn’t know what oration by a Shakespearian actor sounds like, so when I recite it I just naturally do that. Now that I think about it, someone lacking my early exposure and ear for dialect would naturally have more trouble.

  96. There’s also been a pronunciation shift since Shakespeare’s time. This bit from _As You Like It_ (Act 2, Scene 7):

    And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
    And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,
    And thereby hangs a tale

    Back in 1600, the word “hour” was pronounced more like “oar”, which is close to “whore”. From my understanding, there’s a sexual pun in these lines that are lost on a modern audience (and it does make some sense, seeing how the lines are being quoted from a fool).

  97. >there’s a sexual pun in these lines that are lost on a modern audience

    And maybe a second one, if “tail” and “tale” were homonyms and “tail” used of humans had then the association with sexual organs it does today.

    No prize for guessing that I’m a huge fan of the “original pronunciation” movement in Shakespeare. I think it is artistically right, and I can’t resist the invitation to dabble in the historical linguistics of English. The good-natured controversy over which modern dialects ought to be favored as reconstructive models is very interesting to me.

    (In case anyone cares, I’m in the camp that would lean a bit more heavily on the the West Country accent and a bit less on Yorkshire/Midlands. I could go on about my reasons at a length most people would likely find tedious.)

  98. >it’s not a timing that is natural for modern American English

    Not even for 18th British English already for that matter. Consider Edmund Burke, who was considered a good stylist in the late 18th, he already used the same approach as good modern American orators: short, succint, fast-paced, a bit hurriedly timed (a bit of a “we are all busy people, let’s not waste time” approach) sentences. Examples: “Nobody will be argued into slavery.” or “A definition may be very exact, and yet go but a very little way towards informing us of the nature of the thing defined.” All this sounds very modern 250 years later – and it does no even sound particularly British, more like neutral. So this divergence, this change must have happened earlier.

  99. I’m one of those people who actually likes a lot of country music. (But I have very broad tastes in music.) But there is one particular artist who hit the charts hard a year or two ago that I just do not like, and I think the reason why is her accent is so clearly a caricature of the real thing: Jana Kramer. Is this one of those you also find intolerable?

  100. >Is this one of those you also find intolerable?

    Never heard of her before. The first four bars of singing were enough to make it clear that the answer is “yes”.

  101. Was away for a bit. About those punk revivalists…..

    Here’s one from Social Distortion.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXAU4MmMIMo

    (I guess they’re technically more ‘damn they’re still around-ists’ than revivalists, they’re ancient but really only hit it big in the 90′s during the punk revival)

    And one from Rancid.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P9QMkm9Eew

    Now mind you, both of these singers grew up in California. (IIRC, one near LA one in the Bay Area.)

  102. >>Is this one of those you also find intolerable?

    >Never heard of her before. The first four bars of singing were enough to make it clear that the answer is “yes”.

    I’ve heard of her. That song was pretty popular for a while and it was hard to escape the video. I think in this case you need to separate out ones you find intolerable because of a fake accent, or just because the singing is terrible. (she’s cute though)

  103. >I guess [Social Distortion are] technically more ‘damn they’re still around-ists’ than revivalists

    Maybe that’s why the singer’s accent worked for him. The Rancid guy, on the other hand, did seem like a fake – and a bad one.

  104. @Jeff Read: True, Castle In The Sky’s bad translation is read well, but I tend to forget that when Dola’s looking aft out the left window and screaming “Goliath off the starboard beam!” (exactly behind her.) There aren’t many animes that I’ve watched where I remember an unbearable English dub. I think that’s because if I don’t like something, I have a tendency not to remember much about it; the most notable example is when Michael Bay blew up Shuttle Atlantis with some butane bombs for Armageddon. Later, some troll passed some frame caps off as Israeli spy satellite pictures of Columbia’s real breakup at the end of STS-107. Being known as a Shuttle nut in my circle of friends, when asked about them, I didn’t identify them without research, although I could still tell the difference between lighter fluid and real entry plasma.

    One Razzie nomination that surprised me was Leelee Sobieski’s role as Muriella in “In the Name of the King”. She did a flat job of acting, except in the scene where Muriella was on the verge of suicide, where her handmaiden came in and ruined it. The reason the Razzie nomination surprised me is because the way she played Muriella is about the way I expected Muriella to be given her circumstances. On the other hand, I have a generally higher opinion of In the Name of the King than the market, probably because I recognized that “Dungeon Siege” was a game, which automatically sets a filter in my mind to recognize game-related concepts and treat them differently for the purposes of evaluating “realism” (another way to set that filter is to go all-CG like Beowulf.) Conversely, most people I know who don’t play games either haven’t watched or don’t like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children… speaking of which, there’s a whole ‘nother discussion to be had regarding bad game localizations, the problems with which almost never have anything to do with voice acting (IIRC, it might have been on Final Fantasy VII that Nintendo America slighted Squaresoft and handed that entire console RPG market over to Sony, although they clawed some of it back through Tales Studio later.)

  105. Social Distortion (Been a fan since 87/88) more moving to what some called “Roots” (along with X) and “Cow Punk” ( wall of voodoo, . This rubs shoulders with rockabilly/psychobilly ( you want an odd accent http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuBRoWOMk0c ).

    Never much cared about/for Rancid though.

  106. > You probably shouldn’t ever watch Paula Deen’s cooking shows…make sure there are no firearms nearby.

    I was going to mention Ms. Deen. I’ve only seen a few clips of her on Youtube (her deep-frying pieces of cheesecake wrapped in pastry, a whole turkey, and possibly anything else she can get her hands on). She appears to be working way too hard to insert the required minimum of three “y’all”s in each sentence she utters. I’m not American nor a native English speaker, and I couldn’t identify the various Southern accents, but to me Ms. Deen sounds like she’s faking her own native accent. She sort of slips into a more standard US English here and there and then remembers to overdo her own accent the next second. In a public service announcement type of clip, where she spoke about diabetes in a quite serious tone, she seemed to drop a lot of the accent along with her ‘happy deep-frying’ character.

    A lot of the celebrity tv chefs and cooks are surprisingly bad performers, considering how many hours they spend in front of the camera. Paula Deen comes off as pretentious and fake. I wouldn’t think it should be too difficult for an acting coach to get her to relax a bit. I saw a couple of episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and he spent an incredible amount of time pointing his finger in the air, with his whole body quivering as he explained his big plan to turn around an eatery, speaking way too fast. You’d think that someone in a big production like that would have weeded out the mannerism.

  107. What happened with FFVII was not the PlayStation transition so much as Ted Woolsey leaving. Say what you will about Woolsey’s looseness with the original material, he preserved the narrative flow and managed to keep everything within the character limit. (His deployment of the term “esper” is subtle genius…)

    And no one is watching Advent Children because in order for it to make sense in any language, you have to have played FFVII all the way through. And even then, it throws out a bunch of character development in order to have Cloud wangst some more at the beginning, only to get over himself again by the end.

  108. I dunno… I didn’t have much trouble understanding Advent Children even with Marlene cramming a fifty hour RPG into a ninety second synopsis. I’ve only recently started to become familiar with the game, and it’s not helping me better understand Advent Children at all (especially that silly wolf. I still have no idea why they wasted any frames on him at all. And-

    “even then, it throws out a bunch of character development in order to have Cloud wangst some more at the beginning, only to get over himself again by the end.”

    -that.) Advent Children is my first significant exposure to the world of Final Fantasy VII (prior to which, I had played one of the 16bit pre-VII Final Fantasy installments back when I was a kid, can’t remember which one, but I think it was the very first.) Also, Vincent has a major role in Advent Children, but you can actually miss him in the game. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were one or two disconnected FF7 players who watched Advent Children, saw this red thing rescue Cloud from Forgotten City wondering, “Who the frik is that?”

    I think a lot of people misunderstand Advent Children because they expect it to be more than you can cram into a two hour movie. It is a relatively straightforward tale of a reluctant hero answering the call, along with many friends who come to his aid despite not being prompted. And you have absurdly huge bikes, even more absurd swords, awesome fireworks and Turks who talk to much while they fight. Knowing the game brings up more questions, like where in the blazes is Reeve?? I have just a little more trouble understanding Advent Children now than I did before I knew anything about the game.

  109. “Texas accent is actually descended from the native dialect around Arlington, Virginia”

    decades ago, I attended Va Tech in Blacksburg VA. Its a small burg in South West VA that would be classic Appalachian poor without the giant university. I would pick up some of the SW Va accent when I was there, not from the teachers, but from the local store clerks, etc. One summer, I was an intern living in Alexandria VA, which is next door to Arlington VA. I heard some local kids playing and talking in their front yard as I walked down the street. Their accent was a deep Southern one, sounding the same as the one from the Appalachian hills of SW Va. Transplanted to Texas, interesting.

  110. A guy I went to high school with decided that he was going to make it big as a country music singer. Never had a southern accent growing up, turns out now he does. It has toned down juuuuust a little bit in recent months but it was strong there for a while… and very embarrassing. Lowest common denominator type stuff.

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