British and American accents are distinguishable, and when someone talks I can tell if he is British or American within a few seconds. However, when listening to music, the accents are not easily distinguishable. I can hardly find if a singer is American or British from a song.

Is there a technical reason for less visibility of accent when singing? Or it is just my ignorance?

  • Adele and Taylor Swift sing quite differently. Is it genre? or accent? Probably pronunciation. I am not sure. But, how can you say they are not easily distinguishable? – user140086 Oct 11 '15 at 15:52
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    @Rathony I don't hear British accent in Adele song to be distinguished from Taylor Swift's American accent. If they talk in an interview, I can find who is British and who American, but not in the song. Though, not a good example. Commonsense tells me someone who sings country is American. – Googlebot Oct 11 '15 at 15:56
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    @Rathony: Anyone can say that they are unable to distinguish something, if they can't. "How can you say X?" is often used as a challenge, so you might be careful about using it in writing, where the intonation won't distinguish your intention. I suspect this is normal Indian English usage, but in an international forum it might be misconstrued. As I mentioned in another comment this morning, how has practically no meaning, so the addressee has to figure out what's intended. – John Lawler Oct 11 '15 at 15:57
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    For classical singing, everyone tries to sing like the Italians. For pop singing, Americans and Brits try to sing like each other -- they listen to each others' records and imitate. – Greg Lee Oct 11 '15 at 16:45
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    Many of the distinctive features of English accents are in various diphthongs (the go diphthong is distinctively British, for example). When you're singing, depending on the singing style, you tend to replace diphthongs with pure vowels, as it sounds better. You should still be able to hear the accents from differences in pure vowels ... as in the words path and bird ... but a lot of the cues from diphthongs we rely on aren't there any more. – Peter Shor Jun 18 '19 at 20:26

The conventions of popular song in the English language since the mid-twentieth century have led to the dominance of what's been called a mid-Atlantic accent. The general belief is that the prevalence of extended, possibly distorted vowel sounds aren't really compatible with British accents as spoken, even by singers. The exceptions are very noticeable and they do exist: Billy Bragg, the early recordings of David Bowie, and Anthony Newley, for example.

See this blog by David Crystal:

Several of the main identifying features of a regional accent tend to disappear when singing - the intonation (obviously, as a melody replaces it), the speech rhythm, and vowel length (for many syllables are elongated). Vowel quality is also often affected, especially in classical singing, where vowels are articulated with greater openness than in everyday speech.

In the Classical world, the situation is similar. From Singing and Communicating in English: a Singer's Guide to English Diction by Kathryn LaBouff (p.242):

For singers today, knowledge and fluency in the Mid-Atlantic dialect is a very useful skill. In North America, it is often the requested pronunciation by many conductors and directors for vocal works that are not specifically of North American origin. Oratorio and European opera in English translation are frequently presented in Mid-Atlantic rather than RP or AS.

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