Theorising the practice of language mixing in music: an interdisciplinary (linguistic and musicological) investigation of Sri Lanka’s leading genre of contemporary popular song and its community.
Ekanayaka, Tanya Nissani Ilangakkone
This thesis represents the first ever study of Sri Lanka’s leading genre of contemporary popular song covering a period of over twelve years, and how its artists and principal audience interpolate ‘global’ and ‘local’ (linguistic and musical) elements in their invention and negotiation of the genre. The central objective is to articulate the collective linguistic identity of the genre’s artists and principal audience. They are shown to constitute a community of over 5.5 million youth and young adults of Sinhala ethnicity, more than a quarter of the country’s population. Notably, this is also the first ever study of macrosocietal linguistic identity in a musical context involving an interdisciplinary linguistic and musical-structure based approach. Underlying the central objective the thesis addresses broader questions about whether our perception of and response to language/language-mixing in music differs from our perception of and response to language mixing (language) in non-musical (i.e. conversational) contexts and if so, how such differences might be explained in terms of linguistic and/or musico-linguistic structure. The genre explored is termed ‘Post 1998 Leading Sri Lankan Popular Song’ (98+LSLPS): 1998 marks the symbolic year in which the first songs of the genre emerged and became hugely popular in Sri Lanka. At present, it includes around 300 songs. A community of practice model (Wenger 1998) is used to describe the three-way relationship between the artists, audience and songs. The song data analysed are in audio format. Musically, the songs are heterogeneous involving blends of styles, ranging from indigenous Sri Lankan folk tunes to hip hop rhythms to western classical melodies. These are delivered through four presentational techniques among which rap and singing are dominant. It is English and Sinhala mixed language lyrics which distinguish the songs as a genre. Not surprisingly, there is evidence that the community regard the songs as ‘mixed’: however, they are also found to regard the songs as simultaneously ‘not-mixed’. The portrait corresponds to the community’s identification of the songs as simultaneously homogeneous Sinhala and Sinhala-Sri Lankan systems on the one hand and heterogeneous multicultural systems on the other. Exploring the salience of this portrait at the level of the songs’ lyric organisation constitutes the major part of the thesis and is a crucial forerunner to articulating the collective linguistic identity of the community, which is based on interpreting the findings. Accordingly, I advance a novel musico-linguistic analytical framework based on the notion of the musical rhythm derived ‘line’ for analysing the songs. The framework is also a response to the fact that the song lyrics are in audio format rather than being assigned a predetermined structure by transcription. The analyses demonstrate that the songs’ lyric structure is entirely congruent with the portrait assigned to the songs by their community. Interpreted in relation to the community’s collective linguistic identity, it is described as representing a form of overarching monolingualism, deriving from active multilingualism in music. Drawing on the relationship between Sinhala ethnicity and the Sinhala language and the fact that the community members are of Sinhala ethnicity, the study concludes by suggesting that this linguistic profile may be indicative of the community’s definition of the ‘Sinhala’ language in this musical domain. Overall, the study establishes that musical structure governs the organisation of language/language mixing in music and that this is reflected in how communities perceive language/language mixing in music.