Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kanye's Codas and Vowels

This is just a quicky about Kanye's new song I am a God, which he collaborated on with God. The opening lyrics are:
I am a God
I am a God
I am a God
Hurry up with my damn massage
Hurry up with my damn ménage
Get the Porsche out the damn garage
I am a God
Even though I'm a man of God
My whole life in the hands of God
So y'all better quit playing with God
Kanye pronounces the final syllable of "massage" as [ɑʤ], which caught my ear so I went back and listened more closely. By my coding, this is how Kanye produces the final consonants of each of these lines.
God: [d]
God: [d]
God: [d]
massage: [ʤ]
ménage: [ʒ]
garage: [ʒ]
God: ∅
God: ∅
God: ∅
God: ∅
Those ∅ codas mean that the /d/ was just absent. I believe AAVE deletes simple codas more often than other dialects. I don't know more recent numbers, but Labov, Cohen & Robins (1968) reported that in Harlem it happened somewhere between 5% and 20% of the times for a word like "God", depending on the context.

The first thing that occurred to me was that for Kanye, [gɑ:] is rhyming equivalent to [gɑd]. That might be an interesting piece of evidence for the phonological status of these zero codas. That is, they really count as having a /d/ in them, even though it's not pronounced. Then again, I don't know if Kanye would be willing to rhyme "spa" with "God", meaning he doesn't really care about the content of coda, as long as the vowels match. Later on in the song, though, he pulls in "restaurant" and "croissant" into the same rhyming scheme, making the set of codas which are rhyming equivalent {d, ʤ, ʒ, nt, ∅}, all apical obstruents except for the zero codas. It seems like Kanye doesn't care about coda complexity, manner, or subcoronal place of articulation, but the major place of articulation does seem to matter, so I'm going to say that those ∅-codas actually count as apical obstruents for Kanye.

But, Joel Wallenberg asked me an interesting question on Twitter.
Well, there's only one way to find out! Break out Praat!

Here are the first three God's, which I heard with a [d]. They all have pretty clear formant transitions (marked by "tr"), especially the third one. (click for larger)

God 1
God 2
God 3

And here are the last 4 Gods, which I heard without a [d]. God 4 does actually have a pretty clear formant transition for an apical closure, and God 6 has something subtle going on that I'm not sure about. It looks less like a formant transition to an apical closure, and more like a return to a neutral vowel, but I've marked it "tr?" just in case. Gods 5 and 7, though, clearly don't have formant transitions to a following /d/.

God 4
God 5
God 6
God 7
So, for at least 2 out of the 4 zero coda Gods, the /d/ was really really gone.

One more interesting thing to me was that except for Gods 1 and 7, after reaching their peak F1 and F2 after the transition from [g], all of these vowels have a very steadily declining F1 and F2. In fact, I'd transcribe God 2 as being something like [gaɔ̯d]. I guess for Kanye the vowel in God is definitely long and in-gliding.


A concern has been conveyed to me that I may have been equating rap as a lyrical form, African American English, and Kanye West in a problematic way. I wasn't really clear about my assumptions about how these three things are related. I tried to clarify in this post.

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