Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Stephanie Shih Humanities and Social Science

Sing Me a Swing Song: A Linguistic Approach to Text-setting in Jazz Bop Swing

Linguists have studied text-setting and proposed metrical templates for mapping text to music; however, their pioneering works on the subject have neglected music outside the Western classical genre. My research will explore the influence of music on text in jazz bop swing, since the rhythmic and artistic nature of swing differs greatly from Western classical music. Through analyzing the coupling of the rhythms of spoken language and music, I will utilize the linguistic methods of templates, rules, and Optimality Theory to answer the question, “What is the rhythmic structure that defines jazz?” I will study the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald, and her recordings of Johnny Mercer texts, since singer and lyricist are definitive icons of the jazz bop swing era. In the end, this project will offer a fuller perspective of metricality in text-setting and also develop the language of music in the linguistic field of study.

Message To Sponsor

Since the fall semester of my sophomore year in college when I took my first metrics course, I have wanted to explore the issue of music as a language. To be able to actually initiate and carry out my ideas in the SURF program is an incredible opportunity for me to see how my "music is a language" hypothesis can hold up in actual linguistic research. Furthermore, starting my research during the summer allows me to have a wider scope in my project, including the approach of rhythm in music using the latest linguistic methodology, Optimality Theory. This will allow my research to reachand perhaps contributeto the modern linguistic approach to phonology. Overall, I am excited to be spending my summer with my two favorite subjects: music and linguistics.
Major: English, Linguistics
Mentor: Kristin Hanson, English
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