Describing emotions in song lyrics: a corpuslinguistic analysis comparing English lyrics by Dutch- and English-speaking artists.

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The realm of multilingualism and its effects on emotionality in texts or speech has been researched extensively (Anooshian & Hertel, 1994; Pavlenko, 2005; Dewaele, 2006; García- Palacios et al., 2018; Pérez-García & Sánchez, 2020). In general, these studies found that emotions are perceived more strongly in a speaker’s first language, which can make it either easier or more difficult to write about certain emotions in a foreign language. However, research that investigates whether the same effects hold for song lyrics is lacking. Since artists involve themselves in a creative song writing process, song lyrics could deviate from other written text. Moreover, it is possible that results would differ per genre, since there exist many genres, all with its own conventions and goals: for example, it has been found that pop songs address more positive feelings (Rojek, 2011; Waszink et al., 2018) in comparison to hip-hop songs (Waszink et al., 2018; Edmonds, 2020). Therefore, the current study tried to investigate whether the nationality of the artist (RQ1), either Dutch or American/British, and the chosen genre (RQ2), pop or hip-hop, had an effect on how emotions were described in English song lyrics. This was investigated manually through a corpuslinguistic analysis of English song lyrics written by both nationalities in which emotion was analyzed on two aspects, namely emotion categories and emotion intensity. The results found no significant effect of genre on both analyzed elements of emotion. The nationality of the artist did not impact emotion intensity either. However, nationality made a difference on one emotion category, namely fear: Dutch-speaking artists seemed to describe fear more often in their English songs than English-speaking artists. With this being in line with the literature, it can be concluded that artists with different nationalities can describe certain emotions (in this case fear) differently in song lyrics in their first or second language. Further research with a larger sample size is required to investigate whether this effect could possibly hold for other emotion categories, nationalities or genres as well.
Faculteit der Letteren