Did punk start in England, or in the United States? Why do British singers sing with American accents? These are timeless questions that will continue to plague music fans even after rock and roll has finally, truly died. But perhaps even more inexplicable is the faux-Brit Californian affectation that was first made popular by Green Day, then later trickled down to the pop-punk bands that followed in their footsteps. It certainly makes sense that Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong may have taken some singing cues from The Clash's Joe Strummer — but over time, as that homage became imitated in earnest, it mutated into something else entirely.
Back in 2015, writer Dan Nosowitx interviewed some linguists for Atlas Obscura to try and analyze the "Pop-Punk Accent" that developed by the early 2000s. It's certainly a strange topic for an academic dissertation, but what he found was genuinely pretty fascinating. Consider this:
Eckert walked me through the Blink-182 song ["First Date"] word by word, pointing out places where [singer Tom] DeLonge was playing around with accent. "When they say 'to pick you up on our very first date,' the interesting thing about 'date' is that he renders it as a monophthong 'dehhht' instead of 'date,' says Eckert. "In most American English it's a diphthong." A diphthong is a vowel sound with two simpler sounds in it; for most Americans, "date" is a kind of compound vowel made up of the "eh" sound and the "ee" sound. Not so much for Tom DeLonge, who eliminates all but the "eh," making it a single sound, or a monophthong.
The monophthong "date" surprised Eckert, as she says it's not part of the California Shift. Except! "I've heard that some in Chicano English, but not so much in Anglo English," she says. Chicano English is spoken by native English speakers of Mexican descent—it's not a Mexican accent, because Chicano English speakers are native English speakers, but sort of their own English dialect. And that goes along with one of DeLonge's most obvious vocal tics: changing short "ih" sounds as in the work "think" to a long "ee" sound, turning it into something like "theenk." "Chicano English raises the vowel I to 'ee' before nasal consonants," says Eckert. "So 'theenk' is very Chicano. And you have a lot of Anglo wannabes saying that too."
If you, like me, are into language and anthropology, there's a lot to chew on here.
I Made a Linguistics Professor Listen to a Blink-182 Song and Analyze the Accent [Dan Nosowitz / Atlas Obscura]