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When listening to Japanese (pop) songs containing English lyrics, I can't help but notice an interesting phenomenon. Usually for English songs, we tend to align the linguistic stress with the melodic/rhythmic/metric stress. But Japanese songs seem to follow different rules. This sentiment seems to be shared by some others. Redditors also made similar observations, although it's about K-Pop, and perhaps not phrased very politely.

Take S.A.T.E.L.L.I.T.E. by Camellia for example. At around 0:42 there is the word "satellite". The melody is bA-bB-bA, so the climax is at the syllable "tell"; it also lies on the metric stress, being at the third beat of a 4/4 measure; it is furthermore the rhythmic stress because the note bB is longer. But the English word "satellite" is most commonly pronounced with the stress at the beginning, not in the middle. In contrast, the word "scintillation" is aligned as expected, occuring earlier in the song.

I haven't been able to confirm whether this is simply because the songwriter himself pronounces "satellite" with an alternative stress, but I suppose not. Is there a difference between how Japanese and English songwriters align stress and accent? If so, how and why?

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    When you bring karaoke or karate to America, they become kara-Ohkee and kuh-Rah-dee. Arri Gaatoh!
    – user94880
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 18:06
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    @user94880 So are you suggesting this phenomenon is purely happening at the linguistic level? Could you provide some reference to back this up? Because as far as I know these songwriters seem to pronounce English stress in the English way in speech.
    – Trebor
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 18:09
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    No reference, it's just an observation, that's how things seem to go. When people try to use foreign languages, there are many levels of fluency and skill, and placing stressed syllables like native speakers is one level. Maybe they don't feel that stress is important, or they never thought of it.
    – user94880
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 18:50
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    @user94880 or they're unaware of it, or they think they know but are wrong, as surely most English speakers are about Japanese. There are many possibilities. In any event, getting the stresses wrong -- and other subtleties of pronunciation -- in singing a foreign language or setting one to music is extremely common. There are a few notorious instances in Handel's English-language output, for example.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 21:36
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    I've seen all kinds of examples of English lyrics by native English speakers that mess this up, so.... Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 16:41

2 Answers 2

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Japanese doesn't have "stress" the way English does. The closest thing is "pitch accent," which is non-lexical and varies by region. Every mora in Japanese (represented by a single kana) lasts the same amount of time and receives about the same amount of emphasis.

Think about why the haiku, a syllable-based structure, doesn't really work in English. Stress is baked into English words and sentences, so different five-syllable phrases with different stresses don't flow similarly at all and may be awkward. Any five Japanese syllables will flow much more evenly, which makes syllable-based poetic structures a natural form in the language.

So the reason English lyrics written and sung by Japanese speakers can sound like they ignore stress rules is that they do. The writer simply isn't thinking in those terms.

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    Incidentally, the downstep of サテライト in 標準語 (standard Japanese) is on the third mora (sateRAito), so the pitch accent should be LHHLL.
    – jogloran
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 19:38
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The Japanese language does borrow words from other languages and changes them to fit with their standard rules of pronunciation. So the word satellite becomes a word that is pronounced as Sa-Te-Ra-I-To. And as such it's more natural for the stress to fall on the -Ra- in the middle. So it's possible that the singer is singing the English word in a more comfortable Japanese stress style.

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