The Language of The Beatles’ Abbey Road [INFOGRAPHIC]

Today marks the one week anniversary of the much anticipated Beatles iTunes debut. With album sales topping 450,000, we at Voxy decided to take a closer look at the seven-day best-seller: Abbey Road.

This “closer look” entailed a corpus linguistics-based analysis of the 17 songs on the album. By definition, corpus linguistics is the study of language as manifested in corpora – or samples – of authentic text. Our corpus, then, consisted of electronic text files of Abbey Road‘s lyrics from which we extracted the qualitative and quantitative data displayed in the infographic below.


Side 1 vs. Side 2

Over the years, everyone from music critics to Fab Four fans to casual listeners has remarked on the pronounced, but brilliant differences between Abbey Road’s Side A and Side B tracks. As John Mendelsohn observed in his 1969 Rolling Stone review of this album:

“That the Beatles can unify seemingly countless musical fragments and lyrical doodlings into a uniformly wonderful suite, as they’ve done on side two, seems potent testimony that… they’ve achieved here the closest thing yet to Beatles freeform, fusing more diverse intriguing musical and lyrical ideas into a piece that amounts to far more than the sum of those ideas.”

The majority of these “musical fragments and lyrical doodlings”, as the infographic shows, are actually composed of significantly less words than their Side 1 counterparts. On the whole, they are also more lyrically diverse, with greater percentages of different words popping up in each song. Those of you familiar with Abbey Road might have already deduced that much of this diversity stems from the “freeform”, chorus-less nature of Side 2’s songs.

British Invasion 2.0: The Beatles in the ESL Classroom

ESL teachers, this section is dedicated to you. Proponents of using music to help students learn English often cite easy-listening Beatles tunes as some of the most effective language learning and teaching tools. It turns out that most of the songs on Abbey Road have very high percentages of their words appearing on the 2,000-word General Service List (GSL), meaning that the language input provided by these tracks is quite valuable. So, keep teaching “Here Comes the Sun,” and your students’ English skills will surely come together quite nicely.

Have you ever experimented with The Beatles in your ESL classroom? Do you believe that the right music affords considerable language learning opportunities?