A Semiotic Study of Billie Holiday and Hnifa’s Lyrics

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The present work consists in establishing a semiotic study of a set of lyrics sung by two female singers from two different cultural environments. The two singers are Billie Holiday, an American Blues singer, and Hnifa, an Algerian Kabyle singer. This paper investigates the impact of their respective cultures on their lives and careers. Hence, the study addresses three main objectives. The research aims first to identify the most important cultural elements which affected the two singers’ lives and careers. The second objective consists in discovering the way Billie Holiday and Hnifa expressed themselves through their songs. As for the third objective, it aims to discover whether the two singers reacted similarly facing the same situations, by taking into consideration the difference of their cultures. To achieve these objectives, I have selected twenty song lyrics from each of Billie Holiday and Hnifa’s repertoire, and selected three themes to be studied that are related to love, gender and social relationships. Additionally, to strengthen this research I resort to two reliable sources of information consisting of books and films about the two singers’ lives and careers. Moreover, the study is based on Charles Sanders Peirce’s triadic theory of sign to unveil the hidden meanings of the song lyrics. The study is qualitative; since it relies on a qualitative interpretation of the song lyrics and also adopts Schein’s diagram to better explain the results. The findings of the study suggest that culture influences Billie Holiday and Hnifa’s lives and careers. Thus, it was found that culture is manifested through the two singers’ song’s lyrics and that it had a dramatic impact on their lives and careers. The singers used socially marked poetry to express the hardness of their wrecked lives. However, the difference in the cultures of the two artists incited them to react differently towards some common events. Ultimately, the research provides further recommendations to potential students interested in the same theme.


30cm.; 86p.; tabl.+cd


Semiotics, Billie Holiday, Hnifa, Song Lyrics, Culture, Society


Language and Communication