Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Kristin Hanson (Berkeley / Munich)

Alt rhythms

The most natural rhythms in language are different from those in music. In language, duple rhythms, in which every second beat is prominent, are hypothesized to be basic to stress systems, with triple rhythms, in which every third beat is prominent, arising only as occasional variants under specific formal conditions (Hayes 1995). In music, in contrast, triple rhyhms are held to be as basic as duple rhythms (Cooper and Meyer 1960, Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1981), a position supported by the restful simplicity of a traditional waltz. Where does poetry fit in? Typologies of English meter from 18th c. treatises to Fabb and Halle (2008) have included triple rhythms alongside duple ones, in parallel with music. Hanson and Kiparsky (1996), however, hypothesize that poetry is a specifically linguistic art, with meter a stylization of the universal grammar of linguistic rhythm. If this is correct, then triple rhythms in meter should arise only as variants within basically duple forms. This talk will draw on observations by Prince (1989) together with evidence from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron, Purcell and Saxony?s native son Handel to support the latter position, and to explain apparent counterexamples through the role music played in certain 18th c. poetic compositions.


Principal references:

Cooper, Grosvenor and Leonard B. Meyer. 1960. The rhythmic structure of music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fabb, Nigel and Morris Halle. 2008. Meter in poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lerdahl, Fred and Ray Jackendoff. 1981. A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hanson, Kristin and Paul Kiparsky. 1996. "A parametric theory of poetic meter." Language 72(2): 287-335.

Hayes, Bruce. 1995. Metrical stress theory: Principles and case studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Prince, Alan. 1989. "Metrical forms." In Paul Kiparsky and Gilbert Youmans
(eds.), Phonetics and phonology, vol. 1: Rhythm and meter, San Diego: Academic Press.

Saintsbury, George. 1906-1911. A history of English prosody from the twelfth century of the present day, 3 vols. London: MacMillan and Co.