20 nov. 2006

A few prosodic principles.

1) The asymmetry principle. Even classical and neo-classical forms will involve huge areas of asymmetry and irregularity. (Conversation with David Shapiro inspired this one.)

2) Inexhaustibility. Even a seemingly limited number of permutations will permit seemingly endless variability.

3) Poverty of means. You only need a few "pitches" to make verse musical. That is, intonational contours, combined with all the other phrasal and accentual business, are enough to create greatly varied effects.

4) The critical gap. Most literary critics will never care enough about this stuff.

5) The "Topeka Principle." When driving toward Lawrence, Kansas and thinking too hard about these issues, you will miss the exit and end up 15 miles to the West in Topeka, and have to retrace your steps to get home.

All these principles are really versions of the same basic principle.

19 comentarios:

Henry Gould dijo...

Seems like the "same basic principle" underlying these principles is this :

a metrical constant exists.

there is a rhythmic pattern or lattice upon which variation plays.

- which seems to contradict the principle underlying free verse (Pound's "phrase vs. metronome" principle).

Jonathan dijo...


Jordan dijo...

Re 3: three pitches are sufficient. Fewer than three and you run into trouble (doggerel). With three you risk doggerel but it can be avoided.

But maybe it would help if you spoke more toward a definition of "pitch"? I'm hearing it somewhere between vowel color and a very basic strong/weak stress system.

Jonathan dijo...

What I meant was that there is a basic pitch at which the voice speak, then the possibility of going higher and lower, and there is a basic pitch associated with each of those. You don't need a lot of pitches to have a speech melody, probably about five. It is also true that that the dreaded "poetry voice" is composed of only two pitches, rather than the minimum three.

Vowel intensity is another matter. For example, we know that "eeee" is higher in intrinsic pitch than "ooooo." That's independent of the intonation of speech melody. In other words, we don't always pronounce higher pitched vowels at an actually higher pitch. It's just a tendency.

Jordan dijo...

But if this point spoke only to speaking voice than it could hardly be an effect in written verse?

It sounds as though you're saying the binary method of scansion (stressed/unstressed) isn't going to do it for your principles.

Jonathan dijo...

I guess I'm assuming that intonational pattern will also be available to the reader. In other words, there will be a predictable pattern. Just as stress is regulated in English (we don't just stress words randomly) so are basic intonational patterns. The problem of course is that this varies from region to region in English speaking world.

Try this: hum the "pledge of allegiance" to yourself. Don't say the words, just hum the pitches following the correct rhythm. Then have your significant other do the same thing. Did she use approximately the same pattern of pitches and up-and-down movements or was there a significant variation?

Now do the same with the first two lines of "The night before Christmas." What would a "wrong" intonational pattern look like in this case. What intonation and rhythm do you use to tell someone a telephone number? Would there be a "wrong" intonation for this task?

Jordan dijo...

The pledge of allegiance is an interesting case -- short prose for children to memorize. When spoken by children, each clause tends to descend in pitch, either from the first or second syllable. When I follow your thought experiment, I revert to childhood. However, when I visualize the words before speaking them, the emphasis shifts: from "PLEDGE" to "alLEGiance," from "TO" to "the FLAG," etc. Also, I elide the gaps children introduce between clauses.

This suggests to me that what we're calling pitch correlates with syntax, or rather the ability to hold more than one clause in mind at a time. (This in turn would account for the recurring musical interest in baroque syntactics.)


Jonathan dijo...

Intonational phrases are syntactic units, indeed, and are anticipatory and retroactive. We have to know where we are in the sentence.

For a more adult exercise we would have to think of a text that is very familiar and could be "hummed" in a similar way.

children recite it in three measures of 4 beats

I PLEDGE alLEGiance To the FLAG

of the uNIted STATES of aMERica [beat]

and TO the rePUBolic for RICHard's Stand

--then another, seemingly disconncted rhythm--

ONE NA-tion, indiVI-sible, UNder GOD

Then a final measure of 4/4:

with LIB-erty and JUStice for ALL [beat]

Henry Gould dijo...

um, yeah. as I was saying. prosody investigates the way variation plays with (or against) a constant. to use your illustrations : (1) the effect of pitch variants; (2) extended variations on "a limited number of permutations"; (3) asymmetry & irregularity (meaningless without symmetry and regularity).

you might ask : what would be the constant for the prosody of Ornette Coleman? You'd have to invent one - but you'd find one. Because the principle of prosody is measurement. & measure requires a constant - a unit of measurement.

I'm not trying to open a debate on free verse vs. metrical. I'm saying the underlying principle of prosody in general is some kind of measurement by way of (or against) a constant, or unit of measure.

fine we me if you don't want to discuss this. that's what comment boxes are for (variation).

Henry Gould dijo...

... so (to revise EP), composition may be by way of the musical phrase, but prosody is (always) by way of the metronome.

It may be a very fancy metronome, however.

Jordan dijo...

God may be stressed but it's at a lower pitch than the UN in UNder.

Likewise, though ALL has one of the strongest stresses in the pledge, it also has the lowest pitch.

Rising intonation at the end of a thought indicates the speaker is an adolescent American?

Jonathan dijo...

What I meant by "no" is it's more complicated than that. My point was not that a metrical constant always exists--though YOU might want to argue that--but that even in cases in which constraints seem to be strong, there is a tremendous amount of variation. Describing the constraint is a very "indirect and negative" way to get at rhythm, to paraphrase Richard Cureton. To describe a constraint or a constant is to describe a limit.

The point is to get at things that traditional prosody hasn't adequately dealt with, not to provide some cliché that everybody already knows. There really is no metronome in verse. Try reading iambic pentameter to a metronome and you'll see what I mean.

Jonathan dijo...

At the end of a sentence the intonation tends to do *something*, rise or fall.

Henry Gould dijo...

I didn't say there was a metronome in verse. I said there was a (subtle & fancy & complex) metronome in prosody. Even measuring immeasurabilities - even a principle which states that the "constraint or constant" approach to prosody is blinkered - these too are forms of analysis. Prosody is analysis. Analysis involves units of measure - even if the "units" are only logical concepts or axioms (such as the subtle principle which you are advocating). Learn to love the metronome, Jonathan.

Henry Gould dijo...

I agree with you that the principle you are suggesting does open up new ways of observing rhythm.

But recognizing the metronome in prosody (that is, in the STUDY of verse sound effects - not in the verse itself) also adds a new wrinkle, I think : makes it easier to differentiate between the "study of" and the thing itself. It's like quantum physicists acknowledging the effect of their measuring instruments on the material at hand.

Jonathan dijo...

Those are fair points. I still don't see a metronome in prosody. At most, there is an alternation of weak and strong position, but these are not isometric. They do not occupy the same amount of time, since accented syllables tend to be longer (though not always) than unaccented syllables.

The metronome is a mechanical device designed to teach even tempo and steadiness of rhythm. It's the equivalent of a tuning fork. Yes, a tuning fork can be useful, but it doesn't represent some essential principle of music. It's just a mechanical device.

Jordan dijo...

There's a metronome in *dud* verse.

(Ducks before the snowballs start flying.)

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, and the stronger the metronome the worse. As Cureton notes "... strong linguistic meter will constrain the quality and linear ordering of the rhythmic phrasing; at low levels, in addition to disturbing (with its strong rhythmic propulsion) the shapes of the variously articulated phrasing the does appear--a result that most art verse poets would like to avoid.

Henry Gould dijo...

I'm using "metronome" metaphorically, to stand for the principle or process of analysis or measurement. It comes from Pound's famous dictum : "compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome." I'm suggesting that all prosodic science utilizes a metronome (in this metaphorical sense). Prosodic study discovers or defines the constants or constraints - a poem's patterns - and its variations from, or complications of, same. Cureton may not like the idea of pattern based on constants (I don't know, haven't read him - though I did check out his book from the library yesterday) : but he, and every other prosodic analyst, ineluctably, sets up his own terms or axioms or assumptions (the metronomic logic) upon which his analysis depends.