The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology circle: David Hill

This week’s phonology circle presentation will be by David Hill

Title: Matching minimalities: quantitative correspondence in Ancient Greek textsetting
Monday 5pm, 32-D831

This preliminary talk has three main ingredients: a new empirical finding, an observation, and a simple analytical concept. The finding is that in Ancient Greek vocal music, the mapping between syllable rime type and musical quantity (the number of grid positions occupied), already known to be tight, is too fine-grained to be captured by a binary L/H weight contrast, or even by a skeletal classification of rime structure (V, VC, VV, VVC), since not all VC rimes behave alike.

The observation, surprising at first, is that the meter of Greek song is demonstrably quantity-insensitive. Its currency is an abstract prominence alternation, which does not map directly to syllable weight. Quantity sensitivity emerges from the way that text, meter and time grid inter-correspond. The existence of a class of songs defined by a tempo specification—half time—from which L syllables are categorically barred, but which are nevertheless completely normal metrically and in text-to-time grid alignment, confirms that Greek song meters do not care about the weight of the rimes they align with. The fine-grained mapping mentioned above is therefore primarily a text-to-time grid phenomenon.

I use these phenomena to explore the viability of a notion of “(non-)minimality correspondence.” The rough idea is that there is a cross-modal notion of minimality defined in some domains, and that objects in those domains that correspond with each other are required to both be minimal or both be non-minimal according to the appropriate definition. I apply this notion to quantity in textsetting, using a cardinal definition of minimality for meter and the time grid and structural definitions of minimality in rimes and segments.