The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 5/10 - Donca Steriade

The last installment of Phonology Circle for the spring semester will feature a talk by Donca Steriade.

Speaker: Donca Steriade (MIT)
Title: Rhyming evidence for intervals
Time: Monday 5/10, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Stress and meter operate on rhythmic units, each of which consists of a nucleus plus some neighboring consonants. Since Dionysius Thrax (2nd cent. BC), these units have been assumed to be syllables. This talk presents a survey of rhyming conventions whose analysis supports a different rhythmic unit, the Vowel-to-Vowel interval. An interval is the unit containing the nucleus plus any segments following it, up to the next nucleus or to the end of the domain. So interval divided into intervals = (?nt)(?rv)(?l). Intervals contain, like syllables, exactly one nucleus, but their left and right edges are shifted rightwards relative to those of syllables. Intervals have been invoked in the analysis of durational invariance effects, where syllables proved less useful (Farnetani and Kori 1986 JPhon, Fant and Kruckenberg 1989 PERILUS, McCrary 2005, UCLA diss.)

The goal of the talk is to find the constraints that characterize, for each rhyming tradition, the contents of the Rhyming Domain (RD). The RD is the recurring string in rhyming lines. There are three relevant findings. First, there is considerable diversity in the contents and location of the RD, much more than one expects from exposure to standard European poetry: the RD need not be line final, or word final, it need not contain a stressed syllable, or a heavy syllable; and the degree of similarity required between RD’s can be low. Second, despite the great diversity of rhyming practices, the RDs of all traditions share two properties: their left edge is the left edge of an interval, not the left edge of a syllable onset; and their right edge is the right edge of an interval, not the right edge of a syllable coda. Finally, RD internal sub-constituents are occasionally needed, to distinguish degrees of required similarity between rhyming lines: these sub-constituents are intervals too.

Taken together, these results suggest that only intervals – not syllables, or sub-syllabic units – are the units invoked by constraints on RD structure.