The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 4/11 - Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)
Title: On quantitative clash and lapse: the Old Tamil taḷai system of metrical linkage
Time: Tuesday, April 11th, 5pm – 6:30pm


Quantitative meters are familiarly described using (more or less flexible) templates which specify which kinds of metrical feet — and thus which sequences of heavy and light syllables — are permitted in which parts of the line. Such templates reflect recurring (ar)rhythmic structures. The oldest Old Tamil meters (early first millennium) work rather differently, in that any kind of metrical foot (within certain size limits) can appear anywhere in the line. What makes each meter distinctive is primarily its taḷai “linkage,” i.e. syntagmatic constraints on feet (e.g. foot type X can occur anywhere, but wherever it occurs, it cannot be followed by foot type Y). This system, which cannot be reduced to a fixed underlying pattern of prominence, is apparently indigenously Dravidian, making it one of the world’s few independent origins of quantitative meter. I analyze taḷai in terms of quantitative clash and lapse (along the lines of *Heavy-Heavy and *Light-Light; cf. Steriade 2017), arguing that standard (prominence-based) clash and lapse are irrelevant. Taḷai is further important for generative metrics in that (1) while some meters avoid clash and lapse, others prefer it (contra language, with music); (2) taḷai operates more stringently across feet than within them (contra a claimed universal); and (3) taḷai operates on the metrical parse rather than on intrinsic linguistic weight (contra strong prosodic metrics).