Linguistic Structure and Change: An Explanation from Language Processing

By Thomas N. Berg | Go to book overview

6
Poetic language

In the preceding two parts of this monograph, attention has been focused upon the implications of language processing for language structure and change. A third area to which processing aspects can be applied is the structure of poetry, which is not identical to what is standardly referred to as 'linguistic structure'. The reason for this non-identity is simply that (traditional) poetry, in its accentuation of the formal side of language, employs devices which play a very limited role in everyday language use. The most salient of these devices is rhyming, which is highly characteristic of poetry but untypical of ordinary speaking.

It is an open question whether poetic patterns are also subject to psycholinguistic constraints. My working assumption is that rhymes are the final product of a mental process, and as such shaped by the psycholinguistic mechanisms which have given rise to them in the first place. To be more specific, particular processing strategies are expected to produce particular rhyming patterns. This is in fact a strong claim, because the relationship between language processing and poetic structure is certainly not a direct one. Poets might be argued to be especially remote from, but not out of touch with, what is normally considered to be linguistically unmarked and psycholinguistically natural. One would expect poets to manipulate language in accordance with their individualistic if not idiosyncratic thoughts and emotions, such that little room is left for discovering the effects of general processing principles. However, traditional poets at the same time abide by general conventions, especially in rhyming, and it is against these conventions that the predictions from psycholinguistics will be tested.

Three different aspects of rhymes will be investigated--the phonological structure of rhymes (section 6.3), the starting-point of the rhyme (section 6.2), and the 'quality' of the rhyme (section 6.1). The languages under analysis will be German, English, French, and Arabic.


6.1. Imperfect Rhymes in German 1

This section centres around the existence and nature of imperfect rhymes in German poetry. The perfect rhyme consists of two words which are identical in their phonemic make-up from the first stressed vowel onwards. This corresponds almost always

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1
The data reported in this section have been examined from a different theoretical perspective in Berg ( 1990b).

-259-

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Linguistic Structure and Change: An Explanation from Language Processing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Abbreviations xii
  • 1 - On the 'Art' of Explanation 1
  • 2 - Explanation from a Macrolinguistic Perspective 18
  • 3 - Method 56
  • 4 - Language Structure 68
  • 5 - Language Change 165
  • 6 - Poetic Language 259
  • 7 - Discussion 278
  • 8 - A Psycholinguistic Model of Language Structure and Change 282
  • 9 - Implications for Psycholinguistic Theory 300
  • 10 - The Overall Perspective: Reductionist or Non-Reductionist? 302
  • References 314
  • Index 333
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