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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: May ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1285  Friday, 10 May 2002

[1]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 May 2002 17:15:57 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1278 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   Markus Marti <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 May 2002 03:30:55 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1278 Re: Accents

[3]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 May 2002 20:43:53 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1278 Re: Accents

[4]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 May 2002 16:39:46 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1278 Re: Meter (was: Accents)

[5]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 May 2002 16:43:09 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1278 Re: Meter (was: Accents)

[6]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 May 2002 09:56:39 GMT0BST
        Subj:   Re: Metre

From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 May 2002 17:15:57 +0100
Subject: 13.1278 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1278 Re: Accents

I'd like to recommend the metrical theory David Wallace has been
pointing us towards.  Not only is this metrical theory very good at
accounting for what poets do, it is incredibly easy to teach, and in my
experience explains Shakespeare's metre much better to students (and
their tutors) than the 'traditional' approach.

There's a clear account of this in Nigel Fabb's book *Linguistics and
Literature* (Blackwell, 1997) - pages 37-55 - which focus on Shakespeare
and have some interesting exercises on Holinshed, Shakespeare, and

Jonathan Hope
Strathclyde University, Glasgow

From:           Markus Marti <
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Date:           Friday, 10 May 2002 03:30:55 +0100
Subject: 13.1278 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1278 Re: Accents

I thought that everybody in this discussion group has once learned to
play a musical instrument - maybe even the recorder (apart from
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). Metre and rhythm has got something to do
with MUSIC.  When we hear a military march (= 4 trochees), most of us (I
guess) will try NOT to follow its rhythm (= 4 beats, 1st and 3rd
stressed), and yet we will find out that this is terribly difficult,
whatever we do, our feet will just follow the rhythm. Metre (or rhythm)
is something that touches our senses and is beyond our control.

Music that continually follows a regular pattern gets boring. And yet a
regular (basic) pattern has to be there (e.g. in  a 4 beat rhythm the
1st and 3rd beat is stressed). If this basic pattern were not there, we
would not notice deviations from it. It is up to the interpreters
whether they want to follow the metre/beat slavishly or not, but if they
follow it slavishly, they are bad interpreters. Even in such a simple
song as "Amazing Grace" the musical stresses will differ in a good

Of course you are right to see the following lines stressed as:

nor SHALL death BRAG thou WAND'rest IN his SHADE,
when IN e-TER-nal LINES to TIME thou GROW'ST.

Nobody will have anything against your interpretation if you read these
lines in exactly that way. And yet, these lines will have a much
stronger impact if you put your stresses on other (or on more) places,
just because this is not where you one would expect them.


From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 May 2002 20:43:53 -0700
Subject: 13.1278 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1278 Re: Accents

David Evett writes:

> [David Wallace's] effort to make a distinction between *stress* (the phonological
> term) and *emphasis* deserves some attention.  There is a big semantic
> overlap here, marked by the OED definitions that refer to phonology (sb.
> 7, 8), and it would probably be acceptable to suggest that *stress* has
> a more physical and *emphasis* a more generally rhetorical connotation.

That is precisely my point. Stress is a concrete ("physical")
characteristic of the line of verse. Emphasis has a more "rhetorical
connotation" because it depends on the syntactic character of the
sentence and on the dramatic and rhetorical occasion. It has nothing to
do with the line of verse. Emphasis will change according to the demands
of the sentence and according to reasonable choices made by the

> I will also concede Mr. Wallace's assertion that the pattern of stress
> in polysyllables is an important element in establishing meter in
> English metrical verse: the handout on scansion that I have my students
> for many years started out, "(1) Mark the stresses in all the
> polysyllabic words," because that was and is the easiest part of the
> analysis.

Can we both agree that the stress of polysyllabic words must adhere to a
pattern and that where it doesn't, there must be some explanation?
Agreement on this point would go a long way to clarifying where,
exactly, we differ.

> But most English verse has strings of words, perhaps whole
> lines or even whole stanzas, in which there are not enough polysyllables
> to determine the meter all by themselves.  The rules governing
> monosyllables are equally necessary, as Mr.  Wallace's own example, the
> firxt stanza of *Amazing Grace*, shows-only one polysyllable in four
> lines:
> > Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
> > That saved a wretch like me
> > I once was lost but now I'm found
> > Was blind but now I see.

I offered the example of *Amazing Grace* to demonstrate that a regular
rhythm can, indeed, be established using only monosyllabic words. Given
that it can be accomplished, why doesn't Shakespeare to that? Well, it
would be tedious to listen to, for one thing.

> But see how the example supports my argument.  Most of the stressed
> monosyllables are nouns (grace, sound, wretch), active verbs (saved,
> lost, found) substantive modifiers (sweet, blind).  The remaining
> stresses we might call rhetorical rather than metrical, in that they
> fall on words (pronouns and adverbs) that in ordinary discourse can be
> be need not receive stress.  Here, I would suggest, *me* gains emphasis
> by its position in the foot (the previous 14 syllables have firmly
> established an iambic expectation) and from its position at the end of
> the line.  The adverbs (now, once, now) are promoted to emphatic
> positions by their adversative relationship and the repetition of *now*.

Again, it can be done. But Shakespeare doesn't, generally, do it. The
fact that you can identify which words might naturally be emphasized
means you can probably read the line in a sensible fashion. But have you
established a *metrical* pattern? No. You have established an
unpredictable pattern that varies due to rhetorical and linguistic
reasons. Metrical patterns create a rhythm. The pattern you have
established creates a relationship between emphasis and certain words in
certain situations. In the case of lines consisting solely of
monosyllabic words, yes, the words we choose to emphasize give the line
some sort of rhythmic characteristic. But my prose has a rhythmic
characteristic. The rhythm is not, however, a pattern. Try your best to
impose a pattern over Shakespeare's lines of verse containing solely
monosyllabic words - but it can't be done. You can call it
"predominately iambic" if you choose, but I don't see a pattern.

> Contrary to Mr. Wallace's suggestion, this kind of "sing-song" pattern
> appears in hundreds of Shakespearean lines--enough to establish and
> sustain a generally iambic expectation--which, indeed, helps draw some
> phonologically neutral monosyllables toward stress.  It is certainly
> true, as he says, that there are also many hundreds of lines in which
> RHYTHMIC variation from the METRICAL pattern appears-a fact we can state
> only because our familiarity with the rules of English phonology allows
> us to detect departures from the norm.

The "norm" you talking about doesn't exist. This is my point. Anyone
reading the verse can easily see that it is not a pattern of iambs - an
unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. And even if you
could demonstrate that iambic is the dominant pattern (and I resist that
notion) why settle for half measures? The theory I am advocating is
nearly 100% accurate. It accounts for the pattern and explains virtually
all variations. (Honestly, does anyone really hear that absurd sing-song

> Opening my Arden *Cymbeline* at random, I come upon Iachimo's speech at
> 1.7.169-78.  According to the principles I have presented, none of the
> lines is as purely iambic as line one of *Amazing Grace*.  But there is
> enough clearly iambic work to establish and sustain the expectation
> (certainly no other meter can be proposed).  Here's a proposed
> stress/slack scansion, with the stresses in caps (merely metrical
> stresses-those not necessarily receiving actual stress when spoken-are
> in square brackets, and pronominal I in lower case); reasonable people
> might reasonably disagree about some of the details, but not, I think,
> the generality:

The choices David Evett makes below are, I'm sure, sensible. Although,
as he says, "reasonable people might reasonably disagree". I am hesitant
to accept a pattern based on what "reasonable people" might or might not
do but I'm not going to quibble.

> He SITS | 'mongst MEN | like [A] | deSCEND | ed GOD;

Yes. Fine, by both our theories. The stress in "descend" is properly

> He [HATH] | a KIND | of HO | nour SETS | him OFF,

Again, no problem here. The stress in "honours" is fine.

> MORE than | a MOR | tal SEEM | ing.  BE | not ANgry,

Fine here. The *stress* (not emphasis) lands where it should. The final
unstressed syllable in "angry" is extra-metrical as it is an eleventh
syllable and precedes a syntactic break, in this case, a comma.

> Most MIGHT | y PRIN | cess, [THAT]  | i HAVE | adVENtur'd

Stress in positioned properly. The final unstressed (11th) syllable in
"adventur'd" is extra-metrical. It precedes a syntactic break (onset of
a prepositional phrase).

> To TRY | your TA | king [OF] | a FALSE | rePORT, | which HATH

David Evett neglects to remark that this is a line of fully twelve
syllables. Hmm? I need to account for two syllables but keep all the
stress in position. Let's see. The final syllable in "taking" may be
considered extra-metrical as it precedes a syntactic break (onset of a
prepositional phrase). The "a" in "of a" is schwa (as in "sofa") and
therefore may occupy the same metrical position as "of". Problem solved.

> HOnour'd | with CON | firMA | tion YOUR | GREAT JUDGment

Interesting line. The stress in "honour'd" may only be in that position
after a syntactic break. Hmm? Oh, now I see it. "Honour'd with
confirmation" is actually a prepositional phrase (i.e. with confirmation
honour'd). Now I can sense the syntactic break after "hath". Subtle.
Stress is permitted in a weak metrical position after a syntactic
break.  The final (11th) syllable in "judgment" is extra-metrical
(precedes the onset of a prepositional phrase).

> [IN] the | eLEC | tion [OF] | a SIR | so RARE,

Routine line.

> Which YOU | KNOW CAN | not ERR.  | The LOVE | i BEAR him

Eleven syllables here. There are a number of solutions. Shakespeare
occasionally scans a two syllable word where the syllables are separated
by a single letter (here "n" in "cannot") as occupying a single metrical
position so long as the word occupies a strong metrical position. I
could be he hears "cannot" as a single metrical position, as he
frequently does with "heaven" and "even". Possibly "the love" is a slur
(i.e.. th'love). However, I can recall no other instances of these
usages. I think it more likely he hears "bear him" as "bear'im". In
which case "him" would be extra-metrical (precedes the onset of a verb
phrase). The line is something of a curiosity.

> MADE me | to FAN | you THUS, | but the  | GODS MADE you


> UnLIKE | ALL O | thers CHAFF | less.  PRAY, | your PARDon.

Routine. The final (11th) unstressed syllable is extra-metrical
(precedes a period).

> Thirty-three of the 50 metrical feet are phonological iambs according to
> the rules; only 14 of those are wholly or partly determined by
> polysyllabic stress, and it is worth nothing that 2 of the 10 lines
> consist entirely of monosyllables.  The proposition that the meter is
> being determined by polysyllables alone seems therefore highly dubious.
> Another 5 would normally be pronounced without a stress, and hence
> neither confirm nor positively challenge the iambic pattern;

There are 19 stresses in polysyllabic words in this passage. David Evett
cannot avoid five of them because he feels they would "be pronounced
without stress". (How can you not "stress" stress?). Stress is a
concrete linguistic feature of the language. It is not optional.
Professor Evett seems to feel that 66% iambs produces a pattern. Perhaps
other "reasonable people" could "reasonably" arrive at 80% or 30%. Who
knows? The theory I am advocating had a 100% score in predicting the
placement of stress in polysyllabic words (including the variation) and
I was able to satisfactorily account for all the extra syllables save
(possibly) one. Whose proposition is "dubious" here?

> [S]ubstituting one such foot (sometimes called a pyrrhic) for one of the
> iambs (almost never the final one) is very common in the writing of
> iambic meter in English from Chaucer to the present day.  The third,
> sixth, and ninth lines begin with trochees; this is also a very common
> substitution; so is the spondee, of which I find 2. The marked
> departures from the norm occur at the ends of lines-6 of the 10 have an
> extra syllable, and it is this, more than any other single feature of
> the versification, that draws *Cymbeline* (and other late plays)
> relatively far from the iambic base.  But 6 out of 50 is still only 13
> per cent [...]

I agree that the 6th line begins with a trochee (or inverted foot) and I
have explained why here and in my last post. It is not a case of
randomly substituting metrical feet. The inversion almost always falls
after a syntactic break. Lines 3 and 9 are trochees only because
Professor Evett has decided they are. Another "reasonable person" might
decide otherwise. The predominance of extra-metrical syllables at the
terminus of the line is, indeed, a feature characteristic of the late
plays but they are common throughout the plays and sonnets. *Errors* has
17% of the verse ending with an extra-metrical syllable; *As You Like
It*, 25%; *Cymbeline*, 31%; *Henry VIII, 48%. I don't know that anyone
has counted extra-metrical syllables in the medial position of lines.

> [...] the remainder are plenty sufficient to produce iambic verse,
> which I do indeed define as "a pattern of alternating
> unstressed/stressed syllables"--not, normally, with a sing-song
> metronomic regularity, but with the kind of variation around an
> underlying predictability that I have illustrated here.  A useful
> analogy is with the human hand or face--lots of more or less obvious
> variation in the particular features or digits, but no doubt about the
> underlying structure.

If David Evett were to have 12 outstanding actors read the verse, above,
though the oscillograph he brandished at my prose, he would likely find
12 different readings of where the actors place emphasis. They would
all, however, place the stress in polysyllabic words in exactly the same
position, since stress is the only concrete feature of the verse
(besides line length). No actor sits down with his script and scans the
lines for trochees or spondees or anapests or dactyls. Actors say the
sentences in some manner that makes sense. I do not grant that 66% of
the lines above are "phonological iambs according to the rules", as
David Evett suggests. He defines the rules as "a pattern of alternating
unstressed/stressed syllables". He chosen to describe some of the metric
feet as "iambs", but there is no "pattern". I don't know what
"underlying predictability" he is talking about. If Shakespeare had
wanted to create and sustain the tedious sing-song pattern that David
Evett commends as the pattern of iambic pentameter he could have chosen
to do so. He doesn't. Indeed, he conspicuously avoids it. Such a pattern
doesn't exist. Why do people go to such extraordinary, convoluted and
improbable lengths to demonstrate what is patently false? Which theory
of iambic pentameter is more sensible? One that posits a pattern that
doesn't exists and explains away the variations by claiming - what?
Poetic license? Or do we prefer one that is actually a demonstrable
pattern consisting of concrete linguistic features and accounting for
virtually all variations in line length and position of stress?

Regards. David Wallace

From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Friday, 10 May 2002 16:39:46 +1000 (EST)
Subject: 13.1278 Re: Meter (was: Accents)
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1278 Re: Meter (was: Accents)

David Wallace writes:

>I read with interest Peter Groves' comments on metre. Professor Groves
>endorses David Evett's earlier comments. Both gentlemen have disagreed
>with my comments on metre but I am helpless to offer a rebuttal since
>neither have offered a definition of iambic pentameter.

I haven't done so in this forum, because there is not enough room to do
so, the matter being considerably more complicated than Mr Wallace
appears to suppose.  If he wants to read my definition, he will find it
set out at length in my book <Strange Music: The Metre of the English
Heroic Line>, ELS Monograph Series 74 (Victoria, B.C.: University of
Victoria, 1998).

David Wallace: " From their remarks I can draw two possible conclusions:

1) The metre of the line consists of whatever rhythmic pattern that
results from emphasized (or stressed or accented) words or syllables.
Which words to emphasize (or stress or accent) appears to depend on a
bewildering number of linguistic and contextual considerations."

The placement of stress is governed by complex rules, certainly, as
Kiparsky and Hanson would be the first to acknowledge, but the
complexity is hidden from the native speaker, for whom language
functions as a sort of "black box".  A metre like i.p. is a set of
abstract binary patterns, all derivable from a common source (a set of
ten alternating metrical positions wS wS wS wS wS) by transformations
that (in English) swap adjacent positions (e.g. Sw wS wS wS wS); a
string with a prosodic structure that can be mapped onto one of these
patterns successfully is a metrical line.

David Wallace: "My comments here and elsewhere stem from my studies with
Professor Kristen Hanson (presently, I believe, at Berkeley) and from
the theories advanced by Professor Paul Kiparsky. There are a two basic
principles. Imagine that beneath each line of verse there are ten
alternating metrical positions. Let us designate them: weak STRONG weak

FIRST PRINCIPLE: No stress of a polysyllabic word may fall in a weak
metrical position EXCEPT after a significant syntactic break (typically
a period, comma, or conjunction). Monosyllabic words may fall in either
weak OR strong metrical positions (and, I might add, be emphasized or
not according to the dramatic or rhetorical occasion)."

Derek Attridge has written of what he calls &#8223;the widely-felt
desire for a simple key to unlock the secret chambers of prosody"
(<Rhythms of English Poetry>  43); the matter, unfortunately, is much
more complicated than this.  You cannot, for example, simply disregard
the stress in lexical monosyllables as though it were irrelevant to the
metre. By this rule the following made-up example would be a metrical

Disconsolate friends of Bill and Elaine
 w  s  w s     w     s   w   s   w  s

On the other hand, the same rule will reject as unmetrical the following
inoffensive line, because the stressed syllable of <renew'd> falls in W:

Give renew'd fire to our extincted Spirits      (Oth. 2.1.81)
 w    s w     s    w  s  w  s   w    s x

And just to put the tin lid on this absurdity, the same rule will admit
as metrical my emended line below, which to anyone's ear is in metrical
terms virtually unchanged:

Give a new fire to our extincted spirits
 w   s  w   s    w  s  w  s   w    s x

You also can't ignore contextually determined contrastive accent, as I
pointed out in my previous post.  Even Kiparsky has partly recognized
this, though what he doesn't realise is that it's altogether different
from lexical stress and has different metrical 'value'; he has claimed,
for example, that &#8223;Some apparent counterexamples [to his metrical
theory] are eliminated by taking into account contrastive stress"
(&#8223;Rhythmic Structure" 210), by which he means swapping adjacent
nodes in the stress-tree; this would save the following line, for
example (rather necessary since Pope, of all people, doesn't write
unmetrical lines) by shifting the "stress" from <-cowl'd> to <UN->

Men bearded, bald, cowl'd, UNcowl'd, shod, UNshod       (Pope, Dunciad
 w    s  w    s     w      s  w        s   w   s

But the same rule will render the following line UNmetrical (which is
clearly counter-intuitive)

Curl'd or UNcurl'd, since Locks will turn to grey,      (Pope, RL 5.26)
 w     s  w  s       w     s     w    s    w   s

as though the line were similar to this genuinely unmetrical line (for
Pope, at any rate):

*Curl'd or wavy, since Locks will turn to grey,
  w     s   w s   w     s     w    s    w   s

But it isn't, because stress and accent are different things (see my
reply to David Evett for a further elaboration).

David Wallace: "The advantage of the theory I am advocating is that it
offers empirical, concrete evidence of a metrical pattern. In
Shakespeare, the rhythmic pattern of the line must contend with the
syntactic character of the sentence. The rhythm is concrete (or absent
in the absence of
polysyllabic words).

So "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see" doesn't have an iambic
rhythm?  I think you may encounter some skepticism on this point.

David Wallace: "The syntax is fluid. That is why iambic pentameter
sounds natural (not da DUM da DUM da DUM as the conventional theory
would have it). But no one has to take my word for it. Apply the
principles I've outlined. The majority of lines will adhere to the
pattern quite nicely. Where they don't, examine the linguistic
characteristics of individual words or, as in the case of "be it",
groups of words. I am quite used to the response that Professors Evett
and Groves have offered. No one seems to want to believe that it could
be this simple and be overlooked for so long."

As I've pointed out, it just isn't that simple (would that it were!).

Peter Groves

From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Friday, 10 May 2002 16:43:09 +1000 (EST)
Subject: 13.1278 Re: Meter (was: Accents)
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1278 Re: Meter (was: Accents)

David Evett shows, if I may say so, a little of the proverbial
touchiness of prosodists when he accuses me of "tax[ing him]with failing
to recognize that "The <Sonnets>, to take one example, are full of lines
that are unmetrical unless contextually determined focus and contrastive
accent are taken into account.' and refers to my post as "this
objection".  Personally I thought that I was supporting what I called
his "fine summary of the facts" by fleshing out a detail that he had
only sketched in.  But if he insists on casting me in an adversarial
role, so be it: I shall take this opportunity to offer a correction. He
says "speakers and even writers of well-formed English sentences can,
under certain circumstances, place stress on ANY monosyllabic part of
speech: "I was coming FROM the supermarket, not going TO it"; "We need
to distinguish between THE roast beef sandwich and A roast beef
sandwich."  But the fact remains that in most English utterances
monolyllabic function words receive no stress." To be precise, however,
words don't "receive" stress: they either have it or they don't (and
monosyllabic function words don't).  It is, to put it another way, a
feature of <langue>, not <parole>. It is not something that an
individual speaker can alter: to a large extent people perceive it, as
experiments have shown, whether or not it is phonetically cued.  I once
did an experiment of my own on this: to a large lecture-group I played a
synthesised version of two sentences, one treating "insult" as a noun
and the other as a verb.  They all swe they had heard INsult and inSULT
respectively, even though the code generating the sounds in each case
was exactly the same.

When we say "I was coming FROM the supermarket, not going TO it", then,
we are putting *accent* on the (unstressed) prepositions: unlike stress,
accent is (a) contextually determined, (b)something we do TO syllables,
and (c) of necessity, phonetically cued (usually by a sudden deflection
of the pitch-contour).  This is not nit-picking: it is a crucial
prosodic distinction (as I show in my reply to David Wallace,
illustrating it with the two lines from Pope).

Peter Groves

From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Friday, 10 May 2002 09:56:39 GMT0BST
Subject:        Re: Metre

Rather than getting tangled up in some of the scholastic argument about
terms that tends to characterise traditional discussion of metre, I
myself prefer to use Derek Attridge's representation of metrical pattern
in his excellent book The Rhythms of English Poetry - based on 'beats'
rather than on 'feet'.  One of the besetting problems of all metrical
analysis and discussion is that the terminology derived from classical
metrics doesn't really fit easily on English speech patterns.

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