A Prosodic Primer
Syllables, Beats and Off-beats
Degrees of Stress
- Use S to mark the root syllables of content words.
- Use s to mark (a) secondary stress of content words, and (b) primary stress of function words.
- Use W to mark an unstressed syllable that is heavier than its neighbors. (I.e., a heavy syllable like out is stronger than the closed syllables ing and his.)
- Also use W to mark an unstressed syllable that is slightly more strongly stressed than its neighbors
- Use w for everything else.
S w w S w S w S w Note that I said linguistic rhythm, W w S w S w not poetic rhythm:
W w w S w S w w S this is the kind of rhythm you find w s w S w S w W w S w W in any kind of language, not just po e try.
W w S s w W S w We will go into more detail w S w w than earli er;
W w w S W w s w S w once we have built up an understanding w w S w S w of the basic concepts,
W w w S w S w W S w we will return to po e try, metrics, w S w s w S and Anglo-Saxon verse.
- Prefer to put two syllables together to make a foot if they belong to the same word.
- Prefer to put two syllables together to make a foot if the first syllable is stronger than the second.
- Prefer to make feet of two syllables (monosyllabic feet are allowed.)
- A foot is strong if it contains a strong stress, weak otherwise.
- Unstressed syllables can be monosyllabic feet only if they are also independent words.
- Prefer to combine two feet that belong (or contain syllables from) the same word.
- Prefer to combine two feet that have the same rhythm (iambic or trochaic)
- Prefer to combine a strong foot (F) with a following weak foot (f)
- Otherwise, prefer to combine a weak foot (f) with a following strong foot (F).
- Otherwise, prefer prosodic words with two feet, both weak or both strong.
- Any feet that cannot be combined in this fashion are prosodic words on their own.
Rhythmic Phrases (Breath Groups)
- This page is something of a fast course
- in the theory of linguistic rhythm.
- Put an x over each syllable, an extra x over each beat.
- Two beats are adjacent if they are separated by no more than one unstressed beat. If two beats are adjacent, and one is stronger (i.e., S and s, S and W, or s and W) then add an extra mark over the stronger of the two.
- Two beats clash if they have are immediately next to each other and are the same or almost the same stress level (i.e., they have the same number of x's, or differ by one.) Prefer an analysis of the rhythm that avoids stress clash. But if it occurs, put extra marks over one the two clashing stresses to eliminate the clash. (Which one depends on various factors, including emphasis; the default in modern English is generally the second.)