8. Accents left and right

8. Accents left and right
Tomas Riad
Stockholm University
1. Introduction
The linguistic prominence that is usually taken to be regulated in
Germanic metrical verse is the stressed syllable. In the standard view,
the linguistic level is related to the metrical positions of the verse,
which are labelled ‘S’ or ‘W’ and pairwise grouped into a template. It
has, however, proven to be difficult to come up with clean
generalizations regarding how stressed syllables line up with–or are
banned from–certain metrical positions, in a given meter. No one
proposes that stressed syllables should obligatorily go in ‘S’ positions,
although that seems like a quite reasonable, if naïve, expectation. So,
some qualification is required. It has been proposed, for the iambic
pentameter of Shakespeare and others, that the distinction between
monosyllabic and polysyllabic words is important. In the generative
metrics tradition, this proposal has developed into the notion of
strong syllables (Kiparsky 1977, Hanson & Kiparsky 1996). A strong
syllable is a stressed syllable in a polysyllabic word as in ˈsummer or a
ˈway. Strong syllables are taken to be banned from the ‘W’ positions
of the metrical template (cf. Hanson 2006:114, for a recent
formulation). However, syllable strength, too, turns out to overgeneralize, regularly in phrase initial position (so-called inversion),
and sometimes elsewhere as well (Youmans 1989). At this point, the
relationship between template (‘WSWS…’) and text (My mistress
eyes…) really becomes quite opaque. What good is the template
doing if there is no statement that relates the text to it? At least the
rhythmic information (‘S’, ‘W’) expressed in the template seems to
constitute an over-articulation of metrical machinery. To capture the
rhythm that is nevertheless there, it makes more sense to consider it
as emergent, rather than as basically stipulated (WSWS…), with
deviations regulated by rule. An attempt at such an analysis is given
in Golston & Riad (2009), where the biases for iambs, and against
Versatility in Versification
trochees, follow from the ranking of constraints on alignment of
stress in metrical feet.1
" In this contribution, concerned with Swedish verse, I shall start
with a qualification of the notion of prominence, and show that it is
accented syllables (in a sense to be made precise below), rather than
stressed or strong syllables, that are relevant in August Strindberg’s
dactylic hexameter. For Strindberg, accented syllables must always
occur in the leftmost position of metrical feet. This amounts to
fulfilling the naïve expectation that certain linguistic prominences
can indeed be strictly regulated in a positive, straightforward way in
" However, the analysis of Strindberg’s hexameter does not rescue
rhythmic ‘W’ and ‘S’ labelling of metrical feet. Instead, as my second
point, I will argue that the rhythmic labelling as such is a major
problem of template-based analysis of meter. Apart from forcing a
reification of a metrical template, they do not capture a necessary
element of the analysis. Thus, for meter that is fairly iambic, there is
no need for a level of representation that is entirely iambic. An
analysis that better reflects the actual degree of iambicity can be had
if we relate the linguistic prominence directly to metrical feet, by
alignment, and leave the ‘S’ and ‘W’ labels out. In order to make the
case against rhythmic specification in templates clear, we shall look
at the syllable based meter of Johannes Messenius, where the number
of syllables per line is regulated, and where rhythm is present but
much less pronounced than elsewhere.
" I begin with an overview of accentuation in Swedish in section 2.
This section is just an illustration of what ‘accented’ means
phonetically and phonologically, and can be skipped by readers who
are ready to accept the notion of ‘accented’ on faith. In section 3 we
turn to Strindberg’s dactylic meter and the basic idea of alignment.
Section 4 presents the syllabic meter of Messenius and section 5
spells out the implications of Messenius’ verse for rhythmic
specification in templates. The abandonment of the rhythmically
specified template amounts to removing a key element of the
traditional way of defining meter. In section 6, I conclude with an
The binary grouping into metrical feet and the count to five in pentameter, six in
hexameter, etc., remain useful as basic to the definition of a meter. These are also
present in templatic analysis, of course.
Accents left and right"
outline of Prosodic Metrics, a different approach to characterizing
meter and its relation to language.
2. Accentuation in Swedish
We start by teasing apart the prominence levels of Swedish stress and
intonation, so that we can distinguish accented from, on the one
hand, stressed and, on the other hand, focused. The accented syllable is
a stressed syllable that is associated to one of the tonal contours
referred to as accent 1 and accent 2. The three levels of prominence
assumed by Bruce (1998, 80; 2007) are listed in (1) below. The
shapes of tonal contours are adapted from Myrberg (2009). Each
higher level of prominence includes the category below it. Thus, an
accented syllable is also stressed, and a focused syllable is also
accented. The fact that Swedish and Norwegian have a distinction
between two accent contours rather helps the identification of
accented syllables in an F0-tracing, but the distinction as such does
not make a difference for prominence: an accented syllable in the
sense that is important for Strindberg may instantiate either of the
tonal contours.
(1)"Levels of prominence
prominence level!
unstressed "
phonetic correlate! !
shape in Central Swedish
primarily tonal"
accent 1: L*H
accent 2, simplex: H*LH
accent 2, compounds: H*L+L*H2
primarily tonal"
accent 1: HL*
accent 2: H*L
intensity, spectral contrast
" Let us now take a look at the levels of prominence in Swedish
careful speech. I have chosen here some introductory announcements
to the radio program Människor och tro ‘People and belief’ from the
Swedish Radio channel 1.3
In this dialect all regular compounds get accent 2. In focal position there are two
tonal events realized on the first and last stressed syllable (‘split focus’, cf. below). I
represent this here and in the panels by a fall H*L and a rise L*H. Phonologically,
there is only one L spreading tone, i.e. H*L*H (Riad 1998).
Graphically reproduced with permission from the speaker. The four utterances
given in the panels are all by the same, female speaker, who speaks Central Swedish.
Versatility in Versification
Figure 1. Below the F0 panel, the first tier marks the pitch accents, the second which
type of accent it is, where focal accents 1 and 2 are marked ‘foc1’ and ‘foc2’, and
accented ones are marked ‘acc1’ and ‘acc2’, respectively. The last two tiers contain
the Swedish text divided before accented syllables, and a translation.
In this utterance, each stressed syllable also carries an accent. Some
stresses are simply accented, while other are focally accented. The
next example illustrates the fact that some syllables are stressed, but
not accented.
Figure 2. Some stressed syllables are not accented, marked ‘0’ on the tone tier and
labelled ‘noacc’ on the second tier. Regarding focal accent 2 in compounds (‘foc2
+T’), cf. Figure 3.
In the tonal contours on the stressed but unaccented syllables, the
characteristic clear falls (HL* or H*L) of accented syllables are
" The next panel illustrates what I will call split focus in
compounds, a feature that is characteristic of Central Swedish and
many other Swedish dialects (Riad 2006). When compounds are
focused, the tonal structure of accent 2 is distributed over the whole
Accents left and right"
Figure 3. Split focus in compounds (‘foc2 +T’). The focal accent 2 contour exhibits
two associated tonal events: H*L and L*H.
The interest of split focus is the fact that it involves two separate
pitch events, each associated with a stressed syllable, the first and the
last of the compound. As we shall see, only the first association
counts as accented for the purposes of the meter. This tone is more
stable than the split focus tone (‘+T’), which is dependent on focal
" The last panel illustrates the case when compounds are accented,
but not focused. Even though there may be several stresses in a
compound, only the first one exhibits a pitch event when out of
Figure 4. Long accented compounds without focus: tvärvetenskapligt forskningsprojekt
‘interdisciplinary research project’. Pitch neutral secondary stresses are marked with
Even this brief introduction to accentuation in Central Swedish shows
that accented syllables are quite easy to detect in a F0 tracing and
Versatility in Versification
that they occur frequently in contentful sentences of the type one
finds in carefully read speech. Indeed, it seems to be the regular
default that stressed syllables are also accented, as it is easier to
characterize the cases where such accents do not show up (Sara
Myrberg p.c.). Thus, typical deaccentuation sites, beyond the
secondary stresses of compounds that we have already seen, are
verbs in lexicalized phrases (löpa amok ‘run amok’), and some
adjectives in attributive position (liten ‘small’, små ‘small’, några
‘some’, gammal ‘old’). Focused syllables are also accented. However,
the latter part of the focal tonal contour (in accent 2) is not to be
considered an accent on a par with the others, even in split focus,
when it is associated to a secondary stress. We are now ready to
move on to Strindberg’s verse.
3. Strindberg’s dactylic hexameter
August Strindberg (1849–1912) wrote a few poems in dactylic
hexameter. We will have a look at Trefaldighetsnatten ‘Trinity eve’,
first published in 1902 in the collection Fagervik och Skamsund.4 The
piece is mostly a conversation between a few gentlemen, interspersed
with songs and poems in other meters. The tone is quite informal.
There are 350 lines of dactylic hexameter in this text. The meter
avoids caesura after the 3rd foot, mimicking the rule of classical
hexameter. A few lines are one foot too short and one line is one foot
too long, presumably mistakes. The fifth foot is sometimes a trochee,
contrary to the general rule (Paulson 1903, 6), and indeed, the very
metrical grammar turns out to be somewhat non-standard.5
" As is well-known, dactyls in Germanic meter tend to have initial
prominence, whereas the other position(s) tend to be weaker. This is
a tendency rather than an obligatory state, but importantly, it is quite
different from the case in Greek, where every foot contains a stress
clash across the two metrical positions (Golston & Riad 2000, cf. (17)
Fagervik och Skamsund was translated into English in 1913, as Fair Haven and Foul
Strand. However, the translation does not include Trefaldighetsnatten.
The canon is better represented by writers like Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–
1877, e.g. Älgskyttarna ‘Elk hunters’ 1832) and Esaias Tegnér (1782–1846, e.g.
Nattvardsbarnen ‘Communion children’ 1881). For discussion and analysis, cf.
Golston & Riad (forthcoming).
Accents left and right"
" Below are two short snippets from Strindberg’s text. Syllables are
grouped into metrical feet in brackets. Below the text is a
representation of rhythm where ‘A’=accented syllable, ‘x’=stressed
(but not accented) syllable, and ‘.’=unstressed syllable.
(2)"Strindberg, Trefaldighetsnatten: accented, stressed, unstressed
49"(Och när den) (sista) (båten går) (in, och jag) (flyttar till) (staden)
50"(har jag än) (kvar en bu-) (kett åt) (ångbåts-) (restaura-) (trisen)
51"(såsom ett) (minne och) (tack för) (alla) (ljuvliga) (stunder)"
52"(hon mig be-) (rett vid) (försa-) (longens) (dignande) (matbord)
1" (A..)"
2" (A.)""
3" (Ax.)"
4" (A..)"
5" (A..)"
6" (Ax)"
7" (A..)"
8" (A..)"
9" (A..)"
" …
It is spring! Break out the windows like the waves broke the ice!
Let out the winter air, let the tiled stove cool in the corner.
Youth and spring await us at the door with anemones and sallow;
Dear Mrs Lundström, place the aquavit on ice and prepare a light supper,
for seven people with crayfish, eel and fresh radishes;
Don’t forget the Burträsk cheese and the tender Bergman table bread;
Thereafter, fill the jugs with Saint Erik’s frothing Pilsner,
then take of the Porter and mix with the Pilsner as one to two;
See, that makes a feast in grand Swedish style–I have spoken!
(Nu är det) (vår! Bryt) (fönsterna) (ut liksom) (böljan bröt) (isen!)
(Vinter-) (luften släpp) (ut, låt) (kak’lugnen) (kallna i) (skamvrån)
(Ungdom och) (vår med) (sippor och) (sälg oss) (vänta vid) (dörren)
(kära fru) (Lundström, lägg) (brännvin på) (is och) (rusta en) (sexa,)
(sexa för) (sju med) (kräftor och) (ål samt med) (nya rä-) (disor)
(Burträsk-)(osten ej)(glöm och det)(möraste)(Bergmanska)(spisbröd)
(sedan på) (kannorna) (fyll av Sankt) (Eriks) (skummande) (pilsner,)
(tag så av)(portern som)(ett emot) (två och) (blanda med) (pilsnern)
(si, då är) (gästabud) (rett på) (svenskmanna-) (vis - jag har) (talat!)
Versatility in Versification
And when the last boat comes in and I move back to town
I’ll still have one bouquet of flowers left for the steam boat restaurant keeper
as a memento and as thanks for all the lovely moments
she has given me at the heavily laden dining table in the prow saloon.
All accented syllables are at the left edge of a foot. Of course, not all
feet need contain an accented syllable, but if there is one around it
must be left-aligned. That is the regularity. Other stressed syllables,
by contrast, may occur in any position of the foot, as may also
unstressed syllables, although there are preferences, obviously.
" No clear generalization is to be had from observing the patterning
of so-called strong syllables, mentioned in the introduction. This is
illustrated in (3), where ‘S’=strong.
(3)"Strindberg, Tref.: strong, stressed, unstressed
1" (Nu är det) (vår! Bryt) (fönsterna) (ut liksom) (böljan bröt) (isen!)
2" (Vinter-) (luften släpp) (ut, låt) (kak’lugnen) (kallna i) (skamvrån)
3" (Ungdom och) (vår med) (sippor och) (sälg oss) (vänta vid) (dörren)
4" (kära fru) (Lundström, lägg) (brännvin på) (is och) (rusta en) (sexa,)
5" (sexa för) (sju med) (kräftor och) (ål samt med) (nya rä-) (disor)
6" (Burträsk-)(osten ej)(glöm och det)(möraste)(Bergmanska)(spisbröd)
7" (sedan på) (kannorna) (fyll av Sankt) (Eriks) (skummande) (pilsner,)
8" (tag så av)(portern som)(ett emot) (två och) (blanda med) (pilsnern)
9" (si, då är) (gästabud) (rett på) (svenskmanna-) (vis - jag har) (talat!)
" …
49"(Och när den) (sista) (båten går) (in, och jag) (flyttar till) (staden)
50"(har jag än) (kvar en bu-) (kett åt) (ångbåts-) (restaura-) (trisen)
51"(såsom ett) (minne och) (tack för) (alla) (ljuvliga) (stunder)
52"(hon mig be-) (rett vid) (försa-) (longens) (dignande) (matbord)
1" (x..)"
2" (S.)""
3" (xx.)"
4" (S..)"
5" (S..)"
6" (xx)""
7" (S..)"
8" (x..)"
9" (x..)"
" …
Accents left and right"
While most strong syllables are aligned to the left, there is no ban on
medial (lines 2, 6, 9) or final strong syllables (line 8). We will
therefore no longer entertain syllable strength as a relevant
hypothesis for Strindberg.
" Returning to (2), a few methodological notes are in order. First of
all, how do we establish which syllables are accented and which are
not, in a given poem? The most direct way is basically intuitive, by
providing a reasonable reading. This may sound like an unreliable or
otherwise risky method of analysis, but it is in fact quite robust. The
status as ‘accented’ represents the information structural default for
stressed syllables. As mentioned, there are a couple of quite clearly
delimited contexts that are systematically exempt from accentuation
(e.g. verbs in lexicalized phrases, secondary stresses of compounds).
This means that if one removes accent from other contexts, the sense
of the phrase will change. Similarly, adding an accent where
deaccentuation ought to take place typically creates a sense of
unmotivated, contrastive reading. The meter actually allows us to use
these facts to test accentedness quite straightforwardly. Any addition
of accent to a position (containing an ‘x’) other than the leftmost one
should disturb the meter, or sound semantically odd. This is clearly
true as the (Swedish-speaking) reader can check by placing accent on
any remaining ‘x’ in (2). Removing accents from the leftmost position
may sound odd or not, but does not challenge the meter as we have
analyzed it here; there is no prohibition against unaccented syllables
in the left position.
" The best way to bring out the correct information structure is a
straight prose-like reading. Strindberg’s verse lends itself very easily
to this, the style being already quite close to ordinary prose. For
other authors and other types of verse, things may be different.6
Accentuation in Swedish is stable enough not to be prone to variation
with different modes of recitation.
" The very distribution of secondary stresses in compounds also
supports the argument. These stresses, whether they carry the split
focus tone (‘+T’) or not, have a more varied distribution than the
primary stresses. Below, we see that split focus is not subject to
obligatory alignment in this meter.
Thus, the natural reading of Esaias Tegnér’s Nattvardsbarnen immediately shows
that accented syllables are not obligatorily left-aligned in his dactylic hexameter.
Versatility in Versification
(4)"Compounds and split focus (Tref., line 2)
‘The winter-air
foc2 0
foc2 +T
foc2 +T
(Vinter-) (luften släpp) (ut, låt) (kak’l-ugnen) (kallna i) (skam-vrån)
out let
the tiled stove cool
in the corner’
There are three focused compounds in this line and the split focus
tone occurs in three different metrical contexts: left-aligned, medial
and final. According to our generalization, this pitch event does not
qualify as an accent and is therefore not strictly regulated in the
" However, the split focus tone often makes for a better ‘arsis’ than
a simply stressed syllable, in particular if this stressed syllable is in a
deaccentuation context. We illustrate this in (5), where three metrical
parsings of line 302 are given, pitching the prominence properties
against each other.
(5)"Accent, split focus tone and stress (Tref., line 302)
foc1 …
i ✓"(Blomster-sång,)(blomster-)(doft blandas)(upp med)(vinden till)(välljud,)
" ‘Flower song, flower fragrance is mixed up with the wind into euphony’
ii *"(Blomster-)(sång, blomster-) (doft blandas) (upp med) (vinden till) (välljud,)
iii ?"(Blomster-sång,) (blomster-doft) (blandas) (upp med) (vinden till) (välljud,)
foc1 ...
foc1 …
The grouping into feet in (5i) is the best one, where the two first feet
left-align focal accents and the third left-aligns a split focus tone. In
the lexicalized phrase blanda upp ‘mix together’ the verb is regularly
deaccented. In (5ii), the split focus tone on sång is placed in the
second foot, leaving the following focus accented syllable (blomst-) in
a non-initial position of the foot. This is not allowed under
Strindberg’s versification (Ollén 1989:262ff.).7 In (5iii), the whole
compound blomsterdoft is contained in the second foot in a way
parallel to blomstersång in the first foot. This causes the third foot to
Again, it does occur in the dactylic hexameter of e.g. Esaias Tegnér. In
Nattvardsbarnen, accented, primary stresses may occur in the right-hand
position of a foot, provided a secondary stress gets to fill the left-hand
position of the following foot: (Pingst, ˈhän-)(ˌryckningens)(tid var)(inne. Den)
(landtliga)(kyrkan)... ‘Pentecost, rapture’s time was here. The country
Accents left and right"
be constituted by blandas, which is, however, naturally deaccented in
this linguistic context. This is a lexicalized verb phrase, where the
particle upp attracts the accent. Why, however, does (5iii) not sound
fully acceptable?
We here hit upon another tendency in Strindberg’s hexameter
(and beyond), namely the avoidance of disyllabic metrical feet that
contain unaccented words. Thus, Strindberg gets criticized for lines
like 51 below, where the fourth foot contains the simple, unaccented
trochee alla (cf. Paulson 1903:7).
(6)" Unaccented disyllabic feet are usually avoided. Here is an
exception. (Tref., line 51)
" (såsom ett) (minne och) (tack för) (alla) (ljuvliga) (stunder)
memento and thanks for
the lovely moments’
Trisyllabic feet with no accented word are much more common (the
fifth foot of line 39 in (8) below is a case). In the whole poem, there
are 62 such feet, as against 11 disyllabic, unaccented feet. There is,
then, some kind of quantitative constraint on the meter, that shows
through when accented syllables are absent.
" The regulation of accented syllables, rather than stressed ones,
makes us expect that words that typically vary between accented and
unaccented status will also vary in their metrical positioning. Verbs
like komma ‘come’ and vara ‘be’ belong in this group and we
illustrate the variation in (7) and (8).
(7)"Accented komma (Tref., lines 47, 121)
" (astrarne)(icke jag) (glömt, som) (komma så) (varligt på) (hösten.)
‘the asters I haven’t forgotten, which come up tenderly in autumn’
(Dansas dock)(mest och) (hälst, ty) (nu har mu-) (siken) (kommit;)
‘Mostly and preferably dancing however, for now the music is here’
(8)"Unaccented komma (Tref., lines 39, 71)
" (läckraste) (lammkött och) (kalv i) (båtarne) (komma till) (salu,)
‘the most delicious lamb meat and veal in the boats come on sale’
(Pang! Jo där)(smällde ett)(skott! Ett)(till! för)(nu kommer) (båten!)
‘Bang! Yes there banged a shot! One more! For now comes the boat!’
Versatility in Versification
Summing up so far, we have found that accents 1 and 2, focal or nonfocal are strictly controlled in Strindberg’s hexameter, while merely
stressed syllables and split focus tones are not.8 We have also found a
general tendency for the relatively most prominent syllable, as
determined in phrasal prosody, to be aligned to the left in the foot.
" Accentedness is an interesting level of prominence in that it
constitutes a meeting point for lexical and phrasal information. To
illustrate the fact that accentuation of some syllables is motivated
directly by phrasing, we may look for pronouns, which normally
occur unstressed, but which are being accented for phrasal reasons
(like deixis or contrastiveness).
(9)"Phrasal accentuation, unaccented and accented den.
" (lyddes till)(flöjelns)(sång, den var)(rostig,)(den liksom) (gubben,)
‘listened to
the vane’s song,
was rusty,
it-acc like
the old man’
The rule for Strindberg’s meter is thus quite surface-near. It would
not be enough to just look at lexical information to establish the rules
of his meter.9
" Turning now to the analysis of Strindberg’s meter, we can express
the distribution of accents quite directly with the notions of accent,
(metrical) foot and alignment joined together in a constraint.
(10) Alignment of accent: verse
" ALIGN-LEFT(Accent, Foot)
" ‘Every accent is in the beginning of a metrical foot’
The hypothesis is that the constraint in (10) is directly related to a
linguistic constraint which aligns accents to prosodic words as in
The non-regulation of split focus makes sense in the cross-dialectal perspective, too.
Dialects vary regarding the association of the focal part in split focus, or indeed
whether they have a clear separate tonal correlate in focal position (Bruce 2007).
Such dialects tend to assign tonal structure in the same way in compounds as in
simplex forms (Riad 1998, 2006).
The problem of delimiting the relevant prominence level is often encountered in
historical reconstruction, and really hard to solve in that domain. E.g. in the search
for systematicity in older Germanic verse like that of Beowulf, the notion of stress
must usually be relativized in order to get the meter to fit hypotheses; stress may be
disregarded in verbs, or one must allow the occasional promotion and/or demotion
of prominence, when the meter requires it (Cable 1991:22).
Accents left and right"
(11). The prosodic word is thus the linguistic analogue of the foot in
(11) Alignment of accent: language
" ALIGN-LEFT(Accent, Prosodic word)
" ‘Every accent is in the beginning of a prosodic word’
In Swedish and Norwegian, accented syllables are left-oriented.10 We
can see this in prosodic words that contain more than one stress, i.e.
compounds. In compounds it is invariably the leftmost stress which is
primary and which gets the accent (ˈmellanˌmålet ‘the snack’, ˈomˌbuds
ˌman ‘ombudsman’). Other stresses may or may not get a pitch event,
depending on the degree of prominence (cf. split focus). While accent
is left-oriented, it can only occur on a stressed syllable, and so accent
will in fact only be left-aligned to the extent the primary stressed
syllable of a prosodic word is initial, too (e.g. in ˈmaten ‘the food’,
ˈblommorna ‘the flowers’, but not in garˈdiner ‘curtains’, kaˈmel
‘camel’). From this we can conclude that there is, in language, an
association constraint which mandates that stressed syllables are the
tone-bearers. In verse, however, left-alignment is always possible to
attain, since the unmarked, binary domains within which accents are
aligned–the feet of the verse–constitute a separate level of
representation. This alignment is what yields the tendencies towards
uniform rhythm. The text, to which the accents are associated, and
which is organized into linguistic prosodic words, is “dragged along”,
so to speak.
" The null hypothesis for pairs of constraints like (10) and (11) is
that they are similarly ranked with respect to other constraints. I take
it that the obligatoriness of (11) is what warrants a system like
Strindberg’s, though this remains a hypothesis at this stage.
" We turn now to a meter that challenges the alleged rhythmic
labeling of metrical templates from an empirical perspective.
This is true also for dialects where compounds sometimes get accent 1. There is
also a phrase initial accent (called ‘initiality accent’ by Myrberg 2009) that is
prosodically aligned at the left edge of the first constituent, and associated to the
first stress.
Versatility in Versification
4. Messenius’ syllabic verse
In this section we shall have a look at meter written in Swedish that
does not apparently have rhythm. It is composed by Johannes
Messenius (ca 1579–1636), who wrote versified dialogue in his many
plays. Here we shall look at a passage from the play Christmannus,
which was written probably around 1620 (Lidell 1982:xix), during
Messenius’ imprisonment in Kajaneborg 1616–1636.
" The lines in this play are 8 syllables long.11 Interestingly, the
meter contains both masculine and feminine rhyme (randomly
distributed), yet is strictly syllabic. The stressed syllable in rhyming
words will therefore occur now in the left-hand position, now in the
right-hand position. Below is a section from the beginning of act 1,
after the prologue. To the right are two analyses of the meter, one
separating accented syllables from other stressed syllables.
(12) Christmannus, accented and stressed syllables.
37" (Efter)(som bruk) (ähr i)(wårt landh,)"
38 " (hwart nij-)(onde) (åhr skall)(hwar man)"
39" (besök-) (ia wp-) (sala) (kyrkia,)"
40" (och här) (wåra) (gudar) (dyrkia,) "
41" (Nijo) (och ni-) (joti-) (jo diur)"
42" (offra) (Gudom) (wedh then-) (na mur,) "
43" (Nijo) (menni-) (skior wist) (af them) "
44" (skåla) (wara,) (vtan) (Siuk leem;)"
45" (Thässa) (låttkast-) (ningh wt-) (uijsar,)"
46" (Then of-) (ras skall,) (lyckan) (prijsar;)"
47" (Jngen) (hiälper) (någons) (förbön,)"
48 " (Alt of-) (fer skall) (wara) (mankön;)"
49" (dåck off-) (ras huf-) (uuden) (allen,)"
50" (på fål-) (ket stänk-) (es blod-) (en reen;)"
51" (somma) (kråppar) (hängias) (en stundh)"
52" (I then) (hälga) (Gudar-) (nas lundh;)"
53" (På the) (andra) (fålket) (till gäst)"
54" (Af präst-) (omen) (alt biud-) (es mäst:)"
55" (Här hålss)(danss, sångh,)(och myc-)(ken fröjd,) (.x)(AA)(..)(.A)"
56" (hwilken) (höres) (i him-) (mels högd;)" (..)(A.)(.A)(.A)"
57" (För then) (skull wij) (gudom) (kära,)"
58 " (Hwilka) (oss alt) (gått be-) (skära:)"
59" (J ni-) (jo dygn) (nu såd-) (ant skeett)"
60" (som wå-) (ra ög-) (on ha-) (fua seett;)"
61" (Nu wel-) (om wij,) (Gro, hem-) (draga,)" (.A)(..)(AA)(x.)"
62" (och om) (wårt huuss-) (håld rätt) (laga.)" (..)(.A)(xA)(A.)"
In other plays they can also be 10 or 12 syllables long.
Accents left and right"
After what is customary in our country, each man shall visit Uppsala cathedral every ninth
year and worship here our gods, and sacrifice nine and ninety animals to the Gods by this
wall. Nine of these should be people without sick limbs. The drawing of lots will show who
they are–he who is to be sacrificed will praise his luck. No one’s intercession will help, and
all sacrifices shall be male. However, only the heads are sacrificed, and pure blood is
splashed on the people. Some bodies are hung up awhile in the holy grove of the Gods. Of
the others, the priests offer to the people as to guests. Here is dancing, singing and much
mirth, which can be heard in high heavens. For this reason we complain to the gods who
have given us all good things. For nine days now such things have happened that our eyes
have seen. Now, Gro, we should go home and properly look after our household.
Syllabic meter was not uncommon in Messenius’ day, but it has not
had much success later on (except in psalm texts, Lilja 2006:188).
There is no sense in which the meter is uniformly rhythmic. Under a
labelled template approach, this meter would therefore presumably
be unexpected. When we look at and compare the two metrical
representations we find no real difference relating to either level of
prominence. There are iambs and trochees of both kinds, and so we
will simply go with a count of stressed and unstressed syllables over a
larger corpus. In a corpus of 167 lines the count comes out as in (13).
(13) Rhythm in Christmannus
" iamb" " (.x)"" 47%" (310)
" trochee" (x.)"" 27%" (180)
" pyrrhic"" (..)"" 16%" (109)
" spondee" (xx)" 10%" (69)
There is a general preference for iambic rhyme, as can be seen
already in the short extract in (12), and there is also a weak
preference for iambic verse feet generally. However, almost a third of
the feet are trochees, and neither pyrrhics nor spondees exhibit
negligible numbers. The bias against pyrrhics and spondees indicates
that there may be clash and lapse avoidance.
" This demonstration makes a general point regarding the use of
rhythmically labelled templates in that it is hard to see what work
designated ‘S’ and ‘W’ positions would do in a description of this
meter. An iambic template, say, would be really quite abstract when
less than half of the feet are actually iambic. Now, Messenius’ verse
may be considered an extreme case, and one might argue that his
particular meter does not warrant use of a metrical template.
However, that stance is problematic, since there are other writers in
Germanic that approach his numbers in their meter traditionally
Versatility in Versification
recognized as iambic. The problem of principle is that it is impossible
to find a cut-off point for ‘iambic’. Below we list the figures for
Wyatt’s and Shakespeare’s sonnets, written in iambic pentameter
(Golston & Riad 2009).
(14) Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1560), sonnets 1–20.
" iamb" " (.x)"" 48%
" trochee" (x.)"" 21%
" pyrrhic"" (..)"" 25%
" spondee" (xx)" 6%
(15) William Shakespeare (1564–1616), sonnets 1–50.
" iamb" " (.x) " 66%
" trochee" (x.) " 2%
" pyrrhic"" (..) "" 24%
" spondee" (xx) " 8%
As we can see in these counts, things are relative. Wyatt has about as
many iambs as does Messenius, and slightly fewer trochees. That
hardly warrants a different analysis. A putative difference in the
perception of these authors’ meter is likely to be due to the strict
syllable count on the part of Messenius. Wyatt allows for an extra
syllable in feminine rhyme, which is likely to affect the sense of the
meter, but it is hardly a feature that one would like to derive from a
difference in rhythmic labelling of templates.
" Shakespeare, of course, is more uniformly iambic, not least
because the trochees are so few. However, no version of allegedly
iambic meter does away entirely with trochees, or any of the other
non-iambic feet. The question of uniformity is therefore simply a
relative one, which will be only very crudely captured by a
stipulation of ‘iambic’ or ‘trochaic’. We turn now to a discussion of
problems with rhythmic definitions.
5. Rhythm is not stipulated
Under the alignment analysis suggested for Strindberg, there is no
need to specify the rhythmic content of metrical feet, either by means
of designated ‘S’ and ‘W’ position, or otherwise. This is, however, in
distinction to most accounts of meter, which typically take the
rhythmic information in the template to be truly basic. Both
traditional metrics and generative metrics assume that meter is
Accents left and right"
abstract rhythm applied to language. The abstract rhythm is
expressed by ‘S’ and ‘W’, which are responsible for the tendency of
the rhythm in meter (e.g. Prince 1989). The matching of these
positions to linguistic structure never seems to be simple, and the
link between the abstract meter and concrete text remains indirect.
Such abstractness leaves little or no room for the phonology of a
language to contribute to the deeper understanding of how meter in
that language works. A clear indication of this latter point emerges
from the way generative metrics treats Greek and Germanic metrical
feet as rhythmically the same, even though the phonologies are
radically different.12 Metrical feet are thus taken to come with a
basic, stable rhythm, regardless of language. Deviations from the basic
rhythm are stated separately, entailing abstractness.
(16) Metrics and verse feet
" Verse unit"" Traditional metrics"
" iamb" " " diDUM"" " " "
" trochee" " DUMdi " " " "
" anapest" " didiDUM " " " "
" dactyl" " " DUMdidi " " " "
" spondee" " DUMDUM"" " "
Generative metrics
([sw]W S)
(S [sw]W) or ([sw]S W)
In Golston & Riad (forthcoming), we argue that the focus on verse
feet with abstract, constant properties leads us wrong. The
involvement of phonology in meter is such that the content of the
verse feet must necessarily change between languages, simply
because the languages have different phonologies. And there is really
nothing to stipulate that abstract rhythm should be preserved across
languages. The strong reification of single verse feet also creates
descriptive difficulties with respect to variation. For instance, Greek
dactylic meter contains both dactyls (HLL) and spondees (HH), and
anapestic meter contains all the four different combinations of H and
LL, including (HLL), the dactyl. In what sense would a dactyl be
right-headed when it shows up in anapestic meter, and left-headed in
dactylic meter? For spondees the question even more direct. How do
we determine which H is the head in (HH)? It will not do to appeal
to other feet used in the meter, since the spondee–probably the single
The increasing acknowledgement of the closeness of meter and language is
expressed elsewhere, e.g. as parameter setting (Hanson & Kiparsky 1996).
Versatility in Versification
most frequent verse foot at the token level in all of Greek verse–
occurs in iambic meter as well as in trochaic and dactylic meter. A
different perspective on abstract rhythm is offered by Japanese, a
language that has no stress. Moras are grouped binarily into feet, but
it is no simple matter to determine whether these feet are right- or
6. Prosodic Metrics
In this final section I briefly outline a different way of characterizing
meter, namely Prosodic Metrics (Golston & Riad 2000). Rhythmically
labelled templates are avoided entirely, and by removing this layer of
abstraction we stand a better chance of expressing how meter relates
to language.
" Prosodic Metrics (Golston & Riad 2000) builds on the notion of
meter being largely derivable from language in three ways. First,
properties that are really just the same as in language should not be
restated in the characterization of meter. The fact that the metrical
positions in Greek meter contain moras rather than syllables is a
linguistic fact. The Greek linguistic foot is constituted by two moras
[μμ] and that is also the canonical metrical position in Greek meter.
Japanese meter is also concerned with moras and moras are very
prominent in the phonology of the language. The simplest theory of
meter will therefore have this information follow from phonology.
" Second, properties that are truly artful require special treatment.
It turns out that most such properties are still derived from linguistic
structure. Some properties are unmarked, the supreme example being
the binarity of metrical feet (and other hierarchical units). This part
should be captured much as prosodic morphology, i.e. like some
brands of nickname formation or reduplication. Other properties of
meter are marked, and the third way that relates meter to language is
when a meter regularly breaks a linguistic norm. In the tradition of
Optimality Theory (OT, Prince & Smolensky 1993), this is referred to
as ‘constraint violation’. According to the account in Golston & Riad
(2000), we can use a violation distinctively, as a defining property of
a meter, by making it mandatory for that meter. Such ‘distinctive
Despite the abstractness that comes with labelled templates, they are widely
adopted: “The structure parameters, NUMBER OF FEET and HEADEDNESS, are formally
independent of phonological structure. They determine straightforwardly the
familiar properties of line length, and of whether a meter is rising (right-headed) or
falling (left-headed)” (Hanson & Kiparsky 1996:289).
Accents left and right"
violations’ may be different for individual meters. For example, when
a meter exhibits catalexis (a missing position at either end of the
line) that should be expressed in terms of a distinctive violation of a
binarity constraint. Every foot of the meter should be binary (=the
norm, i.e. unmarkedness), but the last one is not and should not be
(=the distinctive violation, i.e. markedness).
" This arrangement yields an analysis where the properties of meter
must be either directly shared with language, be unmarked or be
marked by virtue of violating some linguistic norm. And there is a
twist. In a universalist linguistic model like OT, every language
contains all linguistic constraints, as a matter of principle. However,
meters do not vary wildly within languages, even though there are
many, many constraints that could conceivably be distinctively
violated to create new meters. This means that some selection of
constraints takes place for the purposes of creating distinct meters.
First, it seems that the set of constraints so employed is prosodic.14
Second, in an individual language, it would appear that the selection
of constraints to distinctively mark is sensitive to the status of the
constraints, in the grammar of the language. We find that the
constraints that are employed for meter-creation tend to be relatively
low-ranking in the language. The grammar of the language thus
points to which constraints might be useful for norm-breaking for
artistic purposes, without messing up the phonology too much. Meter
should be noticeable, but it should not thwart ordinary language.
" I provide a couple of examples below from Golston & Riad (2000,
forthcoming). The first point is about dactylic and anapestic meter in
Greek that we already touched on. Dactylic meter admits both
dactyls and spondees, hence (HLL) and (HH), and anapestic meter
includes all permutations of H and LL, that is (HLL), (HH), (LLH) and
(LLLL). Anapestic meter certainly exhibits preferences for some feet,
but importantly, none is prohibited in principle. We can consider
anapestic meter as unmarked under binarity in the following sense.
Every metrical position is filled with a canonical, unmarked bimoraic
unit [μμ], which is the linguistic foot of the language. The first of the
two moras in the lingustic foot is more prominent than the other,
hence [ˈμμ]. In other meters, e.g. in iambic trimeter, this basically
bimoraic unit sometimes comes out as monomoraic, a marked state.
There are no meters that require the first element of each line to be an adjective, a
subject or even a labial place of articulation.
Versatility in Versification
But for anapestic and dactylic meter, unmarkedness holds at this
level, and one level up, namely where linguistic feet are grouped in
pairs into metrical feet. For anapests, nothing more needs to be said,
and all linguistically unmarked combinations of realizations of the
linguistic feet are predicted to occur. Dactylic meter uses a subset of
metrical feet, picked out by a marked linguistic property.
(17) Anapestic and dactylic feet
" (HH) (LLH) (HLL) (LLLL)"" "
" x x x . x x x . x . x ."" "
" (HH)
(HLL) " " " "
rhythm, (clash)
The linguistic property that sets (HLL) and (HH) apart from all the
other feet is the fact that they contain a stress clash, an arrhythmy,
but one that is frequent in the language. In unmarked rhythm,
prominent syllables are separated by non-prominent syllables, i.e.
clash is avoided. But this is a low-ranking constraint in Greek, and
here it would seem that dactylic meter selects precisely those feet
that contain a stress clash (Golston & Riad 2000). That is the marked
property which violates the norm, once per metron. The distinctive
violation “Violate the constraint NOCLASH” gets us this result. The
rest is unmarked, binary phonology.
" Another example is presented by Classical Arabic meter (Prince
1989, Golston & Riad 1997, forthcoming). This is a tradition of at
least twelve ancient meters that all belong to the same genre. We
shall look here at the shape of the metra employed, and they are
listed below, together with the name of the meters that contain them.
(18) Classical Arabic metra (σ = syllable, H or L, φ = foot, H or LL)
" 1" ṭawīl " " LH.σ, LH.σH
" 2" basīṭ " " σH.LH, σ.LH
" 3" kāmil" " φH.LH"
" 4" wāfir " " LH.φH "
" 5" rajaz " " σσ.LH"
" 6" sarīʕ " " Hσ.LH"
" 7" khafīf "" σL.HH, σH.LH
" 8" mutaqārib "LH.σ"
" 9" ramal "" σL.HH"
" 10"munsariḥ "Hσ.LH, Hσ.HL
" 11"madīd" " σL.HH, σL.H
" 12"hazaj " " LH.Hσ "
Accents left and right"
At first glance, this looks like a motley group. Most metra contain
four positions, but some contain three. Most metra have one variable
position (σ or φ), but rajaz has two. Most metra contain an iambic
verse foot LH, but for some the iamb straddles two verse feet (e.g.
khafīf and madīd). So none of these quite general properties will
define the tradition as a whole. The single recurrent property that we
find in each metron is the presence of exactly one stable L, also
known as a trapped light (Mester 1994). Like Greek, Arabic uses the
bimoraic linguistic foot for linguistic purposes [´μμ]. H and LL are
canonical, whereas L is not, but trapped L’s are of course frequent in
the language. The (low-ranking) constraint that L violates is
FOOTBINARITY, which acknowledges that linguistic feet are binary
(syllables or moras). This is the unifying feature that defines Arabic
metrics as a tradition. The individual meters then have further
specifications that make them distinct from one another in other
respects (Golston & Riad forthcoming).
" Neither of these examples employs the notion of a head, rhythmic
or otherwise. To the extent that there are recurrent properties in
certain positions, those are emergent facts. For instance, the
insistence on clash is what forces a H in the first position of dactyls
and spondees rather than a stipulation.
" Recall now the figure in (16) concerning the shape of feet in
traditional and generative metrics. To make the comparison, consider
how these things come out in Prosodic Metrics. 15 Italics is used to
draw attention to how the violation of constraints plays out
differently in empiry than does simple stipulation of verse feet as
basic theoretical constructs for the analysis of meter.
(19) Prosodic Metrics (Golston & Riad 2000, 1997)
" Verse unit(s)" " " Constraint violated" " Language
dactyl and spondee""
anapestic meter" "
pair of iambs" " "
single trochee" " "
iamb" " " " "
NOCLASH " " " " "
(unmarked binarity)
(unmarked rhythm)
Classical Greek
stable L""
Classical Arabic
I have simply added a number of definitions of metrical properties, without
expounding on them. For the full discussion, the reader is referred to the references
Versatility in Versification
Verse unit(s)" "
Constraint violated" "
catalexis" "
line length" "
" " " "
BINARITY (foot in verse)" many languages
BINARITY (half-line, line) "many, many
" " " " " " " languages
As seen, it is not even the case that each verse foot has a clear
definition. Sometimes we get that unit by virtue of a distinctive
violation, other times the shape emerges as the effect of interactions
of unmarked and marked factors in phonology. This is as it should
be. Binarity and hierarchy come for free, and so does simple
alternating rhythm, by virtue of the unmarked avoidance of clash and
lapse. To get other lengths than the factors of two given by binarity
and hierarchy, we specify violation of the relevant binarity
" The phonology of the language largely determines what
constraints are employed in the metrical tradition. The hypothesis
here is that languages tend to manipulate the fringes of their
phonology. For instance, the rhythmic constraints of NOCLASH and
NOLAPSE do not interfere much in Greek phonology, so they must be
low-ranked in the language. By insisting on violating them, a
metrical system emerges that can add a little interest to the meter
without flying in the face of the phonology. It is quite clear that
Germanic dactylic meter could not be based in recurring clash, since
NOCLASH is so much higher in ranking in these languages, as can be
noticed in the various adjustment and destressing rules that are
triggered by clash. Trapped L syllables are common in Arabic
phonology, so FOOTBINARITY violations are frequent in the language.
Therefore, it will be available for meter construction.
" Broadly speaking, Germanic meters seem not to have obligatory
features like those encountered in Greek and Arabic (beyond line
length). Instead, they tend to have emergent rhythm. While they
regulate prominences, they never force each metrical foot to contain
a prominence in a designated position. Strindberg’s dactyls have the
unusual property of aligning accents, obligatorily. But this is quite as
in the language, the difference being the alignment domains which
are the binary metrical feet, in meter. The meter still remains
emergently dactylic by virtue of fact that not every metrical foot
must contain an accent. Except for nursery rhymes and the like,
where accents are forced onto certain positions, whether it makes
sense or not, emergent rhythm seems to be the general case in
Accents left and right"
Germanic meters. In the popular iambic, stress-aligning type this is
even clearer than in the meters we have looked at above.
" In this chapter, I have argued that the notion of accented syllable
is relevant for the analysis of Strindberg’s dactylic meter. That was
the empirical contribution. On the theoretical side, I have argued
against rhythmically labelled templates, and suggested that we can
get a more straightforward analysis of meter without stipulating
abstract rhythm.
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