|Title:||Folk Verse Form in English|
|Authors:||Bruce Hayes, Margaret MacEachern|
|Abstract:|| Folk Verse Form in English
Bruce Hayes & Margaret MacEachern
The paper described here is primarily about metrics, but may
be of interest to optimality theorists in general.
We examine the inventory of possible quatrains in the verse
of English folksongs. The data focus is on the distribution of
truncated lines (empty positions at the end of the metrical grid)
within the quatrain. We attempt to explain why only about 25 of
the 625 logical possibilities for quatrain structure are well
Our assumption is that the anonymous composers of folk songs
internalize a set of conflicting well-formed constraints. Some
require empty positions near the end of the line, with the goal
of enhancing the saliency of units like couplets and lines.
Others, part of metrics proper, demand that the metrical grid of
the line be filled with syllables. The diversity of quatrain
types is held to follow from the large number of ways in which
these constraints may be ranked against one another. Thus the
outcome of our analysis is not any particular ranking of the
constraints, but rather the entire factorial typology.
We extend our analysis to account for two further matters:
the greatly differing corpus frequencies of the various quatrain
types, and the existence of quatrains that sound only partially
Corpus frequencies are modeled by assigning each constraint
a range of possible strictness values, in arbitrary units. A
simulation program calculates the expected frequencies in a large
hypothetical corpus of quatrains, under the assumption that each
quatrain is generated by a random setting of all the constraints
within their respective strictness ranges. By locating
appropriate strictness ranges, we can model the corpus
frequencies fairly accurately.
These strictness ranges are then used as the basis for a
model of gradient well-formedness judgments: we claim that the
strictness ranges of certain constraints are partitioned into
central and peripheral subranges. Any form that may be derived
only by ranking a constraint within its peripheral subrange will
sound only partially well-formed. In informal terms, a given
form is judged as semi-acceptable when the consultant's
internalized grammar must be slightly "bent out of shape" in
order to generate it. Following this hypothesis, we have been
able to formulate an explicit analysis for the semi-well-
formedness of a number of quatrain types.
At the moment we are fairly enthusiastic about this approach
to semi-well-formedness, since it requires no "fuzziness" within
the constraint system itself, but only within the rankings, which
can easily be treated numerically, hence gradiently. We are
curious if this method could be applied to the many other areas
of linguistics where gradient well-formedness judgments prevail.