Analysing Sound Patterns [draft]
This project aims to produce a free tool to assist literature students and
academics in analysing sound patterns in texts. One project ended in May 2004
and the other ended in May 2006.
|The ASP project (part of an M.A.) closed in May 2004. The
source code is available. If you have java
you should be able to download ASP.jar and type "java -jar ASP.jar" to run the program. Works for me on Mac and Unix machines (though you may need to widen the window sometimes). I've not tried it on Windows, though it was developed there.|
|The SPRIT project (part of an M.A.) closed in May 2007. The
source code is available. See the
file in the dist folder for details.|
source code of a
matlab prototype of the SPRIT project is available. Download the code and
run main. The prototype doesn't analyse the text, but once the rhyme
and stress patterns are described, it can identify forms. See the documentation|
Sound effects have been used extensively in poetry.
In oral poetry these effects assist in remembering the poem. The
effects also have an aesthetic function working at the sound level alone.
Sound can also interact with meaning in several ways: onomatopeia; emphasising certain words; providing structural support by binding together spatially distant words, etc. More generally, foregrounding the language is a way to produce
poetic heightening, differentiating the text from prose.
Identification of regular rhymes is uncontroversial. The strict sound patterns
of Welsh poetry should be easy to detect.
In Anglo-saxon alliterative verse the effects are somewhat less regular.
More subjective is metrical
analysis - identifying stressed and unstressed sounds then organising
them into units. More subjective still is the detection and
interpretation of the effects in free verse.
The proposed program may be able to identify sound of the effects
and for issues it can't resolve, it could provide objective evidence
to aid interpretation by humans.
Patterns can be typographic,
conceptual, syntactic as well as sonic. Given the connection between
typographic and sonic patterning and the ease of identifying typographic
patterning, some typographic features will be analysed too.
There are many types of sound effects to detect. Here are just a few
examples to illustrate the variety
In metrical poetry line length is determined by sonic features
- William Barnes (1801-1886) wrote
With fruit for me
The apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden lea.
whose last line is rich with assonance and consonance. Or take the
1st stanza of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day
The lowing herd wine slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
- Tzara's dada poetry is sometimes termed "sound poetry"
K P'ERI UM L P'ERIOUM
N M' pernounnurn
bpretiberrerrebee onooooooooh gplanpouk
oapderree ringlepadonou nntnou
- In the Welsh 'cynghanedd groes' format , there are two emphasized words in each line. All consonants occuring before the accented syllable of the first emphasized word are repeated in the same order before the accented syllable of the last emphasized word. An example in english would be something like
Over his shire, verses ring
Variations of this form are used in Welsh-language pop songs.
How do readers respond to these effects, and what interpretations do they make?
Here is an extract from Ruth Padel
- quantitative - a line is a certain number of "feet", a foot
being made up of fixed patterns of long and short syllables (used in latin
and greek poetry)
- accentual - a line has a certain number of strong stresses, the
number of syllables and weak stresses not mattering
- accentual syllabic - a line is a certain number of "feet", a foot
being made up of fixed patterns of stress
Achilles, the key name, appears in every stanza. Its central
syllable is repeated in the first stanza ("until", "filled",
"building", with a sideways echo in "curled" ...), reappears in the
second, resonates in the third with "built" and "still" (plus an echo
in "full"). and reaches a climax in "killer": bringing out the fact
that "Achilles" has the sound of that word "kill" in his name
Here's something by Tony Curtis
I can hear the insistence of an 'ight' sound in the words 'night...quietly...late...thought...late...silent' [p.148]
This is from Tomlinson's "The Atlantic"
Then curded, shallow, heavy
With clutering bubbles, it nears
In a slow sheet that must climb
Relinquishing its power, upward
Across tilted sand.
It's described by Ian Brinton in Tears in the Fence (No.49) as follows
The evocation is of a bulk of water 'curded' and 'heavy' which is impelled
forward by the speed of 'nears' at the end of the line. The movement is then
counteracted by the 'slow sheet' and this process of slowing down is aided by the
lack of a comma until, when one does come, we have been almost ground to a halt
(one could also add that 'tilted sand' has the sharper, hissier sounds of water
draining through sand)
Here's part of a review by Forrest Gander of Jorie
Graham's "The Scanning" (Boston Book Review, Summer 1997)
We hear first the echo of "kiss" in "its" and
But even before those three notes are reinforced by "hiss",
"missed," "distance," and "pianissimo," Graham introduces
a counterpoint, the growling consonance of "glint," "gripped" and
"glides" and the long o's of "show" and "over". Look how
the word "show" recollects the second syllable of "harrowing" from the
second line, and prepares our ears for the deep vowels in "pianissimo,"
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
is described thus by David Trotter ("T.S. Eliot and Cinema", Modernism/Modernity 13.2 (2006))
The intensity of Prufrock's arousal produces or is
produced by an intensification in the verse. By comparison with its sparse
and evenly paced predecessor ("and white and bare"), the line describing
the hair on the women's arms seems positively swollen: the echo of
"lamplight" in "light brown hair" and the internal rhyme on "downed" and
"brown" fill it from within with the sameness of sound, with emphasis
This kind of criticism raises various issues
Even if the program can't help resolve these issues it should be able
to supply objective evidence. Moreover it should be able to
- whether all the perceived patterns exist - they may be
the result of selective highlighting in the text. "Lit. crit. has a
very bad record for selective quotation and selectively quoting
supporting evidence while excluding all contrary data points." [J.C.]
- if these patterns exist, are they accidental (i.e. are they as likely
to occur in non-literary language)? - texts (particularly literary ones) will have bunched patterns
of sounds. For example
- While writing, one's short-term memory will contain recent sounds
which may encourage the further use of those sounds, thus leading to
- A tense change will lead to a change in sounds used. Poetry is more
likely than prose to have sudden changes
- Love poems in German are more likely to use "ich", "mich", and "dich" than other poems are
Questions that the program could help answer include
- Identify any regular rhyming scheme - label the full and half rhymes
- Identify any regular alliteration
- Identify clustering of sound families
- Identify trails of related sounds
- Measure 'liquidity', 'plosivity', 'fricative density', etc
- To what extent do Larkin's rhymes become tighter in the course of a poem?
- During her career did Plath's poetry become more or less regular?
- How justified are the assertions of Ruth Padel in her book 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem?
- Does poetry have more sound effects than prose does?
- Do most British writers with regional accents write in their own accents or in RP [H.]
- Do poems on particular subjects tend to have characteristic sound patterns beyond the particular tendencies of their writers? [H.]
- In translating poem, how much voice does a translater
give to the new version? How does the voice compare? [R.D.]
- Does a "school" of poets have a single voice? For example, how does
the voice of the first New York school of poets differ from the second? [R.D.]
- Does the poet have a voice? Can the technique
"fingerprint" a poet? [R.D.]
- Is the poet's voice gendered? [R.D.]
The program won't be able to resolve any issues relating to
meaning or emotional effect. The following examples are beyond the program's
The best the program can do in such situations is to present the
sonic evidence impartially to facilitate human interpretation. For example,
in the Auden poem above, maybe other lines have at least as many fricatives.
The program will be written using Java. Ideally it will be extendable so extra
modules/add-ons can be plugged in.
The project might be broken down into these stages
- "the movement of D through the poem carries a lot of emotional
movement. In the first stanza, D appears in a static scene: 'old dog
afraid', 'shadow', 'told', 'blind', 'shadows', 'woods',
'worried dog', 'down'. It reappears in the second, again in a static
context: the watching villagers, what they feel ('everybody
stood...death'). But the D is active too now: from 'made me remember'
to the new 'dog' who triggers the action and is 'made' to fly. D is
left behind as 'Night' comes 'down' and the 'dog' escapes on wings" [Padel]
- "The fourth line is full of
wet 's' sounds", "'fingers fluttering' ... gives a light, feathery,
insubstantial quality". "The alliterative 'p's of the final line are ...
positive and strong" [p.21]. "The 't' and 'd' sounds weigh the images and
slow them down" [p.120] [Curtis]
- "The three initial v sounds in line 1 are like piercing arrows of pain", Henri Peyre, of Baudelaire's "Harmonie du Soir"
- "Bellflowers, seldom seen now, stellar, trim." Note the
triple statement of the el(l) sound counterpointed
against the duple m; the narrowing of el(l)'s vowel to ee
and i - boldly interrupted by recapitulation of ow; and
the modulation of s through st to t. - Of Talisman, by
Peter Dale. W.G. Shepherd in Agenda 33.1.
- "In 'on the wet road between the chafing grass' (from Auden's
'The Watershed') 'chafing' 'allows us to hear through its
lingering vowel and caressing fricative the whisper and friction of wind
along a hillside" - Heaney, The Government of the Tongue, p.123
- "'Pompey', in sound, is a dark distorted shadow of 'Emperor' and of
its crouching echo, 'temporal' - a shadow upside down, one might say,
for in 'Emporer' the sound dies down in hollow darkness, whereas in
'Pompey' it begins in thick muffling animal darkness and then rises,
dying away into a little thin whining air" - Edith Sitwell, of her poem
Each processing stage will produce a file in a standard format (if an
appropriate one exists) that won't normally be viewed by users, though it
may be advantageous to make them tweakable by people who know what they're
doing, so where possible they'll be text files. If the output of the
text-to-phoneme stage was editable, then users
could do fine tuning themselves. For example the rules
on whether one pronounces "the" as "thee" or "thu" aren't clear, and may
- Input - Deal with text files rather than sound (which is too difficult).
Word files will need to be supported. Maybe antiword or similar could be used
to convert these into (say) Unicode.
- Text Processing - From the Unicode count lines, stanzas,
enjambments, indentation, questions, exclamations, and check for letter-matches at the end of lines. The output
from this could be in textual form
- Conversion from Unicode into phonemes - this is a big task if
various natural languages and dialects are to be supported. IPA notation
will be used as output. See the Technical Appendix for details.
- Phoneme Processing -
The output from this could be in textual form.
- Count syllables (not trivial? - "memory", "interest", etc - some form of look-up may be
- Determine stresses - this may be hard (see What makes a stress strong?) but it's necessary in order to do alliteration and rhyme analysis properly. Also the stressed
sounds are likely to play a larger role than unstressed sounds in perceived
patterns. See the Technical Appendix for details.
- Check line-ending sounds - (provide an option for full/half rhyme).
If the pattern is regular, identify the pattern (sonnet, etc). Otherwise,
note the rhyming lines (especially a final couplet) of an irregularly rhymed piece
- Check for regular alliteration - common in Anglo-Saxon verse.
See the Technical Appendix for details.
- Check sound groups -
There are various ways to group sounds.
The use of these ways needs thought - there may other types of grouping more applicable
in this circumstance. It may also be useful
to note transitions - tongue-twisting phrases are noteworthy (they may
make readers slow down even if they're reading silently), and there may
be phoneme combinations which some people physically enjoy saying.
See the Technical Appendix for details.
- Check all sounds - See if any are more frequent than expected.
See if there are clusters or trails. This to me is the most interesting part
of the project.
- Report Generation - Combining the output from these 2 phases the program could
etc and produce a human-readable report about a piece of text.
- decide if indentation is used to highlight rhyme pattern
- identify sight rhymes (where there's textual endlinematch but no
- If stanzas are nearly regular, measure the deviation from
- Produce Graphics output - If graphics are to be of any use they
should at least be able to show how very different Gray's Elegy is from
a piece of Sports journalism.
The graph below shows the concentration of I: (the bottom surface),
W and L sounds in the 1st stanza of Gray's Elegy.
The top surface shows the concentration of 'L' sounds. The nearest edge represents line 4. Note the humps at syllables 2 and 4 corresponding to 'leaves' and
'world' in the text (which is above). Note also the ridges along the 2nd and 6th syllable marks
- indeed, many of the 'L' sounds fall on stressed syllables.
This image was produced using a program called Matlab which makes it easy to
rotate and manipulate, but
it's not yet clear how best to exploit these possibilities. I suspect that
words on the same line interact more with each other than words on different
lines (except at line-endings) even if, physically, the words on different
lines are much closer to each other. Also effects at edge points are probably
more important than ones in the middle.
Perhaps there could be a mode designed to analyse individual lines.
How might one use color and animation to show the dynamics of lines like
those of William Barnes above?
- What kinds of user-input might be supported?
- Look-up tables could be extended by users
- Users may want to control how closely matched sounds should be before
they're considered identical.
- There should also be a batch facility
so that trends in bodies of work can be identified, and typical/atypical
examples can be selected.
- We need to find out what facilities would be useful to various levels of
- Any graphical display will require a rich graphical user interface
- How "open" should the program structure be?
- If modules (e.g. the text-to-phoneme unit) had clearly defined interfaces,
users could replace the default modules with more sophisticated versions.
- If there were support for [3rd party] plug-ins, users could add support
for Acrostic detection, or add an OULIPOPI (an Oulipo Plug-In). If a core
program could be produced with a plug-in facility and a proof-of-concept
add-on or 2, then many feature-related design decisions could be deferred.
- What kind of sound effects are perceptable? - If a passage of text used f twice
as much as usual, would anyone notice? More generally, how should one establish
the norms which the sound effects being sought presumably stand out from?
Relative phoneme frequency in poetry is likely to differ from that of prose
(poetry uses "the" less, for example).
- How much emphasis should there be on form-detection? -
The program could be written such that it would deal with regularity (of
sound, line-length, stanza shape) as a special case of repetition,
and exact repetition (at various scales: "identical rhyme";
lines of a villanelle; choruses) as a special case of similarity. However,
I suspect that people will expect the program to detect simple forms, so
there may be pressure to focus on forms.
Given that much of the preparatory work will already have been done,
there's a temptation to develop the "Name that Form" part of the program.
Could this be made into a separate module? What information would such a
- What general pattern recognition features could be employed? - this
project partly involves
trying to match a text to a Standard Form (e.g. identify a text as a Sonnet)
and then trying to find differences between the text and the Standard
Form. Just as the features which an image-processor might use to
distiguish a face from a non-face might not be those used to distinguish
between faces, so there may well need to be a two-stage feature
identification stage in this project. Even if the features in the 2 stages
are the same, the focus will be different - in stress analysis for example,
the 1st stage might try to determine whether the metre's mainly IP, and only
then in the 2nd stage could one look for promotions/deletions, etc.
- What should the balance be between what is possible and what is
useful - because we aren't going to take into account any semantic
aspects, the program's performance won't always be able to match that
- Conversion from Unicode to Phonemes -
I doubt whether many readers worry about what accent the writer meant the
piece to be performed in. Even if they do, it's not clear whether the
question can be answered or how much notice should be taken of the answer.
The subsequent analysis of phoneme patterns is largely independent of this
issue, so perhaps initially one text-to-phoneme option will be enough. Slot-in replacements shouldn't
problematic to incorporate later.
- Text Processing -
Taking the first 2 stanzas of Gray's Elegy, the output of the
textual analysis might look something like this
1 indent=0 enjamb=1 endlinematches=3
2 indent=1 enjamb=1 endlinematches=4
3 indent=0 enjamb=1 endlinematches=1
4 indent=1 enjamb=0 endlinematches=2
6 indent=0 enjamb=1 endlinematches=8
7 indent=1 enjamb=1 endlinematches=9
8 indent=0 enjamb=1 endlinematches=6
9 indent=1 enjamb=0 endlinematches=7
1 lines=4 enjamb=0.75
2 lines=4 enjamb=0.75
Here enjamb takes the value 2 if there's full enjambment and 1 if
there's a comma at the end of the line.
- Sound Groupings -
sibilants (s, sh, z, x), fricatives (f,v, and sibilants), plosives (p, b), dentals (t, d, th), nasals (m, n, ng), liquids (l, r), gutterals (g, k) and vowels (high/medium/low, front/central/back) - perhaps
these could be color-coded with options so that the user can control which to show. Probably using Java's graphics or OpenGL from C++. Or maybe Visual C++.
There are various ways to group sounds. Consonants for example can be grouped
- by place of articulation - bilabial - p b m;
labiodental - f v;
dental - th;
alveolar - (ridge at top of mouth) t d l n s z;
palato-alveolar - z;
palatal - q;
velar k g ng;
- manner of articulation - complete closure (plosives - p b t d k g,
affricate - s, nasal - ng); intermittent closure (roll - r, flap); partial closure (lateral); narrowing (fricative - th s z); frictionless continuent - w v j;
- the presence or absence of voice
- the position of the soft palate
- Phoneme Analysis -
The textual output of the phoneme analysis might be something like
1 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0001010000 endlinematches=3
2 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0100011001 endlinematches=4
3 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0100010000 endlinematches=1
4 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0101000000 endlinematches=2
6 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0001010000 endlinematches=8
7 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0100010101 endlinematches=9
8 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0000110001 endlinematches=6
9 syllables=10 stress=121212121212 L=0000110001 endlinematches=7
1 Ldensity=19 Rhymedensity=100 Metreconformity=100
2 Ldensity=22 Rhymedensity=100 Metreconformity=100
The stress of each syllable is rated on a scale of 1 to 4, so each line
here has 10 digits in the stress variable. The L variable indicates
whether syllables have an 'L'. The Ldensity variable counts the instances of
L in each stanza, Ls on stresses getting bonus points. Many sounds could
receive similar treatment but in this sample we'll keep things simple.
The output from the text and phoneme analysis could be combined with information about the poem (title,
date, etc) into an XML file for future batch processing.
<TITLE>Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard</TITLE>
- The program (I didn't write a line of it) looked like this in Dec 2003. It works with
Windows, MacOSX and HP's Unix (click to see the full size image).
Not all the buttons are functional yet though.
Let's first take a simple case. You wouldn't think that identifying a
poem as a sonnet is difficult - after all, schoolchildren do it. You've
probably done it yourself.
Before looking at the meaning, one might count the lines and the syllables,
then look at the rhythm and rhyme.
- Graphical Patterns - "A purely graphic theory of prosodic measurement has inevitable limitations. Because the ear dominates prosodic theory, auditory phenomena will continue to take precedence in the writing and analysing of verse
Where auditory patterns are strong, typography will be considered secondary. Where auditory patterns are weak, poetry will be accused of being prose. Many readers feel that strong visual patterns do not compensate for the loss of rhyme schemes and scansions." [Cushman, p.72]
- Indentation - Before the Romantics,
indentations signified auditory phenomena. Though the Romantic poets did not
invent verse paragraphing, their use of indentation sometimes, as in prose,
corresponds to content, not to rhyme or meter
- Enjambment - the pattern and severity of
enjambment can be a structural device.
- In order to discuss line-sentence counterpointing, one must be able to distinguish a line from a sentence. Whereas we can tell a line at a glance, it is not so simple with a sentence. A sentence must fulfill certain grammatical criteria to be a sentence; yet in reading we usually rely on the conventions of capitalisation and punctuation to define its boundaries [Cushman, p.29]
- "Enjambment is difficult to define. It takes many forms, some of which defy simple classification:
Saintsbury - the overlapping in sense and utterence, of one verse on another, or of one couplet on another (1910);
Golomb - the occurrence of a line boundary at a point where the structure of the preversified text, for reasons of syntax, ligual meaning and/or literary interpretation, does not permit the oral execution of a pausal juncture (1980).
Any classification of the various types of enjambment inevitably runs into trouble.
... Fowler - the smaller the grammatical unit concerned, the greater is its resistance to being stretched over a metrical boundary" [Cushman, p.31]
- Stress analysis - Guirre's rules (Gimson, p.237) may help for single words, but context influences too. Some forms are
based on a regular, repeated pattern of weighted and unweighted syllables
(for example a form might be based on "iambic pentameter"). Stresses often
don't completely match the beats - if they do, the result often sound like
doggerel. Sometimes an extra unstressed syllable is added, or the
odd stressed-unstressed pair bucks the meter. In some cases where the
natural stressed-unstressed pattern isn't strong, the meter may cause readers
to "promote" a stressed syllable and "demote" a stressed one.
- Check for regular alliteration - In the Anglo-Saxon verse form each line has four or five stressed syllables, at least two of which start with the same consonant sound, usually with at least one syllable in the first half of the line alliterating with at least one in the second half. The Anglo-Saxons used this form for verse as short as riddles or as long as Beowulf. Tolkien's "song of the Mounds of Mundberg" has 3 like-sounds per line -
We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
- Counting lines isn't a problem, but even Shakespeare wrote 12 line sonnets.
- Syllable-counting isn't trivial - words like "library" can be 2 or 3
syllable. In fixed form poems the metre helps determine how these words
should be pronounced, but then one has a chicken-and-egg problem. Also
not all sonnet lines are 10-syllable (one of Shakespeare's is 8-syllable),
and extra non-stressed syllables aren't uncommon.
- Rhyme can be weak or strong, or on occasion non-existent. There are also
"sight-rhymes" (pairs like
"bough" and "rough" which on paper looks as if they should rhyme). There's
the issue of dialects to address - did "dove" and "move" rhyme for Shakespeare?
- Rhythm is perhaps the hardest feature to assess objectively. Whole books
have been devoted to how lines can be variously analysed in terms of
"feet", and how the stresses of natural language interact with the
fixed meter (the two moving in and out of phase, one sometimes dragging the
Even a fixed form like a sonnet has varieties with family resemblances.
Much of this analysis depends on assessing deviations from some model
form, but even with a form as venerable as a sonnet, finding the most
appropriate model form is non-trivial.
There are 100s of other fixed forms (increasingly being imported
and adapted from other cultures). Identifying the form of a poem may
require searching for features in a way that isn't useful when studying
a poem in a known genre (similarly, the factors used to find a face amongst
a crowd of objects may not be the factors used to distinguish between one
face and another).
Some fixed forms are hard for readers to detect (though might be easier
for computers). E.g.
- syllabics (where the number of syllables per line matters)
- widely separated (though regular) end-rhyme - Dylan Thomas was disappointed when people failed to notice that a poem of his had the first line rhyming with the last, the 2nd with the penultimate, etc.
- "Dick Davis and Auden have both written poems in which the second line
of a couplet rhymes with the first half of a two-syllable word at the end of the previous line" (Susan McLean)
- the OuLiPo group tried to expand literature by borrowing formal patterns from such other domains as mathematics, logic or chess. Raymond Queneau experimented with many such forms
- palindromes and acrostics aren't always easy to notice
Nowadays poetry is predominantly free-form, and that's where the trouble really
begins. Patterns of sound aren't regular - indeed their existence shouldn't even
Here is an extract from Ruth Padel's book showing the scale of the problem
Achilles, the key name, appears in every stanza. Its central syllable is repeated in the first stanza ("until", "filled", "building", with a sideways echo in "curled" ...), reappears in the second, resonates in the third with "built" and "still" (plus an echo in "full"). and reaches a climax in "killer": bringing out the fact that "Achilles" has the sound of that word "kill" in his name
Why bother analysing in this way? Well, though texts have meaning as the
result of matching words to the world, there's also a non-representational
aspect. Such effects have been studied in music, where expectation, variation
and repetition produce something which at least some theorists term "meaning".
These non-representational effects can be foregrounded by reducing the literal
meaning of the text and increasing the density of sound effects. Charms and
incantations exploit sound in this way.
Although a computer might not be able to detect all the features of
interest to humans, I think it should help add some much-needed
objectivity to discussions. In particular, the ability to perform
bulk processing makes possible investigations that can't be done by hand.
"Take care of the sense and the sounds will look after themselves" (the Duchess to Alice)
From the start of this project we've made it clear that the meanings of words
won't be determined. Words are going to be atomised into phonemes (seemingly
destroying any hope of recovering meaning) and then patterns sought.
People have always known that some words have sounds that are related to their
meaning (chickens cluck and cows moo) but when Saussure announced the
arbitrariness of the sign and emphasised that the words in a language are
meaningful by virtue of their difference from each other, the relationship of
sound to the world was overlooked.
Several changes in recent years have rekindled interest in sound
All this is leading people to believe that
"Arbitrary and conventional is a fitting description of distinctive
sounds, less so of words, even less of sentences, and beyond that scarcely
fits at all", "Language. The Loaded Weapon", Bolinger, Longman, 1980, p.18.
- Cheap computing and the wider availability of electronic texts
- A realisation that word sounds aren't as arbitrary as once assumed (which became clearer as bigger samples were studied)
True there are many exceptions ('big' for example) but amongst the evolutionary
pressures on words is that imposed by the suitability of the sound
- "there is evidence of something very close to metaphoric quality in the tendency to associate a few types of language sounds with certain quantitative measures,
such as frequent occurrence of high front vowels in words which denote
smallness" [Galt, p.96]
- there is a widespread (presumably intercultural) intuition that the
rounded back vowels are dark [Tsur, p.129]
- The Importance of pragmatics is more appreciated - meaning is not merely in the content. Incantation (and music) work because of the form.
- "As poetry becomes a kind of music, language suffers a subtle transmutation, in which semantic meaning is doubled, and at times even displaced, by the musical one"[Rosu, p.14]
- "Music (or sound) must thus be regarded as another dimension of language not less important than syntax and semantics, although it is usually underestimated because we are accustomed to viewing sound as a conventional, material
carrier of meaning" [Rosu, p.14]
- The idea that music can have meaning - "Repetition, combined with variation, forms a pattern that creates expectations that, in turn, either may be fulfilled and give satisfaction or may be frustrated and create suspense" [Rosu, p.60]. The study of how music affects emotion has gained popularity lately
(brain-scan techniques have helped)
- Analysis of poetry suggests that phoneme analysis can help deduce
- "it can now be said with some certainty that the conspicuous presence or absence of certain consonant sounds in a poem can help to determine whether the reader will be inclined to perceive that poem as 'musical' or 'non-musical' in tone". [Galt, p.20]
- "there may be a relatively high correlation between the 'meaning' of
poems and their vowel patterns"[Galt, p.61]
- "As my analysis of the mechanism underlying the statistical
correlations between back vowels and such qualities as 'mystic
obscurities' and 'hatred and struggle' may suggest, far from being
confined to nonaesthetic processes, cognitive poetics provides
powerful tools for understanding the relationship between aesthetic
qualities and their nonaesthetic perceptual conditions as well as the
significant relationships between two or more aesthetic qualities" [Tsur, p.51]
- "It would appear, then, that the impressionistic-subjective
distinction concerning the 'beauty' of some speech sounds and the
'ugliness' of some others can be translated into two pairs of objective or
intersubjective opposites. First, the latest acquisitions [the sounds learnt
latest by babies] may assume greater emotional or aesthetic intensity
than earlier ones, for better or worse. Second, within the late acquisitions,
continuous and periodic sounds are beautiful, whereas the interrupted,
aperiodic sounds are ugly" [Tsur, p.66]
The rise of the status of sound (and of pragmatics) helps especially when
Stevens (increasingly seen as the major 20th century US poet).
So rather than merely supporting the meaning, sound can be a creator of meaning.
recognition is performed in a different place in the brain to where other
sounds are heard, and music activates several widely spaced brain regions.
Tsur et al suggest that some poetic effects are caused by this contribution
from the sound/music processing regions when processing words.
current methods to identify these effects (performed by humans or computers) aren't reliable. Although
some sound pattens have been analysed for centuries, many of those used in free-form
poetry haven't been systematically studied, in particular the "Divergent sound patterns [that] form interwoven threads, move
crisscross over relatively large areas of text, and are diffused in an
unpredictable order. These sound patterns tend to be perceived more or less
unawares and to fuse in undifferentiated but intense musical texture characterized by an emotional quality" [Tsur p.57]
A program that could do some of the analysis would be a valuable and
- "Literary critics and ordinary readers usually have strong intuitions
about the expressiveness of sound patterns in poetry. A vast literature
exists on the subject; however, much of it is ad hoc, arbitrary, or skeptical"
- "As readers we might very well not be fully aware of all these
sophisticated constructions, and certainly they do not by any means require
to be consciously apprehended in order for us to enjoy, or even fully
understand, a poem; phonosymbolic correspondences seem to operate at a
more subliminal level"
"The power of verse stems from an indefinable harmony between what
it says and is...This harmony must not be definable. When
it is, it becomes imitative, and that is not good", Valery, Tel Quel,
Basil Bunting is quoted (probably incorrectly) as saying that "Poetry is only sounds". In "Bunting: the shaping of his verse" (Peter Makin, 1992, OUP), Makin
looks at some of the attacks made on this extreme position.
William Empson (in "Seven Types of Ambiguity") and Peter Dale
(in "Bunting and the Quonk and Groggle School", Agenda 16/1, 1978, p.55)
both put forward objections addressed by Makin in a section entitled "On the
Centrality of Sound in Poetry" (p.337). According to Makin (p.247) objectors often
- Simplify sound-related effects - reduce them to one factor (e.g. lip-gesturing) or simplify a factor (e.g. making stress a binary feature)
- Leave out the issue of meaning
Makin thinks that
Bunting meant that sound patterns were only essential in poetry, and that
poetry could exist on sound-play alone (Bunting said "It is perfectly possible to delight an audience by reading poetry of
sufficient quality in a language it does not know", ("The Poet's Point of
View", Diary of the North-Eastern Association of the Arts, 1966)).
He thinks that "Bunting's main claim ... is not that the sound will tell the
hearer the meaning...It is that the sound gives us something as complex,
as internally differentiated, and therefore as structurable (by the maker)
as that semantic map, with all its finesses." and that "What we analogize
from, in poem-sounds, may not be the sounds of consonants and vowels themselves,
but of the shift from one type to another; or from one movement of words
to another" (p.246). This, I think, was also Valéry's position - sound and
sense can be consciously separated variables.
- "Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction", Derek Attridge, Cambridge University
- "The Making of a Poem, A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms", Eavan Boland and Mark Strand, WW Norton, New York/London, 2000.
- "Modernist Form", J. S. Childs, Associated University Presses, 1986.
- "How to study modern poetry", Tony Curtis, MacMillan, 1990.
- "William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure", Stephen Cushman, Yale Univ Press, 1985
- "An Introduction to Rhyme", Peter Dale, Agenda/Bellew, 1998
- "Poetic Meter and Poetic Form", Paul Fussell, McGraw-Hill, 1979
- "Sound and Sense in the Poetry of Theodor Storm", Alan B. Galt, Herbert Lang, 1973
- "An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English (third edition)", A.C. Gimson, Edward Arnold, 1980
- "Sound and Form in Modern Poetry", Harvey Gross, Univ of Michigan Press, 1964
- "Language as Choice and Chance", Gustav Herdan, Gronigen, 1956
- "Sound Symbolism", Hinton, Nichols and Ohala (eds), CUP, 1994
- "Rhyme's Reason", John Hollander,Yale University Press, 1999
- "The Sound Shape of Language", Jakobson and Waugh, Mouton De Gruyter, 1979
- "The Noise Made by Poems", Peter Levi, Anvil, 1977
- "Emotion and Meaning in Music", Leonard Meyer, Univ of Chicago Press, 1957
- "52 Ways of Looking at a Poem", Ruth Padel, Chatto & Windus, 2002
- "The Art of the Rhyme", BJ Pendlebury, Chatto & Windus, 1971
- "The Sounds of Poetry", Robert Pinsky, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1998
- "The Metaphysics of Sound in Wallace Stevens", Anca Rosu, Univ of Alabama Press, 1995
- "Hypnotic Poetry: A Study of Trance-Inducing Technique in Certain Poems and its Literary Significance", D.Snyder, 1930
- "Missing Measures", Timothy Steele, University of Arkansas Press, 1990
- "What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive?", Reuven Tsur, Duke Univ Press, 1992
- "The Book of Forms", Lewis Turco, University Press of New England, 2000
- "Phonosymbolism and Poetic Language", Patrizia Violi (ed), Brepols Publishers, 2000
- "The Chances of Rhyme", R.Wesling, Univ of California Press, 1980.
- "Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms", Miller Williams,
Louisiana State University Press, 1986
- The Association for Computational Linguistics
- Research Centre For English and Applied Linguistics (Cambridge)
- A Treasury of Alliterative and Accentual Poetry
- Gwenllian's Poetry Primer
- Types of Rhyme
- Poetry Scanner
- "Virtual Verse Analysis: Analysing
Patterns in Poetry" in "Literary and Linguistic Computing", V21, Suppl
Issue 2006, by Marc R. Plamondon - "This article discusses the problem of
computer identification of some basic patterns in poetry: rhythm and
rhyme" - see http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/short/21/suppl_1/127
The program (called "AnalysePoems", written in Visual Basic + .NET) was used
to classify poems in a database. It
doesn't do TTP conversion - it looks up syllable decomposition, stress and
rhyme in a database. When given a word not in the database it asks the user
to provide syllable decomposition and accent info. Even though it doesn't
focus on iambic pentameter it rather assumes a regular metrical form.
- Computer-Assisted Phonetic Analysis of English Poetry: A Preliminary Case Study of Browning and Tennyson by Marc R. Plamondon from "TEXT Technology"
I've been trying to think of the factors that determine the impact of a
sound. As a rule of thumb I've decided that a sound is strengthened if
- the neighbouring sound is the same
- it's on a stress, and the next stress is the same sound
- if it's at the end of a line and there's an end-rhyme
- if it's at the start of a line and the next line begins with
the same sound
I've knocked together something in matlab which calculates
and displays these figures. It's more psychologically realistic than
merely counting the sounds.
Here's some functionality which could be contained in add-ons or could pro
tem go into the core
- Form Identification - An important feature, and I'd expect your program to
be able to identify at least some common forms, e.g. haiku (3 lines, 5/7/5
syllable count); limerick (5 lines, AABBA rhyme scheme); syllabics (where
each stanza has the same pattern of syllables/line); sonnet (14 iambic
pentameter rhyming lines; vilanelle (where lines are repeated); terza rima
(3-lines stanzas with an interlocking rhyme scheme ABA BCB CDC etc) and
word-count patterns (one of the most famous and reviled poems is "The Red
Wheelbarrow" - I didn't realise until a month ago that its 4 2-line stanzas
all follow a 3-word/1-word pattern)
A Form Identification Module/Add-on needs as input knowledge of the number
of stanzas, the lines/stanza, the words/line, syllables/line, the beat
pattern, the rhyme pattern, and whether lines are repeated. Some of the
forms are easy to identify (word-count forms are easier for a computer to
identify than for a human to identify). Others (especially when the rules
of the form are only partly observed) are hard.
Form Identification (at least in a crude form) is such an integral part of
poetry that there's a case for having it in the core, but there are 100s of
forms, and new ones are being invented, so plug-in Form Identifiers would
be useful. Sonnets have such a long history and have such variety that they
might well merit a plug-in one that reports the sonnet's conformance to the
Phoneme density - Reports on anomalies - lines, stanza,
or poems that have a statistically significant imbalance of certain
phomenes. As input it needs to know what phonemes are on each line, and it
need a knowledge of expected phoneme usage.
End-stoppiness - What % of lines end with punctation?
What % of stanzas end with punctuation? Easy to do, but measures a useful
Language features - Av sentence length. Word-length
analysis. Again, easy to do but useful, even for researchers. One research
paper I saw concluded that rhyming poetry had shorter words, especially
towards the end of lines.
Metrical Deviancy - Having determined the expected rhythm
(e.g. iambics) how often does the poem stray?
Repetition Counter - Form usually involves repetition,
but that repetition can be at various levels - blocks of lines can be
repeated (Chorus), single lines can be repeated (vilanelle), stanzas can
repeat the shape of other stanza, the rhythm or word/syllable count of a
line can be repeated, the sound at the end of a line can be repeated, and
with aliteration, neighbouring sound are similar. A module could count the
amount of repetition on each of these levels
We're grateful to the following for their help
- R.D. - Roger Day
- J.C. - John Constable
- H. - H Roland Angus R