Sound Pattern Quotes
"The Metaphysics of Sound in Wallace Stevens", Anca Rosu, Univ of Alabama Press, 1995
Provides a justification for claiming that sound can cause meaning - doesn't
help with program development, but makes its output more significant.
- p.x "My interest lies rather in the way sound works to dissolve meaning as we usually conceive of it and then reveals it again on another plane."
- p.12 "In order to achieve meaning, sounds have to refer to (repeat) other sounds", Coker, "Music and Meaning", p.60 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.
- p.14 "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"
- 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"
- p.17 The classic prejudice persists, however, that sound is secondary to meaning. The prejudice has been challenged by John Hollander, who, seeking to show the relation between sound and poetic meaning, discovers that sound pattern can play the role of an allegory or metaphor of the poem's content
the role of sound in language becomes clear only when expression becomes artistic, so that language exceeds its purely representational function
- p.43 The privilege given to sound changes the role of language from that of a means of representation to that of a generator of reality.
- p.44 Nonsense is a play against sense, a reversal of values, whereas magic operates in a different system altogether
"Sound and Sense in the Poetry of Theodor Storm", Alan B. Galt, Herbert Lang, 1973
Takes the life-work of a poet and classifies the pieces into musical/non-musical. Then does a phoneme analysis of the 2 classes. After that it classifies
the pieces according to subject and re-analyses. Lots of tables and useful
discussion, though since the experimenter also classified the poems, there's
doubt about the conclusions.
Also mentions how statistics from corpuses are a pain because of different
- p.1 The attempt will be made to show first that such terms as 'musical' and 'non-musical' are not only subjective or intuitive descriptions of poetic qualities, but may be defined in terms of phonological skew, i.e. deviation from the normal proportional distribution of sounds in poetic language
- p.7 Are there certain phonemes in German which, either by their presence or their absence, make one poem more musical than another?
- p.11 absolute rather than percentage differences from the norm are used to assess significance of difference from the norm.
- p.20 In summary, 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. The statistics suggest that many sounds have both a positive valence for 'musicality' and a negative valence for 'non-musicality' [or v.v.] Then there is a third class consisting of sounds which apparently have a valence (either positive or negative) for only one of the two qualities.
And finally, there are a few consonants [that] have no valence for either of these qualities.
- p.28 "An examination of the distinctive features shows that those vowels which are more "musical" are almost all 'diffuse'"
- p.34 Classified works by content - Love, Landscape, Politics - and analysed
Some categories had characteristic features, but at least some findings were inconclusive - love poems had a high incidence of "ich" sounds because the
German love poems used ich, mich, dich often.
- p.34 Hymes has observed that syllabic nuclei are a more sensitive measure of
variations between poems and poem classes than consonants
"Phonological Aspects of Style: Some English Sonnets" in "Style in English",
ed Thomas A Sebeok (Cambridge, Mass., 1960)
- p.61 "there may be a relatively high correlation between the "meaning" of
poems and their vowel patterns"
- p.78 Where it was speculated in the previous chapter that certain consonant skews were caused by an overabundance of particular classes of function words,
these speculations are generally confirmed by positive skews of the correlated
The present study has not succeeded in identifying and true metaphors of
meaning in the way vowels are used
- p.83 "Fónagy came to the conclusion  that the vowel sounds are less expressive of mood than the consonants"
- p.84 "one of the characteristics of 'tenderness' at least as chosen by this reader, may be a predominance of the reduced vowel in unstressed syllables, whereas 'aggressive' poems may be characterized by a tendency to fill even the unstressed metrical positions with full vowels"
- p.84 'tenderness' may be characterized by a tendency to use long vowels in stressed syllables in preference to short ones, in order to slow down the poetic rhythm
- p.84 This question of the effect of unstressed syllables would merit further investigation
- p.89 A table having entries like -
/l/ Positive skews in love poems and narratives: strong positive skews
in "tender" and "musical" poems. Negative skews in poems of family and
home, nostalgia, and humor, with a negative skew for "non-musical"
poems which is just below the level of significance. This phoneme
certainly distinguishes, in Storm's verse, between "musicality" and
its opposite, and its presence can evidently also contribute to a
feeling of "tenderness"
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 ... (Thus, for example, French poets are careful to avoid the word
'nuit' in passages which evoke a night mood, because the 'bright' vowel
- p.97 Some phonemic skews are the result of over-representation of
certain segments of the lexicon ... Not all such skews are beyond the poet's control, of course, but this lexical element may work more strongly upon
the phonological style than has been supposed
"What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive?", Reuven Tsur, Duke Univ Press, 1992
Cognitive Poetics, drawing on experimental psychology. Makes the point that Sound and
Speech are processed in different parts of the brain.
To these 2 modes he adds a 'Poetic Mode' which he accounts for "in terms of a
delay in recoding the acoustic stream of information into the
phonetic stream of information"
- p.1 "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"
- p.2 Traditional poetics has important things to say about how "tone,
mood etc" are abstracted from the meaning of the words. But how
are they abstracted from the speech sounds?
- p.2 Thus, the sibilants /s/ and /sh/ may have a hushing quality
in one context and a harsh quality to varying degrees in some others
- p.3 according to Fónagy, /l/ is overwhelmingly tender for Verlaine,
but not for Hugo
- p.13 "I received massive corroboration that nonphonetic acoustic
information may be available in the speech mode..." [he was worried that
once sound was converted to phomenes that the raw sound information would
- p.51 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
- p.57 Divergent sound patterns ... 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
- p.66 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
- p.74 Nasal vowels, then, entertain a special status in poetic language:
they have exceptionally great emotional effectiveness [partly because
these are least encoded - some precategorical sensory information reaches consciousness]
- p.76 Many poets and lay readers of poetry have perceived in the /r/ a
hard, menacing quality. This quality is derived, according to Fónagy
... from the phallic nature of the "strong erection of the tongue" in its
- p.129 there is a widespread (presumably intercultural) intuition that the
rounded back vowels are dark
- p.137 The most important single attempt to account for the perceptual,
emotional, and semantic values of speech sounds from the poetic as well as
psychological point of view is, I believe, Iván Fónagy's work
during the past few decades.
- p.155 One basic assumption of Cognitive Poetics is that in the poetic
mode some disturbance or delay occurs in the smooth functioning of some
"Phonosymbolism and Poetic Language", Patrizia Violi (ed), Brepols Publishers, 2000
Notes the trend away from Saussure's arbitrariness of the sign.
"Against arbitrariness: Imitation and Motivation Revived", Linda R. Waugh
- "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
- p.20 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
- p.29 But onomatopoeia is actually part of the more general question of
sound-symbolism proper, in which sound is related to a host of perceptual
and conceptual phenomena, associated synesthetically with sound. There
are many such associations discussed in the rich and in many cases quite
rigorous literature on this topic
- p.29 ... the nearly universal correlation between the inherently
higher-pitched front vowels like English ([i], [I], [e], ...) and smallness
and brightness (vs. the lower-pitched back vowels like [u],...[o]..., commonly
associated with bigness and darkness). Such relations form
part of the lexical fabric of English
- p.30 we chip a small piece but chop a large one
- p.30 eke out used to mean 'to make larger or longer, to increase'
- If the sounds do not fit, the relation between sound and meaning is more
neutral and the lack of motivation or even, in some cases, the incongruity
is not noticed... Moreover, speakers of a language differ widely in how salient the associations are for them
- p.32 The most widely studied [word families] are based on what have been called phonesthemes, small parts of words associated with some general meaning. The best known examples are English initials such as /fl-/
- p.37 The function of sound is, first, to establish differences between words and, second, to create a myriad of form-meaning identity associations across words
"Languages of Iconicity", Ivan Fónagy
- p.59 expressive distortion p.60 Irregular and expressive speech pauses can be reproduced in poetry by creating conflicts between rhythmic and metric structure
- p.63 The pictorial power of word structures relies on a playful poetic delusion which consists in taking words for building blocks, as they are often perceived by schizophrenics
"The Taoing of a Sound", Háj Ross
40 pages about the sounds in "The Tyger"
- p.110 The first thing that we note is that the sound [f] only occurs on even-numbered lines, and that it gangs with [r].
- p.117 "corridors", a word I use to describe cases in poems in which the
poet has placed all the elements of a certain type in such a way that they
describe simple geometric objects
- p.126 while all the words in the Tyger line except one are bisyllables, this line being the
most polysyllabic of the whole poem, all of the words in the Lamb line are
- p.129 The more meaning that the morpheme containing a segment has, the more salient will be that segment
"Sound and Form in Modern Poetry", Harvey Gross, Univ of Michigan Press, 1964
- p.12 Rhythm is neither outside of a poem's meaning nor an ornament
on it. Rhythmic structures are expressive forms, cognitive elements
- p.23 The poet who substitutes visual tricks for a surface of articulated
sound limits his range of feeling; he gives up the primary means by which feeling can be symbolised and apprehended
- p.28 The use of the monosyllabic foot does not seriously disturb the rhythmic stability of the line: it can smoothly substitute for iamb or trochee because the preceding or following pause is equivalent to the missing unstressed syllable. lines are syncopated or "sprung" when the monsyllabic foot, appearing in an otherwise regular metrical context, cannot be counted as catelectic
- p.39 We cannot subject rhythm and rhythmic values to the kind of
precise analysis that scansion accomplishes for meter. The notation of scansion
defines with comfortable accuracy metrical structure; the rhythms of even
the simplest poem are too complex to be ever completely analysed
- p.41 we must realise that rhythmic analysis is subjective and interpretive
- p.42 Hardy's prosody often fails as an expressive form. In too many of his
poems the versification is clumsy, neither subtle nor emphatic. Words are
forced into the metrical patterns; the meters themselves are frequently inappropriate to the subject
"William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure", Stephen Cushman, Yale Univ Press, 1985
- p.29 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
- p.31 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 [if it's easy to do we'll do it, otherwise ...]
- p.38 in addition to its representational function, whether mimetic or linguistic, enjambment carries out the work of organising Seafarer prosodically into a structural whole.
- p.54 In using indentation this way, Williams follows the typographic conventions of English poetry before the Romantics. Indentations signify auditory phenomena.
- p.57 the Romantic poets did not invent verse paragraphing; it appears, for example, throughout Paradise Lost.
Indentation here, as in prose, corresponds to content, not to rhyme or meter
- p.72 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.
- "Sound Symbolism", Hinton, Nichols and Ohala (eds), CUP, 1994
- "The Sound Shape of Language", Jakobson and Waugh, Mouton De Gruyter, 1979
- "Mathematik und Dichtung", Gunzenhauser and Kreuser, Munchen, 1965
- "Hypnotic Poetry: A Study of Trance-Inducing Technique in Certain Poems and its Literary Significance", D.Snyder, 1930 (about "hypnotic", "trance-inducing" poetry. Includes a study of Gray's Elegy) - in stanza 1 "every accented syllable save
one ... either ends in a vowel sound or involved a liquid or a nasal!"
- "Language as Choice and Chance", Gustav Herdan, Gronigen, 1956 -
main thesis - "a gradual whittling down of the supposedly all-powerful contribution of choice to language. Choice is still an important factor of individual style, although the style of different works of the author, or of the parts of a book, may show no greater differences than could be accounted for by chance."
- "Communication in Poetry", Ivan Fónagy, in Word 17 (1961), p.194
"If we know the topic and basic mood of a given poem, we can predict in what direction and approximately in what measure the relative frequency of certain sounds is likely to deviate from an index number based on statistics of the standard language"
- "Emotion and Meaning in Music", Leonard Meyer, Univ of Chicago Press, 1957
Updated November 2003