Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Phone Deaf

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #56
     Some people cannot locate stresses, even in their own writing.

     In a single critical thread on Eratosphere one phone deaf newcomer mistook "pomegrantates" as a dactyl ("pom(e)|granates", not even getting the number of syllables correct) rather than as a diamb, and "persimmons" as a bachius ("per|simmons") rather than as an amphibrach.  Elsewhere, he tried to present this as a line of perfect iambic pentameter:

the dead|ness in | the orch|ard, the | wren’s sigh,

     Those who don't suffer from this affliction will hear the line as:

the dead|ness in | the orch|ard, the | wren’s sigh,

     ...which works well as a line of iambic pentameter:  iamb (de-DUM), pyrrhus (de-de), iamb (de-DUM), double iamb (i.e. pyrrhus, then spondee:  de-de DUM-DUM).

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #55
     Ironically, the sufferer cited a definition:  "In linguistics, prosody...is the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech."  The operative word there is speech

     If you have a problem imagining where stresses lie insert the line into a paragraph of text¹ and have someone else read it aloud.  Perhaps you can hear the accented syllables.  Consult a dictionary to parse the enunciation of polysyllabic words.  Among monosyllabic ones, nouns and verbs tend to be stressed while less significant words (e.g. articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) are usually not.  (Pronouns could go either way.)  Be patient.  The problem will usually dissipate with practice. 

     Others will have a less pronounced case of phone deafness.  This leads us to two points:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #31
1.   Contrary to delusions caused by an over-reliance on text in an aural/oral medium, guessing where stresses are intended is not a function of scansion or prosody.  It is a related to performance, equally applicable to prose/rhetoric and poetry.  Regardless of whether you are rehearsing "Long Day's Journey into Night" or the iambic pentameter "Hamlet", if you start pounding on every second or third syllable your director is bound to interrupt, asking "Why are you speaking unnaturally?"

     Poetry being a verbal art, scansion begins after a competent reciter has decided where the stresses land.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #37
2.  Promotion and demotion are myths.  There really is such a thing as a pyrrhic foot.²  No, really.  Take the word "in" from the line cited above:

the dead|ness in | the orch|ard, the | wren’s sigh,

    Some will consider "in" accented "by position", as if poetry performers should underscore the metronome by "promoting" a pyrrhus to the base iambic rhythm.  Some might argue that the number of feet and beats must coincide, such that, for example, pentameter verses must have 5 stresses.  Thus, any line with a spondee would have to contain a pyrrhus and vice verse.  Needless to say, no such "rule" exists.  Indeed, this is a key difference between accentual and accentual-syllabic verse. 

    The preposition "in" isn't stressed, just as the article, "the", isn't.³

    If the symptoms of phone deafness persist watch Shakespearean theater.

    Lots of Shakespearean theater.


¹ - The idea is to disguise the text as prose in order to avoid the tendency of some to overstress the base rhythm.

² - This may be a carryover from Edgar Allan Poe's career-ending misadventure into prosody, "The Rationale of Verse", which included, among other gobsmacking errors, the assertion that there is no such thing as a spondee.  This, coupled with his inability to scan the initial section of Byron's "The Bride of Abydos", explains why Poe was unable to make a living as a poet at a time when the average grade school graduate understood scansion better than most PhD's do today.

³ - This isn't to say that "the" and "in" receive exactly the same level of stress.  In Otto Jesperson's 4-level scansion, "the" would be a one while "in" would be a two, both being unstressed.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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