BH head-dependent asymmetry and poetic meter

Vincent DeCaen decaen at
Mon Apr 29 09:45:35 EDT 2002

dear friends,

i had a very exciting breakthrough this weekend, and i couldn't keep from 
sharing the good news...   ;-)

it seems like i've been working on tiberian phonology and masoretic 
studies forever. the details of processes and the complexity of the accent 
system are enough to make a brave man weep.  i'd decided that progress 
would require a thorough investigation of phonology as instantiated in the 
tiberian poetic accent system (job, proverbs, psalms), the more 
constrained and finely-grained of the two systems.

empirical coverage requires distinguishing extrametrical vs. metrical 
syllables;  surface-long vs. underlyingly long vowels;  metrical feet and 
their organization into prosodic units and eventually the phonological 
word; rules for secondary accents and the several uses of maqqef. i think 
i have a prosodic hierarchy that makes sense of quite a bit.... (finally!)

but the crowning insight belongs to Dresher and van der Hulst (1998), 
"Head-dependent asymmetries in phonology: complexity and visibility", 
Phonology 15:  317-352.  phonological structure, specifically the 
visibility of branching, is asymmetrical in Tiberian Hebrew in systematic 
ways. this explains why syllables behave like feet, e.g., or feet like 
words, when in prosodically dominant positions; and contrariwise.

it just so happens that this tiberian asymmetry accounts for metrical 
patterns, and even the distribution of variations, across almost all 
hebrew poetry (as far as I can see).  there is a unified treatment of 
tetrameters, pentameters and hexameters that is a beauty to behold. there 
is a fundamental unity of the principles of cantillation (prosodics) and 
hebrew poetry (metrics):  perhaps not surprisingly, in retrospect.

i hope to summarize this approach in a programmatic paper before the end 
of the week, for comment.  i hope this paper will be included in a 
collection on generative metrics forthcoming this year. i will notify the 
list when the paper is available for download from my website.

Vincent DeCaen, Ph.D. <decaen at>
University of Toronto

Hebrew Syntax Encoding Initiative (HSEI)
Have you heard the one about the accountant?

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