BH metre, counting?

Vincent DeCaen decaen at
Tue Dec 17 10:11:52 EST 2002

i accept the proofs that, as commonly understood, there is no 
classical-like meter in the strict counting sense. but any review of 
poetries of the world might make you think again.... ;-)  would sanskrit 
metres count as classical enough, e.g.?

here are some issues.

(1) tiberian phonology obviously has "extrametricality", in the sense 
common in the theoretical literature. in then becomes an empirical 
question: which syllables are extrametrical, and does it matter? (there 
may also be differences among poets in treatment...)

(2) what is the metrical foot? in tiberian phonology, there is an iambic 
dipod, but its description is still an open question.

(3) what is a stress = phonological word? the accents may be a misleading 
guide. for instance, there are multiple uses of maqqef, not all of which 
may mark "stress" in this sense.

(4) crucially, why a separate system of cantillation just for poetry? what 
is cantillation as a prosodic representation? and what is the relation to 

so, what am i counting? it's an empirical question. but here are further 

(5) in poetry of the world, there are classical types that distinguish 
between free "initials" vs fixed final "cadences". so there may be 
prosodic regularities only over a fixed length of verse, counting from the 

(6) on a related note, there is the problem of asymmetry in prosodic 
systems:  what might count as a "unit" may be a syllable in some 
environments, foot in others, something further in others.

(7) why is poetic cantillation fixed in top-down depth, but more 
fine-grained in terms of syllables and feet? do they know something we 
don't ... ?

here's what i'm counting: prosodic structure from the top verse node, all 
the way down to the syllables and their typology. here's what i've found.

Jonah 2: pentameter in terms of prosodic word; regularities in the 
distribution of types at all prosodic levels.

Lamentations 3: foot counting hexameter; generally pentasyllabic cadence. 
fussier than Jonah over so-called "degenerate" feet.

is there Hebrew meter? of course there is.  if i'm on the right track, 
you'd expect relatively wide ranges centred on the unmarked cases at the 
level of syllable, foot and word. but b-lines and b-cola should be very 

question to list-members:
in these terms, what do you see in the final line of the Jonah 2 psalm, 
where the unmarked line must surface ex hypothesi....? do you see a 
regular decasyllabic, 3-2 line, branching on the leftmost node as expected 
under asymmetry....? cf. final line with second line, the second most 
prominent line.....

Dr Vincent DeCaen
Research Associate
Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
University of Toronto

Hebrew Syntax Encoding Initiative (HSEI)
Look for massive consolidation and brutal job cuts ahead. 
It won't be pretty. 
--from recent BusinessWeek headline

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list