Metrical note

In my recent posting on double trochees and the Grelling-Nelson Paradox, I noted that trochee is a trochee, as are Grelling, Nelson, Arnold, Zwicky, and double. But trochee is prosodically different from the rest, in the same way that robot in the double trochee Robot ninja! is prosodically different from ninja. There are two sets:

trochee-type trochees: robot, iambjetpack, wombat, cowboy, bobcat, teenage, …

trophy-type trochees: double, dactylninja, ferret, dentist, pizza, scrapple, turtle, mutant, …

But still for most purposes they all count as metrically equivalent.

Same distinction in the world of iambs, with monsoon-type iambs prosodically distinct from spittoon-type iambs, but all still counting as metrically equivalent.

(None of what I’m saying here is novel or obscure, but I thought that some readers might have been unaware of these simple but important ideas from linguistic poetics.)

Trochees are strong-weak feet and iambs are weak-strong feet, though it would be better to say that trochees are stronger-weaker feet and iambs are weaker-stronger feet; what’s metrically crucial for most purposes is the relative accentuation of the syllables, not their absolute values. Trochee-type trochees have accented second syllables (a fact that shows up in a number of ways phonetically), but that accent is weaker than the accent on their first syllables; however, trophy-type trochees have genuinely unaccented second syllables.

The same is true for monsoon-type iambs versus spittoon-type iambs, but in reverse.

(The accentual status of the second syllable of trochee-type trochees and the first syllable of monsoon-type iambs allows them to count as accented in some poetic lines, so this accent isn’t poetically irrelevant.)

Now the complications. People who talk a lot about the types of metrical feet may shift the word trochee from the trochee type to the trophy type; that is, they may weaken, or deaccent, the second syllable of trochee. This is a well-known effect, seen (for example) in outsiders’ pronunciation of Wisconsin with a (non-primary) accent on the first syllable, in contrast to many Wisconsinites’ pronunciation with unaccented first syllable (a difference that has other consequences for the pronunciation of the word); and in outsiders’ pronunciation of Oregon with a (non-primary) accent on the last syllable, versus many Oregonians’ pronunciation with unaccented last syllable. As a slogan: Familiarity Breeds Deaccenting.

One Response to “Metrical note”

  1. Accented buttocks « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] — the opposite of the Familiarity Breeds Deaccenting principle that I mentioned in an April posting on metrical feet (a principle evidenced, for example, in “insider” pronunciations of the […]

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