Imperfect rhyme, part 3

Previously on this blog:

on 9/30, “AZ on imperfect rhyme” (part 1 of a series): an inventory of publications of mine on half-rhyme and phonological similarity

on 10/1, “Imperfect rhyme, part 2”: an inventory of postings on this blog that discuss particular examples of half-rhyme

And now, part 3, the last: an inventory of publications that cite the papers of mine on imperfect rhyme in part 1 — mostly the first, the 1976 rock rhyme paper.

(This installment prepared by Kim Darnell. Thanks to Chris Golston and Kristin Hanson for providing us with their materials.)

Alim, H. Samy, Ibrahim, Awad, & Pennycook, Alastair (2008). Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language. Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge. 260 pages.

From this site: “The book engages complex processes such as transnationalism, (im)migration, cultural flow, and diaspora in an effort to expand current theoretical approaches to language choice and agency, speech style and stylization, codeswitching and language mixing, crossing and sociolinguistic variation, and language use and globalization. Moving throughout the Global Hip Hop Nation, through scenes as diverse as Hong Kong’s urban center, Germany’s Mannheim inner-city district of Weststadt, the Brazilian favelas, the streets of Lagos and Dar es Salaam, and the hoods of the San Francisco Bay Area, this global intellectual cipha breaks new ground in the ethnographic study of language and popular culture.”  Examples of feature rhyme from Zwicky (1976) are referenced on pp. 186-187.

Golston, Chris (1997). The geometry of rhyme. California State University, Fresno, manuscript.

From p. 3: “In this paper I will show that loose rhyme provides an interesting test case for a number of claims about the phonology of English, specifically about syllable structure, distinctive features and feature geometry…  First, I discuss an earlier corpus discussed in Zwicky (1976), whose findings are similar to those sketched here. I then relate findings from a new study to further substantiate the commonness of certain types of rhyme (1-5) and the rarity of others such as those in (6-8) in order to motivate the claims above. The paper ends with a discussion of other work in the area and a brief conclusion.”

References to Zwicky on pp. 3-6, 8, 15, 19, 32. Section 2 on p. 4 is entitled “Rock and Roll rhyme (Zwicky 1976)”.

Hanson, Kristin (2014). Formal variation in the rhymes of Robert Pinsky’s the Inferno of Dante. Language and Literature, 12(4), 309-337.

Abstract. Rhyme is commonly defined as the repetition of certain final sounds. In English poetic practice, however, even within single poems, the extent of the repetition often varies, sometimes involving more similarity than definitions of the form suggest, and sometimes less, often as a means of creating aesthetic effects. As noted by Zwicky (1976) and more recently developed by Holtman (1996), such variation raises both descriptive and theoretical questions about the form: out of the full range of imaginable variations in rhyme, which are actually used by poets, and why? Here a close study of the variations used by Robert Pinsky in his slant-rhyme translation of Dante’s Inferno identifies practices which turn out to be shared with other English poets, and to reflect phenomena in English phonology itself. Rhymes may match melodic structure only, reflecting the separation of melodic structure from rhythmic structure which phonological theory has hypothesized. Rhymes may differ in distinctive features – specifically voice in obstruents, place in nasals, and possibly height in vowels – reflecting the way those features are sometimes altered to satisfy constraints of English phonology. Rhymes may differ in one member having an extra final [s/z], reflecting the possibility of such an appendix in English syllable structure (Golston, 1997). These practices support the suggestion by Kiparsky (1973, 1987), building on Jakobson (1960), that the constraints that define poetic forms refer to the same structures that grammars do.

References to Zwicky on pp. 1-3, 9-10, 12, 20, 23, 25-27.

Jefferson, Judith A., Minkova, Donka, & Putter, Ad (2014). Perfect and imperfect rhyme: Romances in the abab tradition. Studies in Philology, 111(4), 631-651.

Abstract. This article focuses on a group of Middle English romances composed in four-line stanzas rhyming abab. Surviving examples of this form include Thomas of Erceldoune, The Sowdone of Babylon, The Knight of Courtesy, and the fragmentary Partonope of Blois. Since these romances are from different dialect areas, the verse form appears to have been a popular one in medieval England. Examining the quality of the rhymes in the extant manuscripts, we show that both the original poets and the scribes of these romances were happy to tolerate imperfect rhyme. Two common types of imperfect rhyme, “feature rhyme” and “subsequence rhyme,” are discussed, and we provide analogues for such rhymes in medieval and modern song, from nursery rhymes to Latin hymns. We conclude by suggesting that the use of so-called “imperfect” rhyme is linked with oral performance and that it was in fact perfectly acceptable in this context.

References to Zwicky (1976) on pages 635 (feature rhyme), 636, 637 (subsequence rhyme), 645,  and 646.

Kaplan, Aaron & Woodmansee, John (April 7, 2018). Imperfect rhymes as a measure of phonological similarity. Presentation given at the Spring Colloquium, University of North Carolina. Slides here.

The reported study extends the analysis of imperfect rhyme in rock music described by Zwicky (1976) to (a much larger corpus of) rhymes in songs from numerous genres to test the hypothesis that “the frequency of consonantal pairings in imperfect rhymes should be inversely proportional to the number of features they mismatch on” (p. 9).  The researchers observed that, with the exception of place features, “distinctive features do a good job of modeling imperfect rhyme frequency and features differences match speakers’ similarity intuitions” (p. 30).

Kawahara, Shinto (2007). Half rhymes in Japanese rap lyrics and knowledge of similarity.  Journal of East Asian Linguistics, 16, 113–144. doi:10.1007/s10831-007-9009-1

Abstract Using data from a large-scale corpus, this paper establishes the claim that in Japanese rap rhymes, the degree of similarity of two consonants positively correlates with their likelihood of making a rhyme pair. For example, similar consonant pairs like {m-n}, {t-s}, and {r-n} frequently rhyme whereas dissimilar consonant pairs like {m-ʃ}, {w-k}, and {n-p} rarely do. The current study adds to a body of literature that suggests that similarity plays a fundamental role in half rhyme formation (A. Holtman, 1996, A generative theory of rhyme: An optimality approach, PhD dissertation. Utrecht Institute of Linguistics; R. Jakobson, 1960, Linguistics and poetics: Language in literature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge; D. Steriade, 2003, Knowledge of similarity and narrow lexical override, Proceedings of Berkeley Linguistics Society, 29, 583–598; A. Zwicky, 1976, This rock-and-roll has got to stop: Junior’s head is hard as a rock. Proceedings of Chicago Linguistics Society, 12, 676–697). Furthermore, it is shown that Japanese speakers take acoustic details into account when they compose rap rhymes. This study thus supports the claim that speakers possess rich knowledge of psychoacoustic similarity (D. Steriade, 2001a, Directional asymmetries in place assimilation. In E. Hume, & K. Johnson (Eds.), The role of speech perception in phonology (pp. 219–250). San Diego: Academic Press.; D. Steriade, 2001b, The phonology of perceptibility effects: The P-map and its consequences for constraint organization, ms., University of California, Los Angeles; D. Steriade, 2003, Knowledge of similarity and narrow lexical override, Proceedings of Berkeley Linguistics Society, 29, 583–598).

Malone, Joseph L. (1982). Generative phonology and Turkish rhyme. Linguistic Inquiry, 13(3), 550-553. Retrieved from this site.

Turkish rhyme is best described in terms of a Kiparskian framework (see Kiparsky 1968, 1972) in which “the vowels of a rhyme set must be identical (or perhaps non-distinct) on the underlying level” (p. 552), rather than as a manifestation of “some but not all features of the rhyming vowels, along the lines of Zwicky’s (1976) analysis of rock lyrics” (p. 551).


Stausland Johnsen, Sverre. (2012). Rhyme acceptability determined by perceived similarity. Presentation notes (perhaps from talk at National Chiao Tung University; NCTU). Retrieved from this site.

From the Discussion, p. 3:

  • The rich system of articulatory features does not suffice to account for the acceptability of rhymes, and does in fact do worse than the simple 12-feature system of acoustic features.
  • Perceptual similarity is the best predictor of rhyme acceptability, and can also adequately explain a range of phenomena in synchronic phonology (Kawahara 2006:114)
  • This does not mean, however, that the relation between phonological segments should be represented exclusively as perceptual distances, since some segmental relations are clearly better accounted for with the use of articulatory features (cf. Cristià & Seidl 2008).
  • If our model of phonological representations is meant to cover the wide range of attested synchronic patterns of segments, then a system is needed where reference is made both to articulation and perception (cf. Flemming 2002).

References to Zwicky (1976) on p. 1-2.

Tsujimura, Natsuko & Davis, Stuart (2009). Rhyme and the reinterpretation of Hip Hop in Japan. Retrieved from this site.

This book chapter explores “the nature of rhyming found in contemporary Japanese Hip Hop as exemplifed in Dragon Ash’s 2001 album Lily of da Valley. (The authors) place the nature of Japanese Hip Hop rhymes in the context of Zwicky’s (1976) discussion on imperfect rhymes in rock music and in Alim’s (2003) analysis of rhymes in U.S. Hip Hop. (They) contend that Japanese Hip Hop exemplifies asystem of imperfect rhyme that is best described as mosaicassonance. (They) further examine cases where moraic assonance does not seem to hold, and suggest that moraic assonance most frequently occurs with moral whose core is a vowel” p. 160).

Wollenberg, Anne. Rules of rhyme and Middle English verse. Arts and Humanities Research Council. Retrieved from this site. on September 2, 2018.

Regarding work by a team of researchers led by Professor Ad Putter from the University of Bristol about the use of rhyme and dialect in Middle English romance texts. This includes reference to Zwicky’s (1976) concepts of feature and subsequence rhyme.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: