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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The meter of Guthlac B: a generative model Mines, Rachel


The approach to Old English (OE) poetic meter traditionally taken is to describe the meter in terms of a list of foot or verse (half-line) types. It has been suggested that this approach, however, is open to criticism on several points First, a list of metrical types is unconstrained in that there is no principled reason why other members may not be added to the list. Second, such a theory includes no constraints on substitutions; any metrical type may always be substituted for any other. A description in the form of a list therefore cannot rule out unmetrical lines (Halle and Keyser “Iambic Pentameter”). This thesis proposes a model of OE poetic meter based on Hanson and Kiparsky’s parametric theory of universal meter. Hanson and Kiparsky argue that the constituents relevant to meter are not arbitrary or conventional, such as a list of foot or verse types, but are just those that are also relevant to language. They propose that all poetic meters are comprised of binary feet, which, like the phonological constituents defining prominence in language, consist of a strong (S) member which is the head, or prominent position, and a weak (W) member which is an unprominent position. Structure parameters establish headedness (either SW or WS) and the number of feet in a line, A position parameter defines the maximal amount of prosodic material that may occupy a given metrical position in terms of phonological constituency: mora (μ), syllable (ϭ), foot (∅), or word (λ). Prominence rules define first, whether S positions must contain prominent constituents and/or whether W positions must contain unprominent constituents; and second, whether prominence is defined by weight, strength, or stress (“Best of all Possible Verse”). The model I have proposed for OE defines the meter in terms of a fixed number of binary left-headed (SW) feet together with constraints on both S and W positions: S positions must contain stressed syllables, further defined as the heads of prosodic words; and W may contain the heads of prosodic words only if they are prosodically weak. No metrical position may contain more than a minimal word (λmin).

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