Time in Language and Music: The rhythm of speech, verse and vocal music in English and Spanish.

Rosalía Rodríguez-Vázquez (University of Edinburgh)

Talking about timing implies referring to rhythm. Several branches of linguistic theory have dealt with the role of rhythm in speech and language, highlighting the similarities between music and speech (Liberman, 1979). Metrical phonology has used formal tools developed for rhythm in music (Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983). From a literary perspective, there have been studies on poetic rhythm (Attridge, 1982) and on the technical analysis of text-tune relations (Cureton, 1992).

The general theoretical frame of my paper has to do with the study, from an interdisciplinary and cross-linguistic point of view, of the typological dichotomy between 'stress-timed' and 'syllable-timed' languages, inasmuch as this distinction is valid at all.

A theoretical and empirical analysis is developed to determine whether the linguistic prosody - more specifically, the nature of stress and its related phenomena - of a specific language determines its poetic prosody and its setting into music. The first part is an overview of language typologies in relation to timing, where English is used as a model of a stress-timed language, and Spanish as a model of a syllable-timed language. In the second part, the paper shows an analysis of folk songs in terms of verse prosody and musical metre. Last, the paper explores the correspondences between the verse forms and the musical forms regarding metre and rhythm, and it concludes by establishing the differences in the setting to music of 'stress-timed' verse and 'syllable-timed' verse.

The results have to do with a correspondence between the timing typologies of language and rhythmic typologies of music, something which proves that linguistic rhythm is not an autonomous field, but rather a level of a broader cognitive capacity. Being so, the future of Suprasegmental Phonology might well lie in an open dialogue with other disciplines, which can shed light on the still mysterious topic of timing.


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