14.693, Review: Text/Corpus Linguistics: Getty (2002)

LINGUIST List linguist at linguistlist.org
Tue Mar 11 13:57:10 UTC 2003

LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-693. Tue Mar 11 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.693, Review: Text/Corpus Linguistics: Getty (2002)

Moderators: Anthony Aristar, Wayne State U.<aristar at linguistlist.org>
            Helen Dry, Eastern Michigan U. <hdry at linguistlist.org>

Reviews (reviews at linguistlist.org):
	Simin Karimi, U. of Arizona
	Terence Langendoen, U. of Arizona

Home Page:  http://linguistlist.org/

The LINGUIST List is funded by Eastern Michigan University, Wayne
State University, and donations from subscribers and publishers.

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <naomi at linguistlist.org>

Please help us reach our total of $50,000 by making a donation at:


The LINGUIST List depends on the generous contributions from
subscribers like you; we would not be able to operate without your

The moderators, staff, and student editors at LINGUIST would like to
take this opportunity to thank you for your continuous support.

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book
Discussion Forum.  We expect discussions to be informal and
interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited
to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books
announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact
Simin Karimi at simin at linguistlist.org.


Date:  Mon, 10 Mar 2003 23:13:36 +0000
From:  Marc Pierce <karhu at umich.edu>
Subject:  The Metre of Beowulf: A Constraint-Based Approach

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Mon, 10 Mar 2003 23:13:36 +0000
From:  Marc Pierce <karhu at umich.edu>
Subject:  The Metre of Beowulf: A Constraint-Based Approach

Getty, Michael (2002) The Metre of Beowulf.  A Constraint-Based
Approach.  Mouton de Gruyter, hardback ISBN 3-11-017105-8, vi + 368pp,
88 Euros, Topics in English Linguistics 36.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-2663.html

Marc Pierce, University of Michigan

Old English meter, especially the meter of Beowulf, undoubtedly the
most famous Old English poem, has been, and continues to be, an
exceptionally popular object of study.  In the last fifteen years or
so, for instance, a number of relevant monographs have appeared,
including the following (and this list is by no means exhaustive):
Russom (1987, 1998), Creed (1990), Fulk (1992), Suzuki (1996), and
Blockley (2001).  Numerous articles and reviews have also appeared, of
which I would (somewhat arbitrarily) single out Stockwell (1996),
which nicely summarizes several current controversies, Stockwell and
Minkova (1997), which provides a good general overview, and the useful
review article by Fortson (1998).  The volume under consideration
here, a revised version of a 1998 Stanford dissertation, is a valuable
addition to the already massive body of literature on Old English
metrics, as well as to the growing body of literature on
constraint-based metrics (cf. Hayes and MacEachern 1998, Golston 1998,
and Golston and Riad 2000, among others).

After a brief preface and table of contents, the volume proper gets
under way with Chapter 1, 'Introduction' (1-76).  In this chapter,
Getty first discusses a number of preliminary issues, including the
aims of the volume, and the intended audience.  Following these brief
remarks, Getty sketches the approach of his work and the application
of Optimality Theory (OT) to poetry, before reviewing ''Sieversian''
analyses of Old English alliterative verse, concentrating on Sievers
(1893), Kuhn (1933), and Bliss (1958).  The next section revolves
around the strong claim that ''[g]iven a set of assumptions about
which words were stressed and unstressed in Old English, ... it is
possible to understand the metre while still maintaining these stress
properties, in all metrical contexts, all the time'' (52), which
involves a rejection of earlier assumptions that maintained that some
types of words were inherently less stressed than others.  The chapter
concludes with a discussion of the materials used (a sample of 1000
long lines, taken in four equal portions from various sections of the
poem, from an electronic edition of the poem).

Chapter 2, 'The stress phonology of Old English' (79-158), examines
the thorny problem of stress assignment in Old English.  Getty notes
that most analyses of Old English stress have relied on the stress
patterns reconstructed in Campbell (1959), which, however, ''[w]hen
held up against cross-linguistic examination ... comes across as
baffling, inconsistent, and typologically unattested'' (79).  Getty
argues that these complex stress patterns can be replaced by the
following general principles: (1) initial syllables bear primary
stress (except for verbal prefixes); (2) non-initial heavy syllables,
as well as all stressable initial syllables of secondary conjuncts,
bear secondary stress; and (3) all other syllables are unstressed.
Getty then reviews a number of previous analyses of Old English
stress, before presenting an OT analysis of Old English stress is then
presented.  He first lays out the constraints he proposes to use, and
then demonstrates how they can interact by means of a brief analysis
of Finnish stress, before turning to Old English.  He next discusses
phrasal stress in Old English, and finally briefly summarizes the
arguments presented in the chapter.

Chapter 3, 'Metrical structure at the foot level: Part I' (161-208),
turns to Beowulf.  Here Getty discusses how OT analyses of meter must
formally diverge from OT analyses of prose, and then examines how a
generative theory of Old English meter must diverge from analyses of
contemporary meters.  Following these discussions, Getty describes how
the metrical types of Sievers (1885, 1893) can be represented in his
theory.  The bulk of the chapter argues persuasively in favor of the
following four proposals: (1) the maximum size of a metrical position
is that of a phonological foot, (2) metrical feet are invariably
left-strong, (3) phonologically weak syllables may not occupy strong
metrical positions, and (4) heavy stressed syllables in polysyllabic
words may not occupy weak metrical positions.

Chapter 4, 'Metrical structure at the foot level: Part II' (209-254),
builds on the discussion presented in Chapter 3.  This chapter
addresses, among other things, the role of the listener in the meter
of Beowulf.  Getty argues that variation in the meter, taken together
with the fact that it was presented orally, entails that many lines in
Beowulf can have more than one possible metrical structure.  Further,
since the audience had to parse the poem, metrical patterns should
reflect the ''cognitive complexity of this task'' (209).  And indeed
they seem to do so.  For instance, compounds are much more frequent at
the right edge of a-lines (the difference is statistically
significant), which, Getty argues, supports the idea that in a-lines,
the use of compounds compensates for ambiguities in half-line
boundaries introduced by violations of an ALIGNMENT constraint
mandating that the head of a phonological word be aligned with the
left margin of a metrical foot (250).

Chapter 5, 'Metrical structure at the level of the half-line and
long-line' (257-302), offers two modifications to the formal
structures employed so far.  First, the strong-weak alternation
present at the level of terminal positions is extended to all higher
levels of metrical structure, in order to reflect alliteration
patterns.  Second, Getty modifies his representation of metrical feet
and half-lines, by using a different mode of representation for
tenary-branching feet, which enables a better formulation of
constraints on alliteration. A thorough discussion of alliteration,
including such issues as how to represent it within a constraint
system and its distribution, is then offered.  In the remainder of the
chapter, Getty examines the frequency of metrical patterns, with
regard to binary- and ternary-branching half-lines.  Here he returns
to the idea proposed in Chapter 4, namely that ''the evaluation and
selection of metrical outputs is guided by limits on reception and
metrical parsing by an audience of listeners'' (272).  He argues that
the Beowulf poet aimed to avoid metrical ambiguity -- a drive that
conflicted with a meta-constraint FIT(SYS).  This constraint, a
version of a constraint originally argued for by Hanson and Kiparsky
(1996), holds that ''[l]anguages select metres in which their entire
vocabularies are usable in the greatest variety of ways'' (241).  This
conflict resulted in the metrical variability and complexity
characteristic of Beowulf.

Chapter 6, 'Conclusion' (305-329), summarizes the findings of the
previous five chapters.  Following this summary, Getty turns to the
interaction of the metrical system of Beowulf and Old English syntax,
specifically verb placement -- another perennially popular topic (cf.
Pintzuk 1993, 1999 and van Kemenade 1997, among others), and one Getty
himself had addressed earlier (Getty 1997).  Essentially, Getty argues
that V2 syntax is favored by the meter in the cases of monosyllabic or
light-stemmed disyllabic forms of the relevant verbs, since this
avoids ternary-branching half-lines.  In contrast, V2 syntax is
dispreferred by the meter in the case of heavy-stemmed polysyllabic
forms.  The concluding section of the chapter discusses Stochastic OT
(Boersma 1997, among others).

Getty has contributed an important, highly-readable, work to the study
of Old English metrics.  He has faced the difficult task of writing a
work with two potential audiences (generativists interested in Old
English alliterative verse and metrists looking for an alternative to
traditional approaches to Germanic metrics), and has done a generally
excellent job of it.  While a number of issues will remain
controversial, his solutions are invariably careful and
thought-provoking.  A case in point is his discussion of Kaluza's Law
(Kaluza 1896), which notes that etymological factors can influence
resolution, presented in Chapter 4.  Getty argues that Kaluza's Law
can be formulated in terms of a constraint FTMAX, which bans
phonological feet containing more than two moras.  Essentially,
Kaluza's Law avoids a violation of FTMAX within a single metrical
position.  The question of how Kaluza's Law should be accounted for in
Old English, where the conditioning factors are no longer present,
remains open, however.  (Getty points out that Kaluza's Law resembles
such morphologized phenomena as umlaut and breaking, and suggests that
this may be the key to a solution.)

The volume itself is hardcover and quite sturdy.  There is a handful
of typographical errors, which are invariably minor and
self-correcting.  Some of the tables and figures spill over on to a
second page (although in some cases this is unavoidable, because of
the length of the table or figure).  Finally, more care should have
been taken in the compilation of the references; a number of works
cited in the text are not listed in the references, e.g., Dresher
(1978), Faulkes (1991), Golston (1991), Hanson (1991), Riad (1992),
Kiparsky (1998), and Hammond (1999).  These quibbles, however, do not
detract from the genuinely high quality of the work.


Bliss, Alan.  1958.  The metre of Beowulf.  Oxford: Blackwell.

Blockley, Mary.  2001.  Aspects of Old English poetic syntax: Where
clauses begin.  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Boersma, Paul.  1997.  How we learn variation, optionality, and
probability.  Proceedings of the Institute of Phonetic Sciences of the
University of Amsterdam 21: 43-58.

Campbell, Alistair.  1959.  Old English grammar.  Oxford: Clarendon.

Creed, Robert.  1990.  Reconstructing the rhythm of Beowulf.
Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.

Fortson, Benjamin W., IV.  1998.  Some new work on old problems.  The
meter of Beowulf.  Diachronica XV: 325-337.

Fulk, Robert D.  1992.  A history of Old English meter.  Philadelphia,
PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Getty, Michael.  1997.  Was finite verb placement in Germanic
prosodically conditioned?: Evidence from Beowulf and Heliand.  Journal
of English and Germanic Philology 96: 155-181.

Golston, Chris.  1998.  Constraint-based metrics.  Natural Language
and Linguistic Theory 16: 719-770.

Golston, Chris and Tomas Riad.  2000.  The phonology of Classical
Greek meter.  Linguistics 38: 99-167.

Hanson, Kristin and Paul Kiparsky.  1996.  A parametric theory of
poetic meter.  Language 72: 287-334.

Hayes, Bruce P. and Margaret MacEachern.  1998.  Quatrain form in
English folk verse.  Language 74: 473-507.

Kaluza, Max.  1896.  Zur Betonungs- und Verslehre des Altenglischen.
In: Festschrift zum siebzigsten Geburtstage Oskar Schade.
Koenigsberg: Hartung.  Pp. 101-133.

Kuhn, Hans.  1933.  Zur Wortstellung und -betonung im Altgermanischen.
Beitraege zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 57:

Pintzuk, Susan.  1993.  Verb-seconding in Old English: Verb movement
to Infl.  The Linguistic Review 10: 5-35.

Pintzuk, Susan.  1999.  Phrase structures in competition: Variation
and change in Old English word order.  New York: Garland.

Russom, Geoffrey.  1987.  Old English meter and linguistic theory.
Cambridge: CUP.

Russom, Geoffrey.  1998.  Beowulf and old Germanic metre.  Cambridge:

Sievers, Eduard.  1885.  Zur Rhythmik des germanischen
Alliterationverses.  Beitraege zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache
und Literatur 10: 209-314, 451-545.

Sievers, Eduard.  1893.  Altgermanische Metrik.  Halle: Niemeyer.

Stockwell, Robert P.  1996.  On recent theories of metrics and rhythm
in Beowulf.  In: English historical metrics.  Edited by C.B.  McCully
and J.J. Anderson.  Cambridge: CUP.  Pp. 73-94.

Stockwell, Robert P. and Donka Minkova.  1997.  Prosody.  In: A
Beowulf handbook.  Edited by Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles.
Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press.  Pp. 55-83.

Suzuki, Seiichi.  1996.  The metrical organization of Beowulf.
Prototype and isomorphism.  Berlin: de Gruyter.

van Kemenade, Ans.  1997.  V2 and embedded topicalization in Old and
Middle English.  In: Parameters of morphosyntactic change.  Edited by
Ans van Kemenade and Nigel Vincent.  Cambridge: CUP.  Pp.326-352.


U Marc Pierce is a lecturer in Germanic Languages and Classics at the
University of Michigan.  His research interests include historical
linguistics, phonology, and Germanic linguistics.


If you buy this book please tell the publisher or author
that you saw it reviewed on the LINGUIST list.

LINGUIST List: Vol-14-693

More information about the Linguist mailing list