Social Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Is ordinary language spoken in a kind of meter?

Asked by LostInParadise (23617points) September 18th, 2011

I do not mean to suggest that we speak in iambic pentameter, but there seems to be a tendency to break syllables in a sentence into symmetric groups of two and three and to place a stress on single syllable words.

For example, consider, “I went to the store yesterday.” This would be broken into “I went – to the store – yesterday” with stresses on “went” and “store”.

Here is another example. “It is just impossible to do.” This would be broken up as “It is just – impossi – ble to do,” with stresses on “just” and “do.” If, on the other hand, you say, “It’s just impossible to do,” we get “It’s just – impos – sible – to do,” again with stresses on “just” and “do.”

Surely someone somewhere has noticed this and given it further study. Anyone trying to get robots to computers to speak naturally would have to take this into consideration. Did anyone here watch the television show Jeopardy when IBM’s Watson was on? How natural was the computer’s speech?

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7 Answers

XOIIO's avatar


let me get back to you on that…

Earthgirl's avatar

I am sure there is some kind of linguistic expert who could answer your question better than I can but for your man on the street opinion, here goes:
Because of the accents on certain syllables speech does have a natural rhythm to it. Your choice of words affects that rhythm. Preachers and public speekers recognize this and utilize it. Repeating a phrase and grouping sentences that are similar and build on each other is a powerful rhetorical device. It enhances the message and makes it more resonant. A good example is Martin Luther King Jrs’ I Have a Dream speech.

Poetry,even when not in iambic pentameter, makes use of the same rhythm based on syllables and sounds. I discovered that I had this internal sense of the right rhythm when I started to write poetry. To my chagrin I figured out that I had picked some of it up from my childhood Sundays spent in church.

morphail's avatar

In linguistics it’s called prosody.

digitalimpression's avatar

I find it hilarious to speak outside the paradigm of prosody. It makes people laugh sometimes.

gailcalled's avatar

The metrically emphasis in various poetry is based on the beat and rhythm of the spoken language.

English is a stressed language and uses the iamb as a natural da DUM much of the time (although “natural” is a dactyl).

Icelandic, Celtic, Welsh, Gaelic languages, for example, are less stress related and the poetry is more syllabic.

gailcalled's avatar

Edit; The “metrical” emphasis in the poetry of the various Romance languages

dabbler's avatar

I’d bet it’s studied at least as much for understanding people speaking as it is for speech generation. There are so many ways people say things you need all the clues you can get.

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