1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Artistic Recitation of Metered Speech


Now how does a 0.806-msec-long, or 1.238-msec-long pause effect our perception of poetic rhythm? It depends whether it occurs at the end of a line, or in midline. In the former case, it helps to clearly articulate the line ending, and so enhance the unity of the line. In the latter case, it may have a devastating effect on the line's unity; but not necessarily. According to a principle formulated by Gestalt psychologists, entities tend to reassert themselves in perception in front of intruding events, up to a certain point; when the strength of the intruding event passes a certain point, the perceptual entity falls to pieces. The "certain point" depends, among other things, on whether such disintegrating forces as a midline pause are balanced by such appropriate integrating forces as clear-cut articulation of the line ending, or some perceptual force propelling across the pause (I will return to this example).

Redundancy, Conflicting Cues, Overdetermination
Redundancy of phonetic cues is a state in which several phonetic cues combine to convey the same effect. In "ordinary speech" there is considerable redundancy at a variety of phonetic levels. For our purpose, one of the most important cases is when several cues combine to indicate the end of some syntactic (or prosodic) unit. Consider the reading of the first line of excerpt 2, reported in figures 1 and 2. The reading provides a variety of cues that indicate discontinuation. First of all, there is, as we have seen, the huge pause following the line, after "peace". Such a pause should unambiguously signal discontinuation. But there are at least two more cues. Most conspicuous is the long intonation contour at the end of the unit, which is a classic terminal contour. And the word "peace" is exceptionally prolonged, constituting, as it were, a fermata,as in music. As I suggested earlier, no one can tell how long a word or a phoneme ought to be. But here the word as a whole, as well as the closing consonant [s] are perceived as exceptionally long. To give a rough indication, we may compare them to "pass" in the next line. "Pass" is 0.287 msec long; the word-final [s] is 0.100 msec long. "Peace" is about two times longer, 0.566 msec; but the word-final [s] is well over three times longer than in the other word (0.339 msec). This shows that the phonetic cues for discontinuation are considerably redundant, and that the closural forces at the line boundary may be strong enough to counterbalance the disintegrating effect of the long midline pause.