The Mediaeval Reader's Response to Rhyme

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Reuven Tsur

What can we Know
about the Mediaeval Reader's Response to Rhyme?

The business of this paper is to confront two approaches to poetry, Cognitive Poetics and Historical Poetics, with reference to one specific issue, rhyme. One explicit aim of cognitive poetics is to obtain from readers responses to the perceived qualities of poetry, and to offer cognitive theories systematically to relate them to poetic structures with which they have been regularly associated. With reference to ages remote in time, historical poetics considers such an approach an anachronism, and is interested, rather, in the responses of the poet's contemporaries. In the works of some scholars, at least, both approaches resort to quantitative analyses of observable facts in poetry, but they attempt to make inferences from the results to the readers' responses in different ways. Historical poetics attempts to make commonsense inferences from regularities discovered in the poets' practice to the shared responses of his contemporaries. Cognitive poetics considers this somewhat unsatisfactory: "wide quantitative analyses of observable facts" can reveal only what the poet wrote, but not how his contemporaries responded to it. According to its view, valid inferences about the responses of the poet's contemporaries must be based both on regularities discovered in the poets' practice, and on the best available evidence concerning how human beings respond to poetic structures, in general.

On closer inspection, then, the "poet's contemporaries" may turn out to be a poetic straw man. First, there is the problem of what E. D. Hirsch (Wimsatt, 1968) has called "the fallacy of homogeneous past". There is no reason on earth to suppose that the poetic tastes and responses to poetry of the "poet's contemporaries" were any more homogeneous than those of our own contemporaries. Second, "wide quantitative analyses of observable facts" can reveal only what the poet wrote, but not how his contemporaries responded to it. Of course, my comments here are meant to legitimise neither paralysing scepticism, nor chaotic idiosyncrasy, nor historical ignorance. It only means that we may not take for granted the responses of the poet's contemporaries, but must make use of every bit of available information to make inferences about the tastes and responses of the poet's contemporaries. However, the only flesh-and-blood respondents to poetry whose responses are accessible for inspection are those of our own contemporaries. These are therefore the responses with which we must begin any attempt to find out how human beings respond to poetry. Then we are obliged to use every available bit of historical information to ascertain, in what respects may be the responses of the poet's contemporaries supposed to differ from those of our own contemporaries. In this way, the cognitive approach to the reader's response ceases to be anachronistic; and the historical approach may benefit from information concerning human responses to poetry in general.

Recently I have submitted a paper, "Rhyme and Cognitive Poetics", to the journal Poetics Today (see Tsur, 1996). Although the (anonymous) reviewers recommended to publish it, one of them provided a six-page-long criticism expressing reservations from the cognitive approach. I added a longer "Postscript" answering these objections. The following paper is extracted from this controversy.

As the reviewer professes, s/he comes from a different scholarly tradition, of the so-called Russian school in verse study. "This approach is based not so much on insight and intuition as on wide quantitative analyses of observable facts". Furthermore, his/her approach is historical. "Poetry of earlier epochs was, naturally, written to be read; and not by an abstract reader 'in general,' or by a modern reader, but by the poet's contemporaries. The poet and his audience shared the same poetic culture". "My first disagreement with Professor Tsur lies in his reliance on a reader 'in general,' or on a modern (and sometimes unsophisticated) reader rather than on the reader of a particular period. For example, 'grammatical' rhymes may seem uninteresting and flat, while 'anti-grammatical' rhymes may seem 'vigorous' and clever to the modern reader; but the modern reader is familiar with Butler, Pope, Byron, and Tennyson, while Chaucer's contemporaries (and Chaucer's rhymes are given as an example of grammatical, and therefore not vigorous rhymes) were amazed that rhyming could be used in poetry at all!"

In order to find out whether Mediaeval poets had homogeneous intuitions about grammatical and anti-grammatical rhymes, I have done some quantitative study (in an admittedly different poetic tradition) of eleventh-century Hebrew poetry in Spain (Tsur, 1968: 137-139). The poetics of this period explicitly legitimises suffix rhymes, which are easier to compose than root thymes. I have checked all the five-line-long or shorter equi-rhymed poems in the first two volumes of Schirmann's authoritative anthology (1961). There were considerable individual differences among the poets in this respect, ranging from over twice as many root rhymes as suffix rhymes in Moshe Ibn Ezra, through an almost even distribution in Yehuda Halevy, to twice as many suffix rhymes as root rhymes in Avraham Ibn Ezra, and 100 % suffix rhymes in Ibn Al-Tabban.

But the most impressive feasts of anti-grammatical rhyme cannot be shown through statistics, only through an analysis of individual cases. And these sometimes achieved a sophistication comparable to the boldest instances of modernism. Moshe Ibn Ezra, who has over twice as many root rhymes as suffix rhymes in our corpus, also resorts to extremely complex semantic structures in the rhymes of some of his shorter poems, as in the following one:



Go out to the yard of death, look at those who sleep there, and be ashamed and abashed
See there bodies covered with stones, whereas the dust is their bedding and [protective] shadow
This became their repose and lot, while the world and their houses [stand] forever

The sounds [lam] constitute the rhyme at the end of the three verses. In nikhlam, the [l] and [m] belong to the root, while the vowel belongs to the conjugation of the verb; silam is composed of two morphemes: the first three phonemes are a transform of sel (shadow), while the last two phonemes [am] constitute an inflection meaning "their". leolam is an adverb meaning "forever". Such semantic and grammatical sophistication is rather rare in eleventh-century Hebrew rhymes, but is by no means accidental.

What can we learn from these results? First, that eleventh-century Hebrew poets made sometimes considerable efforts to rhyme the roots of words and avoid suffix rhymes, in spite of the explicit licence to use them in contemporary poetics. Second, that there were considerable individual differences among the various poets, and that the past is not homogeneous in this respect. And third but not least, that they may have had strong intuitions in respect of the differences between these kinds of rhymes, even though their preferences may have been at variance from each other.

Rhyme consists of at least two words at line endings, that are phonetically similar, but semantically different. For our purposes, we shall have to follow up to some extent both the phonetic and the semantic representations of these words.

The above objection refers to my discussion of the semantic information-processing involved in rhyme. In his paper "One Relationship between Rhyme and Reason", Wimsatt (1964: 153-166) points out the difference between Chaucer's rhymes and Pope's. Chaucer's are "tame" rhymes, in which the same parts of speech are used in closely parallel functions, as in

(1)   And he was clad in cote and hood of green.
     A sheef of pecock arwes, bright and kene,
     Under his belt he bar full thriftily,
     Wel coude he dresse his takel yemanly ...

Not so Pope, who achieves his witty effects, among other means, by rhyming, e.g., nouns with verbs, verbs with adverbs, in different syntactic positions, as in

(2)   Blessed with each talent and each art to please,
     And born to write, converse, and live with ease,
     Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
     Bear like a Turke, no brother near the throne ...

Such rhymes are perceived as vigorous. Tame and vigorous describe the perceived effects of these rhymes. The remark that vigorous rhymes involve different parts of speech describes their structure. The vigorous effect of "anti-grammatical" rhymes (Roman Jakobson's term) can be explained in terms of a semantic information-processing model.

According to a prevalent--though by no means the only--present-day view of semantic representation, the meaning of words can be conceived of as bundles of elements that are frequently referred to as "semantic features", or "meaning components", or "primitive concepts". Thus, the word man can be analysed into the following set of components: [+NOUN +COUNT +CONCRETE +ANIMATE +HUMAN +ADULT +MALE]. In the word association game, according to Clark (1970: 276-277), the stimulus word man elicits woman 62 per cent of the time (resulting from the change of the lowest semantic feature [+MALE]), but elicits boy only 8 per cent of the time (resulting from the change of the lowest-but-one feature [+ADULT]); it elicits girl only 3 per cent of the time (resulting from changing the two lowest features). Clark's findings can be accounted for by assuming that the responses obtained are produced according to the simplicity-of-production rule: "Perform the least change on the lowest feature, with the restriction that the result must correspond to an English word [...] Unsuccessful applications of simpler rules therefore force people to use more and more complex rules" (Clark, 1970: 280-281). Eventually, this amounts to the principle of exerting minimum effort. Anti-grammatical rhymes are produced contrary to the simplicity-of-production rule: 'Change as many features as possible, as high on the list as possible', resulting in the exertion of maximum effort--hence its vigorous effect.

Before returning to my reviewer's objection, I wish to give some consideration to two further issues: the ingredient of phonetic similarity in rhyme, and the exploitation of cognitive resources for reading.

Let us consider briefly the nature of the phonetic code and its exploitation for rhyme. 1 Speech researchers distinguish a speech mode and a nonspeech mode. In the latter, the shape of the perceived sound is similar to the shape of the auditory information. In the former, only an abstract phonetic category (such as [a] [b] [i]) is perceived; the sound information that carries it is shut out of consciousness. I have suggested that there may be a third, poetic mode, in which some of the rich precategorial auditory information may reach consciousness, strongly affecting the emotional or poetic qualities of the speech sounds. Speech consists of several parallel streams of information. At the listener's end, we translate a stream of acoustic information into a stream of phonetic representations which, in turn, we replace by a stream of semantic representations, and so forth. Conversion from the acoustic to the phonetic stream involves a complete restructuring of the information, resulting in a string of abstract phonetic categories, so that only very little sensory information reaches, subliminally, consciousness. Some speech sounds are more thoroughly restructured ("more encoded") than others. In the voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ almost no pre-categorical auditory information is perceived, only the abstract phonetic category, whereas in periodic continuous sounds like vowels or sonorant consonants, or in such sibilants as [s, ß] some rich pre-categorical sensory information is subliminally perceived, and may become accessible even to conscious introspection. This sensory information reverberates in short-term memory for a very short period of time. We must, however, assume that even in the case of voiceless plosives auditory memory is active, albeit in an impoverished form. As Conrad (1964) found out, there is evidence for acoustic confusion even with visually presented speech sounds. A syntactic or a versification unit can be perceived as a unit only if we can hold its beginning in echoic memory while new information is still coming in.

In the poetic mode of auditory perception, the precategorical sensory information that reaches consciousness somehow becomes significant. Liberman et al. (1972) describe a series of experiments by Crowder and Morton (1969), who found that in auditory (but not visual) presentation, vowels produce a recency effect (that is, performance on the last items is better than on the preceding ones) in certain cognitive tasks, but stops do not. Part of the explanation seems to be as follows:

The special process that decodes the stops strips away all auditory information and presents to immediate perception a categorical linguistic event the listener can be aware of only as /b, d, g, p, t, or k/. Thus, there is for these segments no auditory, precategorical form that is available to consciousness for a time long enough to produce a recency effect. The relatively unencoded vowels, on the other hand, are capable of being perceived in a different way [...]. The listener can make relatively fine discriminations within phonetic classes because the auditory characteristics of the signal can be preserved for a while. [...] In the experiment by Crowder, we may suppose that these same auditory characteristics of the vowel, held for several seconds in an echoic sensory register, provide the subjects with rich, precategorical information that enables him to recall the most recently presented items with relative ease.

How does rhyme affect this rich, precategorical information? Slightly similar sounds may exert "lateral inhibition" upon the preceding speech sounds, and shut out from the system all the rich precategorical sensory information, whereas very similar speech sounds may enhance it: if a subsequent stimulus is very similar to the preceding stimulus, it may generate an enhanced response, because of their integration. Robert G. Crowder (personal communication) suggests that there would be precedent for the assumption that the total effect would be the larger for having had a repeated sound. This depends on his assumption that both inhibitory and enhancing interaction takes place within the formant energy of the words, even though they may be spoken at different pitches. Thus, such sound patterns as rhyme and alliteration not only "exploit" the working of the auditory short-term memory, but actually enhance the formant energy of the words.

When we emit strings of speech sounds, we obviously have recourse to phonetic coding. It is much less obvious that phonetic coding is a major resource in the performance of a wide range of cognitive operations. We have already mentioned the Crowder and Morton experiment. Researchers at the Haskins Laboratories (Liberman and Mann, 1981: 128-129; Brady et al., 1983: 349-355; Mann, l984: 1-10) in their research on the possible causes of some children's difficulty to learn to read have revealed a deficiency in the use of phonetic coding by poor readers; good readers, by contrast, seem to make an excellent use of it. In one experimental task, poor readers had greater difficulty than good readers in tapping once or three times in response to the number of syllables in such spoken words as pig or elephant, or once, twice or three times in response to the number of phonemes in such words as eye, pie or spy. This has been interpreted as a deficiency in the use of phonetic coding. In another task, they had to memorise groups of words--either rhymed or unrhymed, as in the following ones:

(3)  chain  train  brain   rain   pain
     cat    fly    score  meat  scale

Good readers did consistently better with both kinds of groups than poor readers. However, with the rhymed groups, their performance deteriorated. While their reliance on phonetic representation increased their overall performance, the similar sounds of the rhyming words seem to have caused confusion in their acoustic memory. Thus, this experiment reveals an intimate relationship between rhyme and the cognitive mechanisms involved in certain memory tasks. There was no difference in IQ between the two groups (in fact, in one experiment, the average IQ of the poor readers was insignificantly higher). In nonverbal memory tasks the poor readers were as good as the good readers (in fact, insignificantly better). It was only that the good readers made efficient use of phonetic coding. Since the poor readers made inefficient use of the acoustic information in short-term memory, they were not penalised by the similar sounds of the rhyming words.

Crowder and Wagner (1992: 228-230) summarise an experiment by Byrne and Shea in which subjects had to read out lists of words, and then, unexpectedly, were given a memory test. They were presented with the words read earlier, interspersed with a number of additional words, to which they had to respond "old" or "new". The "new" words were either phonetically or semantically related to the "old" words. "Assume the prior items were home and carpet: house and rug would be the semantically similar foils and comb and market would be the phonetically similar foils". Good readers tended to confuse both phonetically and semantically related words; poor readers semantically related words. This line of investigation may have tapped a kind of individual differences in verbal strategies that may characterise very advanced readers too; I mean students and professors of literature. Such measures as the ones applied to first graders would be insufficient to measure a literature student's relative reliance on phonetic coding. However, we may find in prosody classes students of literature who are incapable of telling which syllable of a bisyllabic word in their mother tongue is stressed, even though they can pronounce it correctly. The plain fact seems to be that even at this level of students and professors of literature there are individual differences in this respect, and there are persons who do not seem to feel at ease with phonetic representation, and seek to fall back as frequently as possible on semantic coding. This happens even in the published writings of well-established professors of literature.

Speech consists, then, of strings of abstract phonetic categories. The precategorical acoustic information that carries them is normally shut out of consciousness. Still, the perceived poetic affects, on the one hand, and the facilitation of certain cognitive tasks, on the other, indicate that some of this information is subliminally present and active. Rhyme typically exploits this precategorical acoustic information and, actually, enhances its memory traces. In nonaesthetic memory experiments, this reliance on phonetic representation reveals two typical effects. It enables verbal material to linger for some time in short-term memory for more efficient processing, on the one hand, and tends to cause acoustic confusion, on the other. In poetic language, the verbal material is subjected to much more sophisticated processing than in other uses of language. But in some instances at least, rhyme reverberates in echoic memory more intensely and for even longer than most aspects of poetic language.

What in the nonaesthetic memory experiments is called acoustic confusion, in an aesthetic context may be perceived as "harmonious fusion", or "musicality" ("musicality" by its very nature is more intimately associated with the sensory aspects of speech sounds than with the abstract phonetic categories). As a result, the rhyming units are felt to be rather closely knit together, even when they are apart in time to some extent; alternatively, the rhymes may be felt to spread some sort of an inarticulate sensory net over a considerable region of a poem.

At this point, I propose to draw together my discussions of phonetic and semantic information-processing, via Wimsatt's treatment of the homoeoteleuton:

It would be only an exaggeration, not a distortion, of principle to say that the difference between prose and verse is the difference between homoeoteleuton and rhyme. "Non modo ad salitem ejus exstinguendam sed etiam gloriam per tales viros infringendam", says Cicero, and Quintilian quotes it as an example of homoeoteleuton or like endings. Here the -endam and the -endam are alike, logically and legitimately alike; each has the same meaning, or is the same morpheme, and each supports the logic of the sentence by appearing in a certain place in the structure. Stylistic parallels or forms of meaning of this sort seem to come fairly to the aid of logic; they are part of the normal framework of the prose (Wimsatt, 1954: 153-1540).

When, in prose, not only the endings but also the roots rhyme, the result is an effect of alogicality, if not of excess and artificiality.

I should like to relate this discussion, and its sequel, the discussion of "tame" and "vigorous" rhymes, to the above discussion of codings used by good and poor readers. The experiment by Byrne and Shea has tapped two kinds of codings, semantic and phonetic, exploited for such cognitive activities as reading, or keeping words in active memory. Similar-meaning words reinforce the use of the semantic code; similar-sound words, the use of the phonetic code. In ordinary speech, the use of the phonetic code is "transparent"; it is exploited for the efficient use of short-term memory, but no conscious or half-conscious attention is paid to it. In literary use, some attention is shifted to it: we do acknowledge its affect on the whole, but have difficulties in putting our finger on its source. Since, however, we use language as a rule in order to convey meanings rather than mere sounds, semantic coding does have a certain primacy over phonetic coding, even in literary language. Whenever possible, we tend to foreground semantic coding; only when something seems to "go wrong" with the semantic coding, we tend to shift our attention to the phonetic coding. When, in Wimsatt's quotation from Cicero, the like endings "each has the same meaning, or is the same morpheme, and each supports the logic of the sentence by appearing in a certain place in the structure", that is, "stylistic parallels or forms of meaning of this sort seem to come fairly to the aid of logic", the semantic and syntactic coding appears to be entirely satisfactory, and the readers or listeners seem to feel little need to attend to the phonetic coding. Since, however, like endings have similar sounds as well, the readers or listeners do direct increased attention to them, but use this similarity merely to reinforce the similar meanings. Not so with rhymes. The greater the difference in the meanings of the rhyming words, the more the readers or listeners are inclined to shift attention to the phonetic similarity. In anti-garmmatical rhyme, the difference of meanings is, by definition, greater than in grammatical rhyme; so, both the semantic and phonetic representations are more active in perception.

I wish to remind ourselves that the "phonetic coding" in this context does not indicate a reliance on abstract phonetic categories but on the rich precategorical auditory information. Bruno Repp (1984) discovered some cognitive strategies by which listeners can attend at will to the abstract phonetic categories of the fricative sibilants [s, ß], or switch to the underlying precategorical auditory information. "The skill involved lay in perceptually segregating the noise from its vocalic context, which then made it possible to attend to its 'pitch'. Without this segregation, the phonetic percept was dominant". I suggest that the freedom to move back and forth between auditory and phonetic modes of listening is at its fullest when the cognitive system is on no level of the poem under the control of some strong shape, definite direction or patent purpose. In such a context of relaxed shapes on all levels of a poem, the greater the divergence of the repeated sound clusters from strings of arbitrary verbal signs, both on the phonetic and semantic level, the more they assume the emotive effects of nonreferential sound gestures.

In view of the foregoing analysis, we may distinguish three significant kinds of relationship between the semantic and the auditory-phonetic information in literary language. In homoeoteleuton, semantic and logical relationships are dominant, to which the sound-information is subordinated; it is perceived as rather flat, compact, relative to the other possibilities. In rhyme, by contrast, the sound-information becomes relatively loose, both in the sense of 'released to some extent from its attachment to meaning', and in the sense of 'less closely packed together'. It reverberates in echoic memory, and the whole is perceived as more spacious, more plastic, having a fuller body. In this case we have two possibilities: "when the cognitive system is on no level of the poem under the control of some strong shape", and when it is on some levels of the poem under the control of strong shape(s). In the latter case, in Pope's poetry, for instance, the regular metre, the symmetrical couplet form, and the parallelisms are just such strong shapes that exert rigorous control over the cognitive system, and considerably tone down the impact of the rich pre-categorical auditory information. As a result, the auditory information remains subordinated to the abstract phonetic categories, generating a "figure-ground" relationship, which renders the perception of the string of abstract phonetic categories more plastic, bestowing upon it, so to speak, depth-dimension. In the former case, in Verlaine's "Chanson d'Automne", for instance, the rich pre-categorical auditory information may get out of control, reverberate at large, and tend to assume the emotive effects of nonreferential sound gestures. By the same token, attention tends to be shifted away from the meaning to the sound of the poem. By analogy with visual perception, the pre-categorical information may be assumed to behave differently at the two levels of rhyme: as long as the abstract phonetic category is in control, the interaction between the minute, inarticulate sound-percepts is contained within the limited area of the speech sound; when the pre-categorical sensory information bursts the constraints of organising shapes, such interaction takes place over considerable areas of the poem, and at great intensity levels.

Returning now to my reviewer's objection, far from relying on the responses of "an abstract reader 'in general'", Cognitive Poetics discerns fine individual differences between poets of a certain historical period, and also offers tools to account for individual differences between readers. It avoids a vision of homogeneous past, without allowing for chaotic idiosyncrasies. One of its basic assumptions is that the effects of poetic texts are not perceived in a way in which the effects of, say, touching an electric wire are perceived. The latter are perceived on mere exposure to the wires, whereas the former presuppose a certain kind of cooperation on the perceiver's part. Different perceived effects of the same piece of literature presuppose different kinds of cooperation in the reader's mind. Perceptual qualities of texts arise only when they are performed in certain ways, that is, when the reader discerns certain elements and realises certain relationships between them. When readers discriminate other elements, or realise different relationships even between the same elements, one may expect that different perceived qualities will arise (Tsur, 1992 b: 29). Anti-grammatical rhymes, as described above, require a different kind of cooperation on the reader's part than grammatical rhymes do. The resulting perceived quality is different too. In the case of grammatical and anti-grammatical rhyme, for instance, we should take into account two kinds of variables: information-processing activities and familiarity. It is the activity of the information-processing mechanism that determines the relatively vigorous or tame character of rhyme. Unexpectedness may heighten the effect of this activity; familiarity may blunt it. Returning now to my reviewer's comment on Chaucer's original audience, it may be construed, in terms of the present paper, as follows: the rich precategorical sensory information reverberating for a very short period of time in short-term memory behind the abstract categories of speech sounds is exploited and enhanced by rhyme; the memory traces of two words considerably apart in time may be fused and perceived as if simultaneously present. Chaucer's contemporaries may have had increased sensitivity to this kind of intense and diffuse sound texture, since it was so unfamiliar to them. This, however, should not have prevented them from perceiving additional tension in rhymes that arouse heightened semantic information-processing activities.

It would appear, however, that the details of my discussion of rhyme allow us to say much more precise things about what is going on in the Mediaeval reader's head when confronted with Chaucer's rhymes. We may assume that their recourse to phonetic and semantic coding is not greatly different from that of present-day readers. There would be some readers who would make extensive use of both semantic and phonetic coding, and some who would feel less at ease with the latter. Perhaps both groups would handle the verse-endings in the ensuing lines in the way we have described, following Wimsatt, the response to homoeoteleuton:

(4)   Under his belt he bar full thriftily,
     Wel coude he dresse his takel yemanly ...

That is, each ending has the same meaning, or is the same morpheme, and each supports the logic of the sentence by appearing in a certain place in the structure; they seem to come fairly to the aid of logic; readers or listeners do direct increased attention to the similar sounds as well, but use this similarity merely to reinforce the similar meanings. But, perhaps, readers who make more efficient use of phonetic coding would "take the cue" from the occurrence of the like endings at the end of verse-lines, and use their newly-acquired sensibilities concerning rhymes to release the sound information from its attachment to meaning, and direct some attention, however faintly, to the relatively unconstrained reverberation of the rich precategorical auditory information.

The state of twentieth-century literacy and schooling may have, though, affected the relevant cognitive faculties. Longitudinal studies of pre-school children well into the lower grades of elementary school suggest that the use of phonetic coding by some poor readers may improve with the years; researchers disagree, whether this is a matter of slower cognitive maturation, or the result of practice gained in the cognitive skills acquired at school. In the former case, we may assume that differences of schooling would have little affect on the deployment of these cognitive faculties in Chaucer's age and in ours. In the latter case, the differences between present-day and Mediaeval educational methods may have affected the differences between the readers' responses in the two ages in the direction opposite to the one suggested by my reviewer: There will be a smaller proportion of Mediaeval than modern readers who would have acquired in course of their education to literacy the skill or willingness to attend away from semantic to phonetic coding in such like endings as in quote (4), so as to perceive their sound texture as especially vivid.

The historical approach quoted above assumes that when readers are exposed to certain kinds of poetic stimuli, certain kinds of poetic responses may be expected, without asking questions about what is going on in that black box, the reader's head. Cognitive Poetics, by contrast, is much interested precisely in those "mediating structures and processes" that may systematically relate poetic structures to (sometimes conflicting) perceived effects reported by competent readers. By the same token, it provides systematic tools for distinguishing and describing perceived effects, and avoids homogeneity, without allowing for chaos; it helps further to refine the formulation of perceived affects collected in a variety of ways from a variety of respondents. Far from relying "on a reader 'in general,' or on a modern (and sometimes unsophisticated) reader", it helps to break up a homogeneous past into a multiplicity of related attitudes, but avoiding scepticism, idiosyncrasy, or chaos. While the historical approach encountered here "is based not so much on insight and intuition as on wide quantitative analyses of observable facts", Cognitive Poetics assumes that the readers of past ages had insights and intuitions, no less than present-day readers; that to understand such insights and intuitions one must study the responses of living readers, and then try to find out in what respects can the responses of readers in the past be supposed to differ from the responses of present-day readers; and that to abandon such inquiries is too high a price to pay for scientific "objectivity".


1. The present section massively draws upon chapters 1 and 2 of my book (Tsur, 1992 a).


Brady, Susan, Donald Shankweiler & Virginia Mann 1983 "Speech Perception and Memory Coding in Relation to Reading Ability". Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 35: 345-367.

Clark, Herbert H. 1970 "Word Associations and Linguistic Theory", in John Lyons (ed.), New Horizons in Linguistics. Harmondsworth: Pelican. 271-286.

Conrad, R. 1964 "Acoustic Confusions in Immediate Memory". BJPsych 55: 75-84.

Crowder, Robert G, and Richard K. Wagner 1992 The Psychology of Reading. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP.

Liberman, Alvin M., Ignatius G. Mattingly, and Michael T. Turvey 1972 "Language Codes and Memory Codes", in A. W. Melton and E. Martin (eds.), Coding Processes in Human Memory. New York: Winston.

Liberman, Isabelle Y., and Virginia A. Mann 1981 "Should Reading Instruction and Remediation Vary with the Sex of the Child?" Status Report on Speech Research SR-65: Haskins Laboratories.

Mann, Virginia A. 1984 "Reading Skill and Language Skill". Developmental Review 4: 1-15.

Repp, Bruno H. 1984 "Categorical Perception: Issues, Methods, Findings", in N. J. Lass (ed.), Speech and Language: Advances in Basic Research and Practice, vol. 10. New York: Academic Press. 243-335.

Schirmann, Jefim 1961 Hebrew Poetry in Spain and in Provence, 4 vols. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: The Bialik Institute and Dvir (in Hebrew).

Tsur, Reuven 1968 Studies in Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry. Tel Aviv: Daga (in Hebrew).

Tsur, Reuven 1992 a What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive?--The Poetic Mode of Speech Perception. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP.

Tsur, Reuven 1992 b Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. Amsterdam: Elsevier (North Holland) Science Publishers.

Tsur, Reuven 1996 "Rhyme and Cognitive Poetics". Poetics Today 17: 55-87.

Wimsatt, W. K. 1954 The Verbal Icon. New York: Noonday.

Wimsatt, W. K. 1968 "Genesis, a Fallacy Revisited", in Peter Demetz et al. eds., The Disciplines of Criticism. New Haven and London: Yale UP.

This paper was published as
Reuven Tsur 1997 "What Can we Know about the Mediaeval Reader's Response to Rhyme?" in Jean Perrot (ed.), Polyphonie pour Ivan Fonagy. Paris: Harmattan.

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