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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:1.
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.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
A sheef of pecock arwes, bright and kene,
Under his belt he bar full thriftily,
Wel coude he dresse his takel yemanly ...
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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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