Mind, Technology, and Society Talk Series

Bruce Hayes
Professor and Chair of Linguistics, University of California, Los Angeles
Time/Date: 3-4:30 p.m. Monday, September 21, 2015

Chancellor’s Conference Room, KL 232

Stochastic constraint-based grammars for Hausa verse and song

Homer sang, and the text of what he sang was quantitative verse — Ancient Greek dactylic hexameter. The poetic meter he used involved a regular repeating pattern of long and short syllables. Classical scholars occasionally express regret that the way that Homer and other ancient poets sang their verse will never be known. More recently, however, linguists have been partly making up this gap by studying living traditions of quantitative verse, whose poets also sing, rather than recite. I report research by Russell Schuh and me on sung verse in Hausa (Chadic) using constraint-based stochastic grammars as the main analytic tool. Our basic findings are these. First, we show that the rajaz meter of Hausa, while showing a great deal of variation within and across poems, nevertheless has a unified underlying rhythmic structure. Its variable realization can be derived from a small set of weighted probabilistic constraints; and by varying the weights across poems we can match the observed frequencies in our rajaz data corpus. Second, we find that the rajaz is never sung “straight,” with musical rhythm directly matching metrical rhythm; rather, we must set up multilevel analyses in which phonological form, metrical rhythm, and musical rhythm all interact to yield the observed patterns. The interaction extends even to the level of musical phonetics, where in our model note durations result from a compromise between the demands of the three levels.

Suggested reading:
Hayes, Bruce. 2009. “Textsetting as constraint conflict.” In Jean-Louis Aroui and Andy Arleo (eds). Towards a Typology of Poetic Forms. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 43-61.

Bruce Hayes is Professor and Chair in the Department of Linguistics at UCLA. His research interests include phonology, metrics of spoken and sung verse, learnability, and phonetics.  He is the author of Metrical Stress Theory and the textbook, Introductory Phonology.  His website is at www.linguistics.ucla.edu/people/hayes.