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Folksong is not poetry: advocating for a non-modular view of text-setting

Rosalía Rodríguez-Vázquez, University of Vigo

Optimality Theory (OT) has established itself as one of the major theoretical frameworks in segmental phonology. It has recently expanded to cover the fields of suprasegmental phonology and text-setting.  In the last ten years, several significant papers about the relationship between linguistic prosody, verse prosody and text-setting have been published by Dell and Halle (in press), Hayes and Kaun (1996), Kiparsky (2006) and Rodríguez-Vázquez (in press), among others. The majority of these papers favour a modular view of text-setting, according to which song' is a composite which combines two objects each with its own structure, a linguistic object - text - and a musical object - tune' (Dell and Halle in press). Kiparsky (2006) fully supports this view of the metrics/music interface, arguing that the same words can be sung to different musical measures, maintaining certain invariant constraints on stanza form.  The same claim is made by Fabb and Halle (2008), who state that there is no necessary connection between the meter of a line of poetry and the way it is set to music'.
  This paper will present evidence against such modular view of text-setting by analysing instances of twentieth-century English folksong collected in Kennedy (1984).  I will apply OT metrical and grouping constraints to a corpus of twentieth-century folk songs in order to prove that i) the same metrical and grouping constraints are at work and ranked equally in the text and the tune of English folk songs, ii) the fact that the same lyrics can be sung to different tunes is only a byproduct of the recurring meters used in folk-song, iii) in certain vocal genres, the composer/performer of a song does not construct a match between three tiers of rhythmic structure - linguistic prominence, poetic metre, and music rhythm - but between two, namely linguistic prominence and musical rhythm.

Dell, F. & J. Halle (in press) "Comparing musical text-setting in French and in English songs." Ed. Jean-Louis Aroui and Andy Arleo. Towards a typology of poetic forms. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Fabb, N. & H. Morris (2008) Meter in poetry: a new theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hayes, B. & M. MacEachern (1996) "Are there lines in folk poetry?" UCLA Working Papers in Phonology 1:125-142.
Kennedy, P. (1984 [1975]). Folk songs of Britain and Ireland. London: Oak Publications.
Kiparsky, P. (2006) "A modular metrics of folk verse." Eds. Elan B. Dresher and Nila Friedberg. Formal approaches to poetry. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 7-52.
Rodríguez-Vázquez, R. (in press) "Text-setting constraints: a comparative perspective." Australian Journal of Linguistics (special edition on the Language of Song).
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