15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


The Hidden Sound-Structures of Poetry

Stephanie Smolinsky

New York City Technical College, USA

Could the distribution of phonetic features in a poem create such 'mysterious' effects as emotional resonance, iconicity or memorability? A pilot investigation was made of sound patterning at all feature levels, inputting four short modern English poems to the Pattern-Finder. This program takes in transcribed texts, producing a variety either of single-feature congruency displays (e.g., all the bilabials in a text) or matched displays (e.g., all the back vowels in a text, versus coronals). It allows any type of contrast or comparison of distribution: clusterings of phonological 'sames' are clearly seen, as are notable gaps. Transcriptions were based on the written texts of the poems, with reference to authors' recorded performances. A control sample of newspaper prose was analyzed for comparison. Certain Pattern-Finder outputs indicated abnormal distributions; these were matched with literary analyses of the poems, and it was concluded that feature distributions did contribute to poetic meaning and impact.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Smolinsky, Stephanie (2003): "The hidden sound-structures of poetry", In ICPhS-15, 2757-2760.