A study of Metrical Writing, Part 7: Promotion and Demotion

Published by OJB in the blog OJB's blog. Views: 92

Welcome to part 7 of my study on Metrical Writing. Hopefully, you've been reading works that are written in meter and have been practicing your Metrical writing; if not, I suggest you do so before moving on to the more advanced theory that we are about to dive into.

So current Metrical theory is based on a linguistics study performed by Trager and Smith in the 1950s. While this study had nothing to do with poetry, the information was used in crafting the current theory. What this study learned was that English has a number of unique characteristics in terms of the sounds we make as we talk. Some of these characteristics are Rising and Falling stress, Promotion, and Demotion.

The last two, Promotion and Demotion, is what I will be diving into today.

In English, when a speaker has to say three unstressed syllables in a row, they will slightly stress the middle one. This is called Promotion.

Here is an example of Promotion.

It flapped its wings /and leaped/ out of /the nest

If you look at the 4th foot, the word OF is stressed. This is not because it is in the stressed position of the line, but because the words 'out' and 'the' are on either side of it. All three of these words 'out, of, the' are all usually unstressed, but because we have 3 of them in a row, we bump the middle one slightly.

However, the opposite is also true. When you have three stressed words in a row, the middle one is slightly demoted.

Here is an example,

The Anchor lifted, and the boat broke waves;

The Anc/hor lift/ed, and/ the boat /broke waves;

In the 5th foot, the word 'broke', a verb, would usually be stressed, but because it is surrounded by two nouns 'boat' and 'waves' it is demoted.

The above line also has a promotion in the form of 'and'. And is rarely promoted but because it follows ed, and is preceded by 'the' it is promoted.

Now, a few more notes on this subject.

1. Promotion is 10 times more likely to occur than demotion. In fact, the demotion appears to only occur when you have a subject-verb-object order all with a single syllable word.

2. I want to finish off with something that is NOT a demotion, but some people might call it that.

The old/ man ran.

The above is NOT a demotion. Why? Because 'Old' is an adjective, and an adjective will never out-stress a noun. What the above is, is a rising Rhythm.

The (1) old (2) /man (3) ran (4)

While I have yet explained the numbering system (that will be the next blog post I do), you can see that each syllable gets heavier and heavier. This is a common occurrence in the English Language, and we will be looking at it extensively in couple blog posts.

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I hope you've enjoyed part 7 of my look into Metrical writing. Usually I end with scanning a poem, however, I am currently doing some research, and will be taking time later to show where Contemporary writers (writers from the late 20th Century to now) have used Metrical writing to extraordinary effects.

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