Encoding and decoding verse

structure and perception of metered verse

(This is one of the two topics for the workshop The structure of verse.)

Since Jakobson's Closing statement, much research in the field of metrics has followed the idea that what constitutes a (spoken) meter is the regular occurrence of similar items in a sequence. However, it has soon become clear that one should not dismiss the role played by the reader/listener in decoding and attributing structure to a metered text (Attridge 1987). As a matter of fact, the formal equivalence established among successive items in verse is only possible within the limits of the reader's (or listener's) perception (Cornulier 1982).

The influence of general perceptual and cognitive constraints on the perception and representation of metrical structure has thus become part of the debate about meter. Evidence from experimental psychology provides support for this approach. In fact, independent work carried out with both simple and complex sound sequences (Fraisse 1956, Jones 1976) has revealed that the perception and processing of sound(-like) events is restricted by quantity, temporal limits and internal organization.

Moreover, it has been argued that there exist cognitive limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. In particular, storage of information in immediate memory appears to be subject to the so-called Miller's Law, which limits the maximum number of items that we are able to memorize to seven, plus or minus two (Miller 1992). The role of combined constraints and formal organization in cueing recall and ensuring stable transmission of oral poetry has also been investigated (Rubin 1995).

Insights from metrical typology suggest that the proliferation of poetic forms observed across cultures and times corresponds in fact to a limited number of cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and mentally represent the equivalences created by metrical repetitions (Kiparsky/Youmans 1989, Arleo/Aroui 2009).

In this workshop, we invite papers focusing on the mechanisms of perception, mental representation and memorization involved in the creation, reception and transmission of metered texts. Proposals may address theoretical issues and/or present empirical analyses based on spoken and/or sung poetry. Typological approaches as well as comparative analyses conducted in the above spirit are also welcome.