Gerard Manley Hopkins's Sprung Rhythm:  
Corpus Study and Stochastic Grammar


Bruce Hayes, Department of Linguistics, UCLA

Claire Moore-Cantwell, Department of Linguistics, Simon Fraser University

Phonology 28:235-282.

Portrait of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote many of his poems in a meter he called “sprung rhythm.” This meter is one of the best known puzzles of English metrics. Kiparsky (1989) presented a novel analysis of this meter emphasizing syllable quantity, which forms the starting point of our study. We began by re-evaluating Kiparsky’s proposal using digital technology: we created a file in which 583 sprung rhythm lines were coded for stress, syllable weight, and phonological phrasing, then developed a computer program that located every scansion of these lines compatible with the Kiparskyan analysis.

On the basis of this study we claim that Kiparsky’s principles are correct as far as they go, in that they suffer from extremely few exceptions. However, the Kiparskyan analysis is incomplete: because it uses only inviolable constraints, it permits dozens or even hundreds of scansions for certain sprung rhythm lines. We propose a typologically-supported Parsability Principle for metrics mandating that ambiguity of scansion be minimized, and suggest that under this proposal, the Kiparskyan system is not a possible meter. We then offer a revised analysis that adds ten new constraints to the Kiparskyan grammar and recasts it as a stochastic maxent grammar. This grammar produces an acceptably low level of ambiguity in metrical parsing, and is empirically supported by the close matchup of its predictions with the diacritical marks that Hopkins often employed to designate his intended scansion.

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