English Quantity

[8 January 2016 in Austin, TX, at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, session number 218, “Quantity in English Verse: Linguistic and Neuroscience-Based Challenges to the Accentual Paradigm.” This short historiographical paper was the half-time show in our round-table—a brief interlude between the session’s more substantive linguistic contributions. It draws from my article “The Accentual Paradigm in Early English Metrics,” which appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Journal of English and Germanic Philology.]

The operations of quantity in early English meters are modern discoveries, brought to light by modern sciences of philology and linguistics. Medieval poets clearly had an intuitive sense of these phenomena, but their epistemological framing was different: they lacked the specific concepts, modes of reasoning and forms of attention that underwrite the descriptive statements of the two previous papers. This observation has the appearance of an uninformative verity, but it conceals an important historical paradox: the epistemological frame that has enabled description of English meters has also made it difficult to perceive and conceptualize the operation of quantity in English meters.

This paradox may be traced to a particular historical moment and a particular scene of inquiry: the study of Old English meter in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. . . .

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