Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
the Greek were felt as a shade more artificial than in the language of their origin. The attempt to cast English verse into Latin and Greek molds has never been successful. The dynamic basis of English is not quantity,12 but stress, the alternation of accented and unaccented syllables. This fact gives English verse an entirely different slant and has determined the development of its poetic forms, is still responsible for the evolution of new forms. Neither stress nor syllabic weight is a very keen psychologic factor in the dynamics of French. The syllable has great inherent sonority and does not fluctuate significantly as to quantity and stress. Quantitative or accentual metrics would be as artificial in French as stress metrics in classical Greek or quantitative or purely syllabic metrics in English. French prosody was compelled to develop on the basis of unit syllable-groups. Assonance, later rhyme, could not but prove a welcome, an all but necessary, means of articulating or sectioning the somewhat spineless flow of sonorous syllables. English was hospitable to the French suggestion of rhyme, but did not seriously need it in its rhythmic economy. Hence rhyme has always been strictly subordinated to stress as a somewhat decorative feature and has been frequently dispensed with. It is no psychologic accident that rhyme came later into English than in French and is leaving it sooner.13 Chinese verse has developed along very much the same lines as French verse. The syllable is an even more
Note 12. Quantitative distinctions exist as an objective fact. They have not the same inner, psychological value that they had in Greek. [back]
Note 13. Verhaeren was no slave to the Alexandrine, yet he remarked to Symons, à propos of the translation of Les Aubes, that while he approved of the use of rhymeless verse in the English version, he found it meaningless in French. [back]