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Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

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Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby Cheiromancer » Sat Mar 29, 2014 2:53 pm

I'm reading Devine and Stephens' "The Prosody of Greek Speech" and am much puzzled thereby. They seem to amass all kinds of evidence without stating very clearly what it is evidence for, or how the evidence supports the conclusion. In chapter 7, for instance, there is an extensive discussion about the kinds of words that can occur before Porson's Bridge. I am not sure what is to be made of the fact that a given word (or type of word) can appear before Porson's Bridge.

Wikipedia quotes Goodwin's "Greek Grammar" (1895) to explain Porson's Law as follows: When the tragic trimeter ends in a word forming a cretic (long-short-long), this is regularly preceded by a short syllable or by a monosyllable.

So the cretic in a tragic trimeter is Porson's Bridge, and the word preceding it is standing before Porson's bridge. Then D&S's list of words that can appear before Porson's Bridge is thereby a list of words that count as short syllables? I.e., any long vowels are reduced? I am not sure if a long (heavy) monosyllable is also reduced; maybe they are less resistant to reduction than the last syllable of a longer word? (I.e., can Porson's law be stated as that before the cretic of a tragic trimeter there is a short (light) syllable; and syllables that would otherwise be long (heavy) are reduced there, but since not every long (heavy) syllable can be reduced, basically only a monosyllable or a short syllable can be there.)

The purpose of the chapter is to explore "Appositive Groups", which are treated as rhythmic units with other words. A long (or heavy) syllable has its own rhythm, so becoming reduced is a sign that they are joined to an appositive group. Like "will" does when "I will" is shortened to "I'll".

Is anyone conversant with D&S's work? I am interested in Greek Prosody and I'm baffled by the discussions of West Greenland Eskimo etc. that frequently crops up. I'm more interested in, say, whether terminal short vowels are lengthened in Ancient Greek, as in English. For instance, is it OK to lengthen the iota in ὅτι, or do you have to be careful to keep it short? Or does it depend on how fast you are talking? I have a feeling answers to this kind of question are in D&S somewhere, but it is like finding a needle in a haystack.
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby Qimmik » Sat Mar 29, 2014 5:46 pm

Technically, the "bridge" is not the cretic itself, but rather the absence of a word-break before the cretic if the syllable before the cretic is heavy (of course, there are exceptions, and the rule can be formulated more precisely). Porson's "law" only applies in 5th century tragedy, not in tragedy or other iambic poetry.
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby Scribo » Sat Mar 29, 2014 10:35 pm

Ok imagine you have a line. Now if an anceps (can be long or short) is long in the third measure of the line, this syllable and the next one must belong to the same word. Unless one's a monosyllable. Now this might at first sound complicated, it's not, just read out some lines. It's to do with the way the sounds are realised in metrical expression. It's also a good marker for interpolations when the phonology has changed.

I get what you mean about the book! It's a monster but worth it, read it slowly and come back to it now and then. I've mentioned this before here but anyone getting into this stuff must a) have a general knowledge of accents and b) start with the articles in the blackwell companion since they're easiest to grasp and more up to date than, say, Allen (which itself is not as good as...say, Duhoux)
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby cb » Sun Mar 30, 2014 12:34 pm

hi, to answer your more general qn, yes i've worked through the book. here is my 2004 summary of their data on pitch: http://iliad.envy.nu/ModelOct04.pdf, which produces similar results to the models of stefan hagel and avery andrews. to see what this model is doing, open this link and look at the pitch of the syllables (noted high to low like on a musical score), with tildas marking lengthened syllables, then look at the capitalised letters underneath each score to see the model of that word group in the first-linked doc above.

their writing is very hard to understand but there is useful stuff in there, my approach always is, extract what's useful and ignore the rest. you have to almost mine the useful stuff out from the modern vocab, so that reading it is like drilling through hundreds of metres of dense rock to get to the good stuff, but it's worth it i think. cheers, chad
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby Cheiromancer » Sun Mar 30, 2014 1:09 pm

For anyone else reading chad's post, his web-page is at http://iliad.envy.nu/

The web-server disables hot-linking, so click directly on "Greek pitch model document" and then on "Iliad 1 (reconstructed pronunciation)". (The link he posts is actually to "A newer Greek pitch model", but that one doesn't label the tone-shapes with letters.)

chad, am I reading the transcription correctly? It looks like there are no diphthongs in the reconstructed pronunciation. For instance, the first syllable of οἰωνοῖσι is transcribed oh-ee~. Is this a Homeric thing, or is it Attic pronunciation?

edit: Ah, I see the thing about diphthongs on the page attached to the newer pitch model document. I don't understand the beats. If you say oh-ee on one beat it is in fact a true diphthong ("oi" in English), while something like ηι is eh-i on separate beats - that is, two separate vowels (would this be eta with the iota subscript? I've always pronounced it the same as eta). But what is the third beat that makes αι sound like y if a vowel follows...?
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby cb » Sun Mar 30, 2014 1:44 pm

hi, please ignore the phonology in those old docs. the pitches are what i was trying to focus on, and the results are consistent with what stefan hagel sent to me about his own pitch modelling and with avery andrews' pitch model documentation online, but the phonology is not accurate, it was before i learned about IPA and worked out how to represent the reconstructed pronunciation accurately. the doc was just trying to show the levels of pitch, and so to represent long syllables i put a tilde on the pitch of the second beat, but it doesn't represent the correct phonology which, if i were re-doing it today, i'd represent through IPA. as i mentioned previously in this thread, extract what's useful (if anything) from that old doc from a decade ago, and reject/ignore the rest. cheers, chad
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby Cheiromancer » Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:20 am

Sometimes I throw out treasure, thinking it's trash. Like when I read that omicron is the "o" in "obey" while omega was the "o" in "own". I thought (wrongly) that they sounded the same to me. I was listening for a difference in quality, not a difference in quantity, and so was overlooking a very obvious difference. (The "o" in obey is much shorter than the "o" of "own")

Reading about the prosody of Greek makes me realize how much I don't know about the prosody of English. I am starting to think that Greek with a tonal accent need not sound like the Swedish Chef or like Mickey Mouse singing Chinese opera or what have you - it might sound like a natural way of speaking.

Mind you, I don't know what makes the Swedish Chef sound the way he does, but I would imagine that it has something to do with the range of tones and how fast they change. I wonder what the prosody of English looks like, compared to that of Greek. Do tones change faster in one language than the other? Is one more "sing-song" than the other?

Still, I am not sure how to pronounce γαλήν' ὁρῶ "I see a calm" in such a way that it would be hilariously different from γαλῆν ὁρῶ "I see a weasel". It's one thing to say that both pronunciations are well in the range of English prosody, and the other to reliably hear and produce the difference.

(Incidentally, I wonder what Hegelochus would have thought about his being remembered for thousands of years due to that single slip of the tongue?)
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Re: Question about Porson's Bridge (and Devine and Stephens)

Postby mwh » Wed May 21, 2014 11:21 pm

Porson’s bridge is an intriguing thing.

The rationale for it is not at all clear. It may be (my own suspicion) associated with the fact that the sequence short-long-long (or light-heavy-heavy, in the preferred terminology for syllables as distinct from vowels) has clausular function in many early Greek verse-forms, and the “bridge” in iambics propels the line beyond giving any such impression. It will have been instinctive on the part of the composers, who were probably not aware of its being a “law.” (There’s no inhibition against it earlier in the line, at caesura, but then that’s so much earlier in the line.)

That it’s not operative in the comic trimeter, but only in the tragic and other early iambic verse, is easier to explain. It’s of a piece with the much laxer form that stichic meters (iambic trimeter most notably) are free to assume in comedy. Comedy avails itself of all sorts of metrical licences that are unacceptable in tragedy, and non-observance of Porson’s Law is just one of them.

Precise definition of the phenomenon is a little tricky. The Goodwin quote you got from Wikipedia, while not exactly wrong, is not very satisfactory, and certainly has no explanatory value. The only way to make sense of the apparent exception for long(heavy) monosyllables is in terms of apposition, specifically pre-position, which is what Devine and Stephens do. If a monosyllabic “word” is not so much an independent word as part of a word-unit, i.e. attached to what follows it, it is best not regarded as a monosyllable at all, and hence does not break the bridge.

As to what “words” meet this criterion, in addition to D&S there’s a very brief but useful treatment in M.L. West’s Greek Metre, if I remember rightly. What “monosyllabic words” qualify as not breaking the bridge is determined by observation of actual practice, which leads to theory (not the other way around). Not all prepositives qualify, it seems, but in general it’s safe to think of a monosyllabic prepositive as being not a word in its own right but rather the beginning of a single unit. It only looks like a separate word on the page.

To clear up a misapprehension in your initial post, neither the length of the vowel nor the quality of the syllable is affected. Longs remain long, there's no reason to think that they were in any way “reduced.” I don’t recall that D&S say otherwise (haven't checked), but if they do I think they’re wrong. I’d be surprised if they do, for in other publications they have quite rightly insisted on a binary opposition between heavy and light syllables, just as between long and short vowels (there’s no such thing as an anceps syllable). The prepositive function is enough.

And to settle hoti’s business, no, the iota of oti is never lengthened, any more than the omicron. A short vowel is always short. Homer could make oti scan long-short instead of short-short by doubling the tau, but he couldn’t lengthen the iota to make it scan short-long or long-long. (Not that there’s not plenty of prosodic fudging with vowels too.) The final element of a verse (iambic trimeter included) always “counts” as long even when the vowel is short, by virtue of its verse-final position; the vowel itself is not lengthened. But all this gets us well away from Porson’s Law.

- I doubt that any one of us would discern the difference between galhn’ orw and galhn orw. But at least, thanks to the likes of Devine and Stephens, we can understand what the difference was.

Apologies for the length of this post, which may not even be helpful.
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