LINGUIST List 7.488

Sun Mar 31 1996

Disc: Literary Acquisition, Mora-counting

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Peter Daniels, Re: 7.447, Qs: Literacy acquisition
  2. Alexis Manaster Ramer, Mora-counting

Message 1: Re: 7.447, Qs: Literacy acquisition

Date: Sun, 24 Mar 1996 14:20:31 CST
From: Peter Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 7.447, Qs: Literacy acquisition
Regarding Brook Swainson's query about the involvement of rhyme as a pre-
cursor to literacy acquisition--

It is perhaps relevant that the poetry of the languages for which writing was
first devised (Sumerian, Egyptian) and for which segmental scripts were fifrst
devised (Phoenician and/or close relatives, Ugaritic) does not use rhyme at 
all: poetry is based in syllable counting, in alliteration, in parallelism 
and chiasm of syntax and pairs of words in stereotypical relationships, 
etc.; readily accessible examples are found anywhere in the book of Psalms, 
for instance, and throughout the Hebrew Bible. (One writer noted, long ago, 
that it was pretty clever of God to write his poetry in a form that could 
be translated into any language without losing the readxxxxxx features 
that make it poetry.)
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Mora-counting

Date: Mon, 25 Mar 1996 12:07:29 EST
From: Alexis Manaster Ramer <amrCS.Wayne.EDU>
Subject: Mora-counting
This may be at least in part old hat, but it seems to me that
we should not simply say that a language is or is not mora-
counting. I seem to recall that some decades ago McCawley
said something relevant about some languages being mora-
counting (or whatever) at one level but something else at another.
In general, I would think that mora-counting is like ergative.
Different components or even perhaps different individual rules
of a language may be mora-counting and others not. It is also
by no means evident that the poetry of a language will be mora-
counting iff only the phonology is. This might explain why
people seem to be disagreeing about whether Finnish is mora-
counting. Perhaps it is in some ways but not others. Certainly,
the folk poetry which gave us the Kalevala WAS mora-counting in
much the same way as Greek, Latin, Arabic, Sanskrit, etc., poetry,
but it does not seem that there is much mora counting in Finnish
phonology, unless I have forgotten something.
One useful distinction perhaps might be between languages which
can actually have accent distinctively on one or another mora
of the same syllable, such as Ancient Greek or Hopi, and languages
which evidently count moras to decide where to put the accent or
for some other phonological or poetic purpose but where there is
no possible contrast between 'VV (or 'VR) and V'V (or V'R) where 
R is a resonant,i.e., a stressable consonant, such as Latin or
Arabic. The first class are obviously "more moraic" than the
second class, and Finnish of course belongs to the second class.
Of course, there might be some universal constraints on how
a system may be organized, such that the presence of mora-counting
in component or rule A of a language might imply its presence in
component or rule B, but I wonder how many such implications we
really know of at present. One thing that would seem to make
any absolute universals difficult is that a language may borrow
a poetic system from another language of a very different type.
Alexis Manaster Ramer
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue