LINGUIST List 9.567

Mon Apr 13 1998

Sum: Rhyme and Memory

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. monika.bruendl, Summary: Rhyme&Memory

Message 1: Summary: Rhyme&Memory

Date: Mon, 13 Apr 1998 22:35:28 +0000
From: monika.bruendl <>
Subject: Summary: Rhyme&Memory

Summary: Rhyme&Memory

A few weeks ago I posted a query concerning empirical evidence on the
relation between rhyme and memory. Thanks to everybody who responded:

Jakob Dempsey		)^ + <>
Taimi Metzler 		<metzlersstripe.Colorado.EDU>
Peter Ross
Rick Mc Callister 	<rmccalliMUW.Edu>
Laurie Bauer		<>
Suzette Haden Elgin 

In general, it seems that most people agree on the fact that rhyme and
memory interact, and that rhyme (and rhythm) aid memorizing, esp.
sentences and poems:

>>In ancient India, even texts on mathematics were in verse form
(rhythm and rime?). There must have been a reason why they did was easier to remember!<< --Jakob Dempsey, Yuan-ze

>> ... in addition to looking at strictly rhyming and memory, you
might look at literature on lexical priming: you may find that rhymes
are lexically primed, hence facilitating memory.<< taimi metzler,
university of colorado/boulder

>>My current PhD topic looks at selected rhyme groups in Thai. It is
chiefly semantic but the results so far suggest that rhyme and memory
 Peter Ross, Thai/Linguistics Australian National University

>> Check with the people who specialize in Medieval Literature at your
university --especially in ballad and epic, there are quite a few
studies on the use of rhyme in poetry that make the same claims. This
claim is also used for meter and other types of traditional prosodies,
especially those associated with oral literature.<<
 Rick Mc Callister

>> Everyone knows that people remember better when information is
 rhymed -- we see it with our little kids, so dramatically that the
knowledge is inescapable -- but I don't know that we have any
"scientific" evidence. If not, we certainly need some. (And I would
add, we know that when you add melody as well as rhyme you have
something it's almost impossible *not* to learn). It does occur to me
that that there is a tiny hint in the research proving that what
brings about true learning is not the number of repetitions of a chunk
of information but the number of *transformations* of that chunk
presented to the learner. (Brunner, and George Miller, demonstrated
that long long ago). Perhaps the rhyming represents a transformation,
and perhaps it's a transformation of a particularly compelling kind
because the rhymes pamper the short term memory and make for
especially efficient indexes?<< Suzette Haden Elgin

>> "Transformation" just means a different packaging for the
information in question. To give the simplest sort of example,
children will learn more about how to build a log cabin from reading a
set of instructions for building a log cabin one and building a cabin
from toy logs once than they will learn from reading the set of
instructions twice. This seems simplistic, but is heresy for many
camps in education and training, where the conviction remains that the
way to learn something is to repeat the information over and over and
over in a single format. The challenge for teachers is of course
repackaging information that -- unlike the building of log cabins --
is extremely abstract. Morton Hunt's "The Universe Within" and the
various educational works by Jerome Bruner would get you started.<<
Suzette Haden Elgin

If we look at word-formation, in particular (which my query was aimed
at originally), there doesn't seem to be much agreement with my

>> There's quite a lot in Hans Marchand The Categories and Types of
Present-Day English Word-Formation (Muenchen: Beck, 1969) on rhyme and
ablaut-motivated compounds in English, and the categories are found in
German, too, as you know. I think you'll have to be careful with your
terms ('ability to memorise' etc) because it is not clear to me
whether such words are easier to learn or just sound 'cute' in some
sense. consider gang-bang ('gang rape'), which is not a nice thing
but is trivialised to some extent by the label. There IS, I think,
some evidence that rhyme can help speakers PREDICT. As a schoolboy I
learnt an obscene poem that started There was an old farmer who sat on
a rick Ranting and raving and waving his fist ... where, as you may be
able to tell, the last word of each couplet fails to rhyme and
everyone who hears it reconstructs the rhyming word before hearing the
presented word.<< Laurie Bauer.

>> The problem with your hypothesis seems to me to be that there is
little evidence that we need mnemonic hooks to hang new vocabulary
from: we learn thousands of words without any such aid to memory. Why
then should some need it? And in what sense (if any) are they
'better' words as a result? In fact, if you look at Marchand's lists,
they seem very much to be marginal words -- possibly marginal IN PART
because of their form.<< Laurie Bauer

My own findings suggest that there really does seem to be
psycholinguistic evidence that at least similar-sounding words in
general, not only rhyme, are linked in the mental lexicon. The
following is a passage I found in Aitchison's book (Words in the mind,

"It seems that some parts of words are more prominent in storage than
others. They are, as it were, more deeply engraved in the mind. These
are the sounds at the beginning and the end (the 'bathtub effect') and
the general rhythmic pattern, which is inextricably linked with the
sounds [...] Words are possibly clumped together in groups, with those
having a similar beginning, similar ending and similar rhythmic
pattern clustered together. [...] These similar-sounding words
sometimes aid recall of one another. But they can compete for
selection, as shown by 'blocking' - a familiar, annoying experience
when a required word gets pushed back by another like-sounding one."

If you have more suggestions, comments, opinions on this topic, you're
welcome to contact me.

Monika Bruendl M.A., Munich, Germany
T: -89-2609865
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