Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Strategy: Rhyme

Rhyme is a special instance of sound repetition. It is a stylistic device that I find really appealing, and it is widely used in medieval Latin. In classical Latin, however, it is something that is positively avoided, almost as if the Romans found it in bad taste. I'm not sure why that is - given all the different kinds of word play and sound play that you can find in the Roman use of Latin, the near-absence of rhyme is something that has always surprised me. The Middle Ages more than make up for this, however, with all kinds of rhyming proverbs and poems!

There are actually different types of rhyme, ranging from perfect rhyme, to various forms of near rhyme. Perfect rhyme means that the final stressed syllable contains the same vowel, with identical vowels and consonants following that final stressed vowel.

You have near rhyme if some but not all of these conditions prevail because of differences in stress, differences in the exact vowel, differences in the exact consonants, differences in stress, etc.

Here is an example of a perfect rhyme with the final sound string "ernum" ("e" is the final stressed vowel): Vivat in aeternum, qui dat mihi dulce Falernum!

Here is an example of a perfect rhyme with the final sound string "atur" ("a" is the final stressed vowel): Verbum laudatur, si factum tale sequatur.

As you can see, Latin lends itself to many types of what are called "grammatical rhyme" where the word formation itself leads to specific patterns of sounds at the ends of words. Because of these grammatical rhymes in Latin, even if you have just a small vocabulary you can make lots of rhyming pairs. Any word that has a polysyllabic ending offers you a chance to make a rhyme. For example, all these first conjugation verbs rhyme in the first-person plural form: amamus, vocamus, putamus, navigamus, etc. etc.

For an example of imperfect rhyme, consider this saying: Non omnis pugnat, minitans qui fortia clamat. The stress is not on the final syllable of pugnat and clamat, but they do both end with the sound -at. This is the weakest kind of rhyme, but it still provides a kind of verbal echo. If these were the first-person plural forms, they would be perfect rhymes (pugnamus-clamamus) but since the third-person singular form of the verb does not have a polysyllabic ending, you have only near rhyme here.

In one of my vocabulary challenge responses, I used the near rhyme of repletum and quietem; you can see the results here if you are curious. In this example of near rhyme, the final stressed syllable is the same ("et"), but the subsequent syllable is not identical ("um" v. "em").

Also, remember that medieval Latin had a pronunciation that differs from classical Roman pronunciation. Perhaps most importantly, the diphthongs "ae" and "oe" were pronounced "e" as you can see in these rhymes: Nunquam dives erit, multum qui ludere quaerit (quaerit rhymes with erit), and Ex magna cena stomacho fit maxima poena (poena rhymes with cena).

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Do you have some good strategies for doing the Vocabulary Challenge in Latin? Share your ideas here! Here are some strategies that I've used in writing my responses.

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