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Acoustic spectrum analysis of Mahri orature

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An empirical approach to Bedouin vernacular prosody

image of Brill's Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics

The question of the metrical organization of Arabian vernacular orature has historically been defined by two approaches: one holds that its metrical system is based on patterned beats of stress, while the other proposes regular alternations of long and short vowels. In this article, I describe some preliminary experiments in using a digital method to derive visual spectrograms of the same lines of Mahri poetry performed in two different modes: chanting and recitation. Given the discrepancy in results between the two, my findings suggest that the organizational rhythm of bedouin vernacular poetry is contingent on performance and is not intrinsic to the poetic text itself. The results further cast suspicion on the salience of vocalic quantity or syllabic quality as the prime determinants of Bedouin vernacular prosody.

Affiliations: 1: Middlebury College


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