Meter is such a key concept in so many of what is culturally familiar to us that we might be guilty of seeing it where it may not be there. Three themes are given in this talk to exemplify such traps. I urge caution and readiness to discard metricality when there is no ostensible reason to assume its presence. The first is with regard to foot structure in Hong Kong English when studying its tonal patterns. Here, I respond to Köhnlein et al’s (2019) call for an analysis that is more parsimonious with the metrical assumptions of other Englishes. An empirical test would probably better serve their purposes. The second theme is on the tedious attempts over the last two decades to demonstrate stress in Chinese languages. These had led to rather weakly-grounded claims of metricality even if they have now come to be widely-accepted. I offer a Hsieh’s (2021) superbly executed research as an instance of how prosodic phonology has given us a framework that may sometimes detrimentally constrain clear thinking. The third theme looks at the non-metricality of guqin music. The guqin is the erstwhile musical instrument of the traditional Chinese literati. Guqin musical notation has been critiqued for lacking timing rhythmic marks, triggering scholars eager to explain the absence. Of them, Tse & Wong (2020) may have made the best case. This takes us full circle to Bernstein’s (1961) observation on how the prosody of a language correlates to its music. Ergo, must we not check ourselves for such an obsession on “meter”?
Prof. Lian-Hee Wee
Hong Kong Baptist University
Prof. Lian-Hee Wee is a phonologist and a maker of the gǔqín and xiāo he plays. His research covers tonology in Chinese languages and new varieties of Englishes such as Singapore’s and Hong Kong’s, extending them where possible into creating poetry that represents the sounds of the poet’s community. Among more than 10 (co-)authored/edited volumes, and numerous papers, Wee’s notable publications include Phonological Tone (Cambridge University Press, 2019), some minor editorial collaboration with Cha: an Asian Literary Journal in celebration of Asian Englishes’ voices, and “Hong Kong Food Runes” (World Literature Today, spring 2019). His forthcoming work Complexity in the Phonology of Tone (with Mingxing Li, Cambridge University Press) is expected this year.
Bernstein, Leonard (1961) Folk Music in the Concert Hall, Young People’s Concerts original broadcast April 9, 1961. Accessed 22 Aug 2023, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1kyhQHyuGg.
Hsieh, Feng-fan (2021) Lun Hanyu You Cizhongyin [On the existence of word stress in Mandarin Chinese]. Studies in Prosodic Grammar 7.1: 27-58. [謝豐帆 2021 論漢語有詞重音 ⟪韻律語法研究⟫ 7.1: 27-58. ]
Köhnlein, Björn, Carly Dickerson, James Leow and Paloma P Chávez (2019) Lexical tone or foot structure in Hong Kong English? A response to Lian-Hee Wee. Language, vol. 95.3:e394-405.
Tse, Chun-yan and Chung-fung Wong (2020) Metrical structure and freedom in Qin music of the Chinese literati. Analytical Approaches to World Music, vol.8.2:164-194.
Keywords: Meter, Hong Kong English, Chinese, Guqin, Prosody, Linguistics, Music