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Rhyming and Musicality

By October 6, 2021No Comments

What is poetic is what is musical in language, and musicality can be accomplished by different means. The Greeks and Romans used complex meters based on syllable length; the Psalmists parallel structures; the Beowulf poet, alliteration; the medieval European lyricists, rhyme. What we see in Europe as languages slowly shift from highly synthetic to more analytic forms is an increasing interest in rhyme as a musical device. Among inflected synthetic languages, where word endings are used to indicate a word’s function in a sentence, rather than word order, rhyming appears to have been so common as to be unpleasant and avoided. On the other hand, in an analytic language like English, a small pool of true rhyming words is a strong constraint on the free flow of expression. There must be a zone, then, where rhyming provides enough options to allow flow and clever combinations but is not so common as to be awkward or unpleasant. Again, with no statistical information or study whatever, I believe English to be slightly outside that zone, hence the proliferation of near-rhyme and assonance as alternative practices.