Episode 167: The Rhythm of English

All languages have their own rhythm and cadence, and English is no exception. That rhythm has actually shaped the language over time. It contributed to the structure of English poetry, and during the Elizabethan period, it shaped the way drama was composed. In this episode, we look at the beginning of Modern English drama through the patterns of sound in ordinary speech.

Links to Videos in Episode:
The Perfect French with Dylane: Word Stress
The Rhythms of Latin Poetry: Hexameter


19 thoughts on “Episode 167: The Rhythm of English

  1. Hi Kevin. First a compliment, then a question. The compliment: your narration is unsurpassed among podcasts. it is articulate and conversational, yet precise and well-paced. Now the question: in my readings now days I often think ‘and’ is used where ‘but’ belongs. ‘And’ connects two things that have something in common. “But’ reflects a change of direction. In you Rhythm of English episode you said something like, “Audiences were not used to such an approach AND they loved it.” Since the 2 parts of that sentence are in contrast with each other, wouldn’t the better phrase be “…..BUT they loved it.” I don’t mean to nitpick your choice of words; I use them only to give an example of where I think but, not and, belongs. What are your thoughts on the matter? Thanks

  2. Another great episode. It is interesting to compare the stress in kilogram and kilometer. I wonder if the change in stress in the latter word has occurred in order to follow the pattern set by speedometer (we don’t say “speed-o-meter”). Did we ever say “kilo-meter”?

    • I haven’t listened to this episode yet, so I can only guess at what is being your question. But in the UK, in the word “kilometre” we sometimes put the stress on the o, and sometimes on the first syllable.

      • Just a guess but it may be that US pronunciation is affected by Spanish. Britons learned “kilometre” from the French, for whom it was a kilo of metres and pronounced that way. Spanish leans on the O in the middle of words, so if Americans learned it from Mexicans, they would have copied. But it is but a guess

        • My father, who worked on Canada’s conversion to the metric system back in 1970, maintained that kilometer should be pronounced to rhyme with meter, centimeter and millimeter.

  3. How did you manage to make it to episode 167 and not list David Crystal as a resource? I’m wrapping up my master’s class on the History of the English Language (to which your podcast has been imperative to my success) and we collectively read a dozen of his books. Including the History of English.

    • I’ve actually mentioned David Crystal several times in the podcast. Also, I cite the sources of specific information in the transcripts, and I have cited David’s works on numerous occasions there. If you are referring to the ‘Resources’ page of the website, that page is hopelessly out of date. I think I put that list together about 10 years ago. I have collected enough books about the history of English over the years to fill a small library, and I use dozens of books for each episode, but David Crystal’s books are always a ‘go to’ resource.

    • One thing I’m pretty sure is true is that it doesn’t really pay to nit-pick Kevin. On the other hand, I enjoy the very specific questions/comments that are posted by interested listeners and Kevin’s very specific answers to these questions/comments. I’m not an expert on any of this so reading this dialogue helps me to not feel like I’m swimming in a sea of generality.

      • Hi Wayne. Thanks for the comment. I didn’t consider Kate’s question to be a nit-pick though. The question was fair. I was just trying to point out that I have indeed used David Crystal’s books in the preparing the episodes, and I have tried to acknowledge that when David’s work was a significant resource.


  5. I’m not sure how many people could put out an hour-long podcast on the topic of “The Rhythm of English” and make it even tolerable, but this episode was fascinating, as I have come to expect by now.
    Another great one Kevin; thanks.

  6. Why is it that a person traveling in an easterly direction is going towards east and an easterly wind is going from the east?

  7. The Shakespeare discussion group I belong to is reading Shakespeare’s and John Fletcher’s Henry VIII, which is said to be his last play–it’s interesting in the sense that it doesn’t have any of Shakespeare’s wonderful prose and yet it’s coherent and works as a play. Surrey’s father is a character in the play (Wikipedia calls him Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk).

    So, it was fun to read about Surrey and Wyatt. They brought the sonnet form to England from Italy and they reawakened iambic pentameter, which seems to have slumbered since Chaucer’s time. Surrey did a translation of parts of The Aeneid in the 1540s, getting rid of the “complicated latin meter” and using blank verse. Brilliant!

  8. “And it is very clear that he was a fan of Marlowe. In fact, Shakespeare quoted one of Marlowe’s lines in his play called ‘As You Like It,’ and it appears to be the only time Shakespeare acknowledged one of his contemporaries
    in that way.” Do you happen to know what the line was?

    “Marlowe was a fascinating character. He was outspoken, he was an atheist in a very religious era, he was gay, he was also an incredible playwright, and he was almost certainly a government spy.” He might have been gay, whatever that might have meant to him as he lived his life. He did die young so there’s that. Too bad Hilary Mantel isn’t around to write a novel about him.

    • In Marlowe’s poem ‘Hero and Leander,’ he included the following lines:

      Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
      Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

      In ‘As You Like It,’ Shakespeare recalled the line and referred to the then-deceased Marlowe as ‘Dead shepherd’:

      Dead shepherd, now I find they saw of might:
      ‘Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?’
      (As You Like It, 3.5.82-3)

  9. English may rise & fall in sentence context. It is also influenced by region & dialect.
    People say that mid-west accents are flat while modern “vocal fry” tends to the theatrical.
    Finally, English vs Romance languages: am I off-base, or Romance languages use fast/slow/ceasura the way English speakers use tone & inflection?

  10. Late in the episode you mentioned Albert C. Baugh. I have to mention that in 1954 I took a course called The History of English from Professor Baugh.

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