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Typological tendencies in verse and their cognitive grounding

On May 3rd, Varun de Castro Arrazola succesfully defended his doctoral thesis and graduated. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Varun on this great result.

Varun de Castro Arrazola
03 May 2018
Full text in Leiden University Repository


This dissertation is about verse, some of its recurrent features, and cognitive aspects which can explain their prevalence. Verse includes a range of verbal phenomena, most typically songs and poems, but also nursery rhymes, religious chants or demonstration slogans. Compared to everyday speech, all these forms show additional layers of structure, like a regular alternation of accented syllables or a fixed melody. Every linguistic community in the world engages in verse, but certain features seem suspiciously widespread. On the one hand, I have developed computational tools in order to assess systematically how widespread individual verse features are. On the other hand, I have conducted behavioural experiments to investigate to which extent these widespread features may stem from properties of human cognition. Using these two approaches, the thesis examines three aspects of verse: constituent structure, final strictness, and textsetting. Although verse constitutes a prototypically creative activity subject to extensive cultural variability, it is nonetheless bound and shaped by our cognitive system.

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