Musical evidence regarding trochaic inversion

Matthew B. Winn, William J. Idsardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This study investigates an unresolved issue in poetic metrics - the trochaic inversion - the apparent substitution of a trochaic foot in place of an iambic foot in an otherwise iambic line of verse. Various theories have been proposed to explain this metrical variation, including specific metrical units, groupings of beats and offbeats, and constrained definitions of metrical units via concepts such as stress maxima. By positing a structural comparison between the verse and music of set poetry, the current project attempts to evaluate theories of poetic metrics using a new empirical methodology. Specifically, musical settings of iambic poetry with trochaic inversion are examined. Our analysis shows that the musical settings predicted from various prevalent theories do not map neatly onto the actual musical settings, which suggests that they do not adequately describe the actual rhythmic effect of the trochaic inversion. The music instead suggests that we regard this metrical pattern not as a trochee in place of an iamb, but rather as a unary stressed foot followed by an anapest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-349
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage and Literature
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Meter
  • Music
  • Text-setting
  • Trochaic reversal


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