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see versificationversification,
principles of metrical practice in poetry. In different literatures poetic form is achieved in various ways; usually, however, a definite and predictable pattern is evident in the language.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) The branch of metrics that classifies metrically significant sound elements of language. In metric versification, prosody divides syllables into long and short according to their character and position. In syllabic versification, it defines which vowels form syllables and which do not (in diphthongs and at word boundaries). In syllabotonic versification, prosody defines which words are considered stressed and which unstressed, as, for example, among autonomous and connective monosyllabic words.

(2) In the broad sense, a term sometimes used to denote metrics as a whole.



(in Russian, stikhovedenie; also called metrics), the study of the sound patterns of literary works. Prosody deals chiefly with poetry, the type of language that is most highly organized with regard to sound. However, the study of such sound patterns of prose as rhythm and alliteration is also usually included within the scope of prosody.

Prosody is divided into phonics, the study of sound combinations; metrics as such, the study of the structure of verse; and strophics, the study of combinations of lines. Within each of these divisions, the static nature of the significant sound elements and the dynamic principles of combining them may be identified. For example, metrics consists of two components: prosody in its meaning as the classification of syllables into long and short, stressed and unstressed, and the theory of lines—the laws governing the combining of these syllables into lines. However, in actual practice the scope and divisions of prosody vary in different literary traditions. Individual elements of prosody are sometimes lost; in classical prosody, for example, phonics was lacking. Alien elements are sometimes added, as in Arabic prosody, which includes the study of stylistic devices.

Some aspects of prosody are on the border line between prosody and other areas of literary study. For example, enjambment is on the border line between prosody and the stylistics of poetic syntax, and such fixed verse forms as the sonnet or rondeau are on the borderline between prosody and composition. The important prosodic concept of intonation is related to declamation (rising intonation), stylistics (singing intonation), and subject matter (religious and didactic intonation).

Prosody as a field of study probably emerged with the development of written poetry, which became separated from music and the immediate aural perception of the line’s sound structure provided by music. A new poetic culture often made use of a classical system of verse in seeking to clarify its own system of verse. For example, Latin prosody was guided by the concepts of Greek prosody, and modern European prosody by the concepts of Latin prosody. Accordingly, prosody was initially a normative system of rules and exceptions that taught how poems should be written. Only in the 19th century did prosody become a subject of research investigating how poetry was and is written.

In eliciting facts, prosody often uses statistical methods, which are the most accurate means for isolating sound phenomena. Such phenomena may be essential, dominant, or merely prevalent attributes of poetry—its constants, dominants, and tendencies. In summarizing facts, prosody uses mainly the comparative method. Indexes of the usage of different verse forms may be compared during various periods of literary history, in literatures written in various languages, and in the poetry and natural rhythm or natural phonics of a given language. The ultimate goals of prosody are to define the role of sound structure within a work’s overall structure and to establish the connections of sound structure with structures of language and imagery.

Russian prosody developed in close connection with the development of Russian versification. The first treatises on prosody, written in the 18th century by V. K. Trediakovskii, A. D. Kantemir, and M. V. Lomonosov, dealt with the assimilation of syllabotonic versification. In the early 19th century, A. Kh. Vostokov and other theorists studied the assimilation of imitations of classical and folk meters. From 1910 through the 1920’s, A. Belyi, B. V. Tomashevskii, V. M. Zhirmunskii, and R. Jakobson wrote studies devoted to the assimilation of tonic versification. A new stage in the development of Russian prosody, which began in the 1960’s, is utilizing the achievements of modern linguistics, semiotics, and information theory.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the study of poetic metre and of the art of versification, including rhyme, stanzaic forms, and the quantity and stress of syllables
2. a system of versification
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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