Stress-meter alignment in French vocal music

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
Nicholas Temperley, David Temperley

Abstract

Previous research has shown disagreement regarding the nature of stress in French. Some have maintained that French has lexical stress on the final syllable of each word; others have argued that French has no lexical stress, only phrasal stress. A possible source of evidence on this issue is vocal music. In languages with lexical stress, such as English, it is well known that stressed syllables tend to occur at "strong" positions in the musical meter (some evidence will be presented supporting this view). A corpus analysis was performed to investigate the degree of stress-meter alignment in French songs. The analysis showed that (excluding syllables at the ends of lines) the final syllables of polysyllabic words tend to occur at stronger metrical positions than non-final syllables of those words; it also showed that monosyllabic content words tend to occur at stronger positions than monosyllabic function words. While conflicts between stress and meter are much more common in French than in English vocal music, these results suggest that French poets and composers recognized distinctions of stress between syllables of polysyllabic words and between monosyllabic content and function words.

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