Playfulness of Princian Prose

by Bruce Hayes

Of course, the main thing I’ve gotten from reading Alan Prince’s work is the imposing series of theoretical proposals and data analyses that have defined so much of the agenda of our field. They have made phonology much more interesting and indeed more fun. As one of those who have benefited the most, I really appreciate what Alan has accomplished.

Less obviously, Alan has been a force for playfulness and joy in one’s work, a playfulness that is evident in his public lectures and that he has occasionally been able to slip into print, skirting the vigilance of copy editors. My favorite has always been the opening lines of a section of “Metrical forms” (1989), which introduced the topic of the dactylic hexameter in two perfect lines of dactylic hexameter: “Thís is the méter of Hómer and Hésiod, úsed for the épic, / úsed by the Sýbil for mýstic pronóuncements and éthical máxims.” Alas, this bit of playfulness was enjoyed only by those who read the paper during its several years of circulation in manuscript. I assume it was a Philistinic copy editor who changed the wording so that it would no longer scan. [Note: this has been corrected in Alan’s personal copy of the published paper; see §3.2, p. 56. — Ed.]

It is to the great credit of Anne Mark, the finest linguistics copy editor of our age, that she permitted the following passage to appear in Linguistic Inquiry; this is from Alan’s “A Metrical Theory for Estonian Quantity” (1980): “But [representations] (13a) and (13b) must have identical stress patterns. A tertium quid seems to have materialized in the person of (13b). But pro quo? one asks, sharply. Would-be wielders of Occam’s Razor will have to return to their dens unblooded, however. As we will show in detail, the distinction between strong syllable as foot and strong syllable as foot-part is amply and obviously a major fact of Estonian.” This passage has always amazed me when I reread it. Concerning the issue at hand, I think the point is quite legit and I will always be happy to return to my den unblooded.

Suggested citation:
Hayes, Bruce. 2015. Playfulness of Princian Prose. In Short ’schrift for Alan Prince, compiled by Eric Baković.

 back to Poetry & Prose