The Theory of Classical Arabic Metrics

J. M. Maling, 1973

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This study proposes a reanalysis of the system of sixteen meters of classical (including pre-Islamic) Arabic poetry.  The results suggest that metrical systems can be accounted for by metrical grammars.  Base rules generate a simple abstract metrical pattern and corresponding tree structure from which all other meters can be derived.  Various deletion, substitution and copying transformations generate other abstract patterns which correspond to the subgroups of meters traditionally called "circles".  The traditional terminology reflects the main principle of Arabic metrics:  the Arabic poetric tradition makes use of all possible meters that can be generated from the basic pattern(s) by cyclical permutation.  The output of the transormations is a set of sequnces of three metrical elements, K = cord, P = iambic peg, and Q = trochaic peg.  The correspondence rules relate these abstract patterns to metrical sequences of breves and macrons.  The matching of these metrical sequences of breves and macrons with actual lines of ppoetry can be considered analogous to lexical insertion.  It is shown that the correspondance rules must refer to foot boundaries within the halfline.  A surface structure filter rejects any unmetrical outputs, specifically any sequence of four or more breves.  An intermediate point in the derivation is determined which defines a level at which all halflines in a given poem must be (abstractly) identical.

Thesis Supervisor:         Morris Halle

Title:                             Professor of Linguistics

Table of Contents

Chapter I          Introduction                                                                                          9

            1.1       Description of the Arabic ode, qaqida                                      9

            1.2       The science of prosody                                                             10

            1.3       Role of stress in Arabic verse                                                                13

Chapter II        The circle theory                                                                                   16

            2.0       General theory of meter                                                                        16

            2.1       Metrical length in quantitative verse                                                       18

                        2.1.1    Definition for Arabic verse                                                        18

                        2.1.2    Consequences for verse-final syllable                            20

                        2.1.3    Other possible definitions                                                          22

            2.2       The circle theory of al-Xalil                                                                   24

                        2.2.1    Definitions; peg/cord distinction                                     26

                        2.2.2    The classical meters                                                                  28

                        2.2.3    The base rules                                                                          30

            2.3       Metrical transformations                                                                        32

                        2.3.1    Circle V                                                                                   35

                        2.3.2    Apparent gaps in circle II                                                          36

                        2.3.3    Apparent gaps in circle I                                                           39

                        2.3.4    Apparent gaps in circle IV                                                        44

                        2.3.5    The verse-final trochaic peg                                                      48

                        2.3.6    The dimeter circle                                                                     55

            2.4       Summary of the metrical rules                                                    59

Chapter III       The correspondence rules                                                                     63

            3.0       Distinction between nihafat and ʕilal                                                   63

            3.1       Basic feet of the Arabic meters                                                  65

            3.2       Weaknesses in the Arabic notation                                                        66

                        3.2.1    CVC versus CVC syllables                                                       68

                        3.2.2    Functional similarity: an example                                                69

            3.3       ziharafat: derivation of acatalectic feet                                      71

                        3.3.1    Cord shortening rules                                                                72

                        3.3.2    Extension of parenthesis notation                                               73

            3.4       Rule interaction                                                                         74

                        3.4.1    Muʕaqaba                                                                              76

                        3.4.2    Muraqaba                                                                               77

                        3.4.3    Constraints on short syllables                                                    81

                        3.4.4    Kamil: the "insertion meter"                                                      90

            3.5       Incorporation of muʕaqaba in correspondence rules                            93

                        3.5.1    Conventions on rule application                                     93

                        3.5.2    Summary of the zihafat rules                                                    96

            3.6       ʕilal:    derivation of catalectic feet                                                        96

                        3.6.1    Cord deletion                                                                           98

                        3.6.2    Peg shortening                                                                          101

                        3.6.3    Trochaic peg shortening                                                            102

                        3.6.4    Other cases of peg shortening                                                   104

                        3.6.5    Peg deletion                                                                              105

                        3.6.6    Minor insertion rules: hypercatalexis                                          106

                        3.6.7    Summary of rules in metrical grammar                           107

            3.7       Classification of meters by final foot                                                       109

                        3.7.1    PKK                                                                                        114

                        3.7.2    KPK                                                                                        115

                        3.7.3    KKP                                                                                        116

Chapter IV       The Rubaʕi and the Persian meters                                                       118

            4.1       Form of the rubaʕ i                                                                             119

            4.2       Comparison of rubaʕ i  and hazaj                                                       123

                        4.2.1    Arabic hazaj                                                                            123

                        4.2.2    Other analyses                                                                          126

                        4.2.3    Persian hazaj                                                                           130

Appendix A      Zihafat and ʕilal                                                                                 136

Appendix B      The nim-fatha in Persian metrics                                                          144