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Re: Morae (was: Re: Lurkers, poetic forms)

From:dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...>
Date:Wednesday, April 26, 2000, 18:13
On Wed, 26 Apr 2000, Raymond Brown wrote:

> The problem is that the Latin term 'morae' was originally coined to denote > a metric unit of classical Greek & Latin verse; we can think of a mora as a > 'note'. Bimoraic syllables, in this sense, occupy the space of two notes, > whereas monomoraic syllables are one note long. In this sense we are > merely using an alternate terminolgy to that of 'heavy' & 'light' syllables > (and presence or absence of coda consonant in significant in both > languages).
It won't have been the first time that linguists have pinched traditional terms and used them for their own ends :-).
> Latin used syllabic weight also to determine a word's stress accent. > Ancient Greek appears to have had no significant stress accent, but it did > have pitch accent; this was not regulated by syllable weight - it was > regulated solely by vowel length alone. To produce a simple rule for the > latter, Allen defines 'mora' simply in terms of vocalic length - hence, the > confusion, since different authorities have now defined 'mora' differently > for ancient Greek and use the unit as a measure of two different (and > unrelated - since pitch accent had no bearing on verse rhythm) features of > the language. > > [...] > > Indeed, since - not unreasonably - those not acquainted with the different > usages of this term are likely to assume that 'morae' in Japanese, > Shoshoni, ancient Greek, Latin, Eskimo (or any other languages) all mean > the same thing, when clearly they do not, I wonder if it is not better to > avoid using the term altogether and talk about either vocalic length and or > syllabic weight. Indeed, maybe we need _unambiguous_ terms to mean (a) a > measure of vocalic length, and (b) a measure of syllabic weight. > > Clearly, e.g. some authorities are using 'mora' with meaning (a) in ancient > Greek, and others are using it with meaning (b). This IMHO is unhelpful.
Perhaps its just my training, but I don't see a real difference between the Latin accentuation based on syllable weight and the Greek system based on vowel length (in principles, not particulars!). If a vowel is long, the syllable containing it is heavy. The difference is purely if a language exercises the moraic coda option, which Latin did, and Greek didn't. I don't know the history of the term 'mora' in modern linguistics; but in his grammar of Southern Paiute (1930), Edward Sapir described its stress system in terms of moras; in Southern Paiute, like it's cousin Shoshoni, coda consonants don't count in syllable weight. I wonder if Sapir would have used the term 'mora' if coda consonants did contribute to syllable weight in Southern Paiute ... Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga