Constraint-based grammars for Hausa verse and song

Bruce Hayes, UCLA

The Hausas of northern Nigeria never recite their poetry but rather sing it. This talk is an attempt to show that tools from modern linguistic theory can help elucidate the process of Hausa verse composition and the rendering of verse in song.

We focus on one particular verse meter called the rajaz. This meter is based on syllable quantity, follow the Hausa distinction of light (one-mora) and heavy (two-mora) syllables. A rajaz line consists of two metra, each containing six moras. A variety of metra occur, and the analytical challenge is to single out the legal metra from the set of logically possible ones. Our analysis, using the theoretical framework of Maxent Optimality Theory, does this, and also accounts for the frequency distribution of metron types — varying from poem to poem — within the line and stanza.

Turning to how verse is sung, we observe that rajaz verse rhythm is always remapped onto a distinct sung rhythm, and we consider some hypotheses on how this remapping is carried out. Lastly, we develop a maxent phonetic grammar, adapting the approach of Flemming, to predict the durations of the sung syllables. Our constraints simultaneously invoke all levels of structure:  the syllables and moras of the phonology, the grids used for poetic scansion, and the grids used for sung rhythm.