Maxent grammars for the metrics of Shakespeare and Milton


We propose a new approach to metrics based on maxent grammars, which employ weighted constraints and assign well-formedness values to verse lines. Our approach provides an account of metricality and complexity that has a principled mathematical basis and integrates information from all aspects of scansion. Our approach also makes it possible to detect vacuous constraints through statistical evaluation.

We begin with a system built on earlier work that defines the set of possible constraints, following principles of stress matching, bracket matching, and contextual salience. The basic concepts of this system work well in describing our data corpora, taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Milton’s Paradise Lost. However, one well-known type of constraint, based on the principle of the stress maximum (Halle & Keyser 1966 et seq.), emerges as vacuous; testing indicates that the work of such constraints is already done by simpler constraints independently needed in the grammar.