Hebrew poetry in medieval Spain
SEPHARDIC SCANSION AND PHONOLOGICAL THEORY.
1. A good theory should be able to predict facts that can then be tested empirically. That is what theories are for. While this is standard practice in the natural sciences, in philology we rarely get a clear-cut instance. However, in the case of the metrical pattern of Sephardic Hebrew poetry we have a very strong candidate. Manuals of Hebrew poetics have often mentioned that the conjunction u- 'and' scans on some occasions as long and on others as short. Joseph Malone (1983) discovered the key regularity in this variation. Given the facts that Malone had discovered, the theory of the phonological aspects of poetry which Manaster Ramer has been developing led us to hypothesize that the actual pronunciation of Hebrew by the medieval Sephardic poets was different in a specific detail from what has been commonly assumed. When we subsequently looked for evidence for medieval Hebrew pronunciation we learned of documentary evidence (edited and interpreted by Geoffrey Khan and others) which confirmed exactly the detail we had predicted on the basis of a simple, empirically predictive theory.It is traditional for proponents of different linguistic theories, and especially theories of phonology, to seek validation by explaining the operation of systems of versification. Indeed, it seems as if for over a century every new phonological theory has been associated with claims that a level (or levels) of representation posited by that theory functions uniquely in the poetic systems of all languages: it is that level which the rules of versification "look at" to determine whether and how any particular sound or stretch rhymes, alliterates, scans, etc. In other words, metrical equivalence, to the extent that it depends on phonology at all, is ...