Open syllable lengthening and diphthongisation in Upper Middle High German: Evidence from verse

Despite a long history of scholarly interest, the relative chronologies (and even origins) of open syllable lengthening (OSL) and the diphthongisation of the Middle High German (MHG) high vowels /iː,yː,uː/ remain unclear. This paper, drawing on orthographic evidence from a thirteenth-century Parzival MS, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 857, provides new insights into these two key changes. The changes either maintained or increased the quantity of stressed vowels, leading to a net increase in the quantity of stressed syllables in MHG. Diphthongisation simply altered the segmental quality of already long monophthongs; only OSL increased the quantity of the vowels it affected. This paper argues that OSL was not a feature of the South Bavarian dialect of Cod. 857’s Hand III, although his dialect had certainly undergone diphthongisation. It is difficult to reconcile this picture with claims by Penzl, Kranzmayer and Wiesinger that OSL was present throughout the Bavarian dialect area by 1200. This paper challenges claims that diphthongisation was triggered by OSL via a phonological push-chain, maintaining that the two changes were independent. It is furthermore suggested that the scribe is uninterested in marking vocalic quantity, which—in the absence of OSL—was still consistent across inflexional paradigms. Instead, he uses the circumflex ‘length marker’ to indicate diphthongal quality. The scribes’ dialect thus represents a key turning point: diphthongisation was well progressed, but OSL had yet to occur.

Rethinking the metre of Parzival: Iambic verse for a trochaic language.

The Middle High German (MHG) prosodic foot is uncontroversially considered to be trochaic, a fact which has traditionally led scholars to assume a preference for trochaic metre in poetry of the MHG Classical Period. However, given the trend elsewhere in mediaeval Europe (even in trochaic languages) to emulate French lyrics and compose verse in iambic metre, the uncritical assumption of a trochaic metre in all MHG poetry seems inadequate. A close examination of Parzival, an early thirteenth-century grail romance by Wolfram von Eschenbach, suggests that the traditional analysis is not only insufficient but counter to the linguistic evidence. This paper argues for the first time that Parzival was in fact composed in iambic tetrameter, based on a close analysis of the rhythmic alternations within lines and the quantity and foot structure of line-final syllables. Halle & Keyser’s (1966) principles for iambic metre were used to produce a taxonomy of possible line structures in Parzival and the dominance of the 𝑤𝑠𝑤𝑠𝑤𝑠𝑤𝑠 pattern, beginning on a weak beat and ending on a strong, offers convincing evidence in favour of iambic metre. The remaining lines can be neatly categorised as iambic by allowing feminine rhyme (with an extrametrical schwa syllable) or the construction of monosyllabic feet from a single heavy syllable. This analysis is further corroborated by the consistently iambic structure of line-final feet, as well as the foot structures avoided by the poet, identified according to the weight of the final, penultimate and antepenultimate syllables. The present analysis has the advantage of explaining the various patterns of alternating prominence in the metre of Parzival much more consistently than the complex system advocated by the traditional literary view.