Speech is “heterometric”: The changing rhythms of speech

Steven Brown, McMaster University
Kyle Weishaar, McMaster University

Work on speech rhythm has been notoriously oblivious to describing actual rhythms in speech. We present here a model of speech rhythm inspired by musical conceptions of meter. We posit that changes in meter are central to speech rhythm, and thus that speech is “heterometric” rather than isochronous. In addition, we see two devices for obviating the need for meter changes within a sentence, both of them involving subdividing component beats: 1) subdivisions according to simple integer ratios, resulting in duplets and triplets; and 2) subdivisions according to complex ratios, resulting in polyrhythms.