Testing the robustness of final strictness in verse lines

Keywords: final strictness, verse universals, verse typology, cognition


In the field of metrics, it has long been observed that verse lines tend to be more regular or restricted towards the end (Arnold 1905). This has led to the Strict End Hypothesis [SEH], which proposes a general versification principle of universal scope (Hayes 1983). This paper argues that two main challenges hinder the substantiation of the SEH in a broad typological sample of unrelated verse corpora. First, the concept of strictness is too coarse and needs to be narrowed down to testable features or subcomponents. Second, explicit measures need to be developed which enable the systematic comparison of corpora, particularly when trying to capture potentially gradient features such as the relative faithfulness to a metrical template. This study showcases how to overcome these issues by analysing the entropy at different positions in the line for corpora in five languages (English, Dutch, Sanskrit, Estonian, Berber). Finally, I argue that, if the SEH is shown to be typologically robust, shared human cognitive features may provide a partial explanation for this puzzling asymmetry in verse lines.