The fall of genres that did not happen: formalising history of the “universal” semantics of Russian iambic tetrameter
Keywords:semantic halo, iambic meters, topic modeling, networks, Russian poetry
This paper examines thematic features of the “universal” poetic meters that are disproportionately popular in a tradition. Focusing on the example of 19th-century Russian iambic tetrameter, we propose a method for diachronic analysis of semantic structure of a meter based on the combination of topic modelling and network analysis. We represent each poem as topic probabilities and use most probable topics appearing within one poem to build up the connections of a network. This representation allows us to detect a chronological process of semantic expansion of the meter: its usage spreads to various thematic domains contributing to its perception as “universal”. At the same time, we show that the expansion of iambic tetrameter does not lead to the collapse of semantic traditions of other meters and their associations with certain genres. Testing the amount of shared connections between meters against randomized data demonstrates that the increase in number of topics within a meter is mostly driven by the sample size, rather than by the direct borrowing from other meters. The stability of thematic connections inside each meter displays the conservative nature of poetic meters and surprisingly strong retention of association between meter and semantics.