There is no psychological limit on the duration of metrical lines in performance: against Turner and Pöppel

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Abstract: Frederick Turner and Ernst Pöppel (1983) proposed that lines of metrical poetry tend to measure three seconds or less when performed aloud, and that the metrical line is fitted to a three second ‘auditory present’ in the brain. In this paper I show that there are faults both in their original argument, and in the claims which underlie it. I present new data, based on the measurement of line durations in publicly available recorded performances of 54 metrical poems; in this corpus, lines of performed metrical verse are often longer than three seconds: 59% of the 1155 lines are longer than 3 seconds, 40% longer than 3.5 seconds and 26% longer than 4 seconds. On the basis of weaknesses in the original paper, and the new data presented here, I propose, against Turner and Pöppel, that there is no evidence that lines of verse are constrained by a time-limited psychological capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-29
Number of pages29
JournalInternational Journal of Literary Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2013


  • duration
  • metrical lines
  • no psychological limit
  • performance

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