1. This book hints, without expounding, that the phonetic definition of rhyme relates to the poetry definition. Can someone please expound?

  2. For example, I still don't understand why "this type of poem rhymes"?

Phoneticians consider a syllable an essential unit of speech production. It’s a unit with a center having a louder portion (made with more air flow) and optional ends having quieter portions (made with less air flow). Phoneticians agree on descriptive components of an English syllable, as shown in Figure 10-1.

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Figure 10-1: Parts of an English syllable.

From Figure 10-1, you can see that an English syllable (often represented by the symbol sigma [σ]), consists of an optional onset (beginning) and a rhyme (main part). The rhyming part consists of the vowel and any consonants that come after it. The vowels in a rhyme sound alike. At a finer level of description, the rhyme is divided into the nucleus (the vowel part) and the coda (tail or end) where the final consonants are. From this figure, you can take a word like “cat” and identify the different parts of the syllable. For “cat” (/kæt/), the /k/ is the onset, /æ/ is the nucleus, and the /t/ is the coda.

This is why this type of poem rhymes:

Roses are red, violets are blue. . . .
blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah . . . you.

William Katz, Phonetics For Dummies, p. 147 of 320.

  • 1
    I've generally seen the word for "nucleus and coda" spelled rime, rather than rhyme. It's pronounced the same, either way. – Draconis May 27 at 0:07
  • Rime is speld that way to distinguish its phonosemantic from its strictly phonological properties. For instance, the -ump rime has two semantic senses: 3-D and Pejorative. Bolinger initiated the term and spelling in this sense. – jlawler May 27 at 14:30
  • "Rhyme" and "rime" are two spellings of the same word. – fdb Jun 11 at 22:32

(A note: I've generally seen the word for "nucleus and coda" spelled rime, rather than rhyme. It's pronounced the same, either way. But I'll be using that spelling in this answer.)

A precise definition of "rhyme" is hard to nail down, because different poets use different variations on it. But one common definition is that two words rhyme if their final syllables have the same rime. This is why "blue" /bl-u/ and "you" /j-u/ rhyme (rime is /u/), and why "cat" /k-æt/ and "hat" /h-æt/ rhyme (rime is /æt/).

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    There are levels of rhymes - the French distinguish rhyme riche (3 rhyming syllables, like Tom Lehrer's "-ility" rhymes in "When You Are Old And Grey"), rhyme suffisante (2 syllables), and rhyme pauvre (just one syllable rhyming). Longer rhymes are easier in languages inflected by suffixes, and offer interesting ways to use inflections poetically. – jlawler May 27 at 14:38

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