M. Vincent van Mechelen
to distinguish the refined or
from the spurious and shallow
The above highlighted sentence counts no fewer than thirty-five A
words; and no other than A words, that is, words starting with the
capital letter A or a small a.
I shall call such a kind of sentence an "all-one-word-initial-letter
sentence" in full, or an "(all-)one-letter sentence" in short.
Obviously, it is not a sentence of one letter only, but one in which a
particular letter is repeated at the beginning of every word.
In the 'Arguably sentence' —the sentence starting with
Arguably— we are going to discuss here every word occurs no
more than once, even all, and and any (as a word on
This additional requirement makes the construction of such a sentence much
more difficult, for a conjunction such as and allows for lengthy
elaboration (and digression): nouns and adjectives can form whole lists
with the aid of and, but also entire clauses connected by
and, perhaps followed by are, could make a sentence grow and
The indefinite article a(n), too, would become a great asset,
because most nouns in the singular require an article.
Or, think of the use of as in comparisons: as aberrant as an
apple after an aperitif.
In order to enhance the challenge and to boost the quality of the verbal
undertaking i* shall reserve the term
all-one-word-initial-letter sentence for a sentence which:
- contains only words which start with the same letter, for example,
only A words in an all-A sentence
- contains no (A) word more than once
- is free of (adjectives derived from) names
- makes sense (convey a message) or makes fun of something (be
My all-A sentence is grammatically and orthographically correct as
The contraction aren't for are not is standard, unlike
ain't for is not, which may be controversial or too informal
for a sentence as discussed here; therefore, i have used the plural of
In general, i try to avoid this plural, but it does come in handy now and
The construction at the end uses also in the same way with
adjectives in an attributive position as with adjectives in a
predicative position: (their) attention is (more than)
sufficient (or ample), also admiring is turned into
(their) ample, also admiring, attention.
(Those who are not convinced may leave also out here and insert it
between and and aren't.)
Altho the more etymological variant although is much more common
than the more phonematic —what many believe to be 'phonetic'—
variant altho both are A words.
Instead of anything accessible, i have considered an accessible
arrangement with arrangement in the sense of
an arrangement of words or letters as a substitute for
Since i could not use alphabetical, because the
above sentence is definitely not an alphabetical ABC
arrangement, the word arrangement would remain
confusing, and i gave up on the idea.
There are, of course, numerous examples of sentences, also
age-old proverbs, of which all or most words start with the same
letter of the alphabet, regardless of how that letter is pronounced.
Work will win when (wishy-washy) wishing won't is such an
Unlike so many other specimens around it does not contain a
geographical name, such as America, or an adjective derived from
one, such as Asian; nor an individual proper name, like Peter
Piper (who picked a peck of pickled peppers).
Most importantly, it does not surreptitiously smuggle in small words,
especially unstressed articles and prepositions, whose
word-initial letters are not used for sentence-wide repetition.
Since the word alliteration itself starts with an a, it is
sentences or phrases consisting of A words only that are popular
among people interested in what they themselves consider 'alliteration'.
There is the more-than-250-year-old apt alliteration's artful aid
which appears in the sentence Who often, but without success, have
prayed for apt Alliteration's artful aid (in which prayed and
Verbal products like this one can be interesting or funny so long as you
have no idea, or completely incompatible ideas, of what alliteration
is supposed to mean.
Nowadays, the Internet abounds with examples such as
Alliterations Are Always Awesome and Alliteration is Alarmingly
Addictive, a sentence which sticks to the singular (which i prefer), but cheats with
There is also a rule for on your coffee mug: Always avoid
Indeed hilarious, if you belief that these imperative words do alliterate
with one another.
In fact, not only does Always avoid alliteration not contain any
alliteration whatsoever, it does not even contain
(The first sound of both avoid and alliteration is a schwa,
an unstressed vowel; the stressed vowels differ.)
All it does is what any deaf and dumb robot can see
—see, not hear— namely that all words
used begin with the letter A/a.
Some may call it "eye alliteration" (as distinct from 'ear alliteration')
but a more appropriate term would be eye
In the written language, alliterations are always awesome presents
the four words of this phrase as equivalent, whereas there are really two
different pairs at work here in the spoken language: there is something in
always awesome that is missing in alliterations are.
The first sounds (vowels) of alliterations and are are
different and not even stressed.
(Dependent on its function and location in the sentence are may
sometimes be stressed.)
The first sounds (vowels) of always and awesome are not only
the same but also both stressed.
Because the sounds are stressed vowels, we may speak of "word-initial
assonance" in always awesome.
Word-initial assonance can but need not be alliteration.
There is such assonance between talk and walk too, but they
do not alliterate, for the sounds with which these stressed syllables
begin are different.
Talked and taught, however, alliterate, because the stressed
syllables of these monosyllabic words begin with the same sounds
So, the word-initial assonance in always awesome is alliteration
at the same time; vocalic alliteration, to be more precise.
I just follow the systematic road here, which is, on the whole, also the
historical road, except that Anglo-Saxon oral poetry was less strict in one
respect and more strict in another.
In Old English a vowel could be coupled with any other vowel to create
vocalic 'alliteration', but an s sound could not just be coupled
with any other s sound.
If the s was followed by a k, p or t in the
pronunciation, sk would only combine with another sk,
sp only with sp and st only with st.
In other words, if the stressed syllable began with a frequently occurring
cluster of consonants, it was not just single-sound but cluster
alliteration that was required.
Cluster alliteration with the stave sk, sp or st, as
in still as a stone, is, of course, stronger than single-consonant
alliteration with the stave s, as in square(d) the circle,
but the latter is definitely alliteration as well, albeit of a weaker type.
(My contemporary position is as free from a bias towards the treatment and
use of alliteration in traditional poetry as a systematic analysis should
Some theorists may not even recognize the alliteration between words
which begin with the same stressed vowel.
They may not use the terms assonance and consonance in
exactly the same way as i do either; or they may refuse to use these terms
in the case of rime and alliteration.
These are mainly differences in terminology, not in substance.)
Alliterations are not 'always awesome'; they may be awesome.
Altho always awesome is itself an instance of audible, authentic
alliteration, it is an instance of the rough-and-ready type.
Rough and ready, because the primary stress is on the first
syllables of the words coupled, while the agreement in spelling ('eye
alliteration') coincides with an agreement in sounds ('ear alliteration'),
and because there is no more than one syllable (without stress or with
secondary stress) between the primary-stressed syllables which carry the
Note that the agreement in spelling in rough and ready does not
prove the alliteration in the phrase.
Spurious and shallow, for instance, demonstrates an agreement in
spelling too but not (consonantal) alliteration, for the first sound of the
stressed syllable in spurious is not the same phoneme as the first
sound of the stressed syllable in shallow, at least not for those
who know how to distinguish a shot in the dark from a sot in the dark.
Now, 'rough and ready' may not be 'spurious and shallow', but it certainly
is not alliteration of a type which is refined or sophisticated, let alone
The three-word phrase refined or sophisticated itself does not even
contain two words which begin with the same letter, even the second
syllables of the polysyllabic words do not begin with the same letter.
Yet, in both words —and in profound— the second syllable
is stressed and begins with the same consonant in the pronunciation: an
And there are two unstressed syllables in between, which is not many but
more than in rough-and-ready alliteration.
Those who once thought that alliteration was merely a question of words
starting with the same letter (in the spelling) may find this
surprising or 'awesome'.
But how will the ones who have been so dumbed down by fake spelling
alliterations that they do not hear which words alliterate or not
be be able to know?
In principle, the solution is simple: turn the sounds, which are aural
symbols, into written characters, which are visual symbols, but in such a
way that each character uniquely represents one sound, as is done in a
However, from the point of view of alliteration a standard phonetic
transcription does at once far too much and one thing too little.
It does too much, because we are interested in phonemes only, not in the
difference between a light l and a dark l, for instance; and
it does too much, because we are interested in the phonemes of syllables
with primary or secondary stress only, not in the phonemes of unstressed
syllables, unless they are needed to clarify where the borders between
syllables can be found.
A traditional phonetic transcription does also too little in that it does
not with the greatest possible clarity show the difference between stressed
and unstressed syllables.
Moreover, such a transcription uses characters other than the twenty-six
of the alphabet most people speaking the present language are used to.
Therefore, i have developed —in a project initiated twenty-three
years before this essay was written— a new double-case or 'bicameral'
phonemic transcription system in which capitals stand for sounds which are
definitely part of the one or more stressed syllables in the word or phrase
concerned, and small letters for the other sounds which are either
definitely part of an unstressed syllable or part of a fuzzy border between
(unstressed or stressed and unstressed) syllables.
In this system hyphens (-) indicate sharp syllable boundaries and middle
dots (·) the beginning and end of fuzzy borders where syllables
Since the present language counts about 37 phonemes (dependent on the
dialect and sometimes on what are counted as separate phonemes), and since
the Q, X and Y are not used for transcription, 23 sounds are represented by
one letter and 14 by two.
This does not lead to any confusion, because none of these two-letter
combinations occurs as a two-sound combination in the pronunciation.
The three two-letter consonants all end with H, and |H| does not occur
after a consonant in the same syllable: they are |DH| as in they,
|SH| as in she and |TH| as in three.
I use the vertical bars at the beginning and end of the transcription of a
whole word, or a part of it, to remind the reader that these are bicameral
When vowels are represented by two letters the second letter is always a
vowel too, an H (for |AH| as in arch and |OH| as in open) or
a W (for |AW| as in all).
As there is always a sharp syllable boundary between two vocalic phonemes
or a vowel followed by |H| or |W|, two written vowels or one followed by H
or W without such a boundary in between must represent only one vowel in
the spoken language: |AE|, for instance, is definitely the |AE| of |ACT|
(act), it cannot be read as |A|, as in up or oven,
followed by |E|, as in ex.
(Had such a sequence existed, it would have been represented by |A-E|.)
Yet, however useful this double-case phonemic system is for transcriptions,
it is still further removed from the standard way of spelling words than
absolutely necessary to show the features which play an indispensable role
in authentic alliteration.
So, in the special
Vocabulary of Alliteration put
together by me for the sole purpose of finding words which do or may
genuinely alliterate with one another the entries are represented in such a
way that the ordinary spelling (variant) is maintained as much as possible
and can be algorithmically retrieved, while using the double-case phonemic
transcription where this is necessary to show stress and syllabification
with its sharp and fuzzy borders.
In the system used in the Vocabulary of Alliteration the phrases refined
or sophisticated and spurious and shallow do, unlike
rough(-)and(-)ready, not occur as standard idioms, but
they would look like re-FINED or
SPU·r·i-ous and SHA·ll·ow.
In these partial transcriptions only the capitals and punctuation marks of
the phonemic transcription occur.
Which consonant is, or which consonants are, part of the common area (the
area between middle dots) of two adjacent syllables depends on the fact
whether it, or they, can be combined with both the preceding syllable and
the following syllable or not.
In so-PHI·st·i·c·a·t·ed, for instance,
the pair of consonants |st| can belong both to the second and to the third
(This is characteristic of all three of the |sk|, |sp| and |st| clusters,
which, if stressed, can appear as double-consonant staves in themselves
too: |SK|, |SP| and |ST|.)
In the former case the (stressed) syllable is |FIST| in the phonemic
transcription, in the latter case |stik| (as stick but then
In the first table below all thirty-five words of the all-A
Arguably sentence will be transcribed in the way of the Vocabulary
But before showing this table at least one more point has to be made.
It is that, in spite of what linguistic totalitarians may believe, natural
languages are not monolithic formations.
They have their variants, whether officially recognized or not.
Quite often, the Vocabulary lists variants of one entry which are not
called, but which many may recognize as, "British English" or "American
English", varieties of
This Language besides other national,
regional and local 'Englishes'.
From the point of view of alliteration, it is not the difference in
spelling which counts —again, spelling as such does not play any role
in alliteration— it is not even the difference in the pronunciation
of vowels, such as the difference between |AE| and |AH|.
(It may only mean a different stave sometimes, as in after.)
The greatest influence of the variants of dialects on alliteration lies in
their stress patterns; not so much as when a primary stress in the one
dialect is a secondary stress in the other, but when a syllable is stressed
in the one dialect and unstressed in the other.
In such a case there may be alliteration for a particular stave in the one
dialect, whereas there is no alliteration at all in the other dialect,
neither for that phoneme itself nor, as in the case of the |AE|-|AH| pair,
for the corresponding sound in the other dialect.
You will find it in the word vocabulary, which has primary stress on
the second syllable, with potential stave |K|, and secondary stress on the
fourth syllable, with potential stave |L| (in 'American English') or no
secondary stress at all (in 'British English').
And you will find it in at least two of the words in my all-A
sentence: auditory, with a primary (potential) stave |AW| for
everyone, but a secondary (potential) stave |T| dependent on the
pronunciation; and alliterative, with primary (potential) stave |L|
for everyone, but secondary (potential) stave |R| dependent on the
Without the secondary stress auditory and alliterative may
even lose a syllable and become audit'ry (AU·d·i-tory)
and allit'rative (a-LLI-tera·t·ive).
(Note that |d| or |t| followed by |r| form one cluster, |dr| or |tr|,
which can occur at the beginning of a syllable only, just like |DR| and
The loss of an unstressed syllable will not change the absence or
presence of alliteration, but it could strengthen an existing alliteration
when the distance in syllables between syllables which share a stave is
It looks as if automatically could also lose one syllable, altho
there is no loss of secondary stress on the first or third syllable.
Perhaps, the six-syllable word automatically is mixed up with the
five-syllable word automaticly here, but since there is no
dictionary which lists this adverb separately —quite surprisingly, i
have only found non-automaticly once— i will treat the
five-syllable word as a pronunciational, not a morphological, variant of
(And yet, in the spoken language publicly may not be as unique as
the written language purports it is.)
When two pronunciational variants of one word are given, it is not
necessarily the case that the one variant is usage in the one dialect and
the other variant in the other; it may be that one variant occurs only in
the one dialect, whereas both variants are accepted as normal in the other;
or, it may be that both variants are used in both dialects.
(For example, in 'British English' the primary stress in almost is
always on the first syllable, in 'American English' it may be on the first
or on the second. And, for example, the six-syllable automatically
and the five-syllable automatic'lly are found in both 'British' and
It is high time now we applied this knowledge of phonemes and syllabic
stress and these ideas about alliteration to the 35-word Arguably
First of all, we will have to do some elementary analysis then.
The following table does precisely that: of each of the thirty-five words
its pronunciation is given (sometimes two or three of them) to the extent
that it is relevant to syllabification, its number of syllables (sometimes
dependent on the pronunciation), the primary- and, if applicable,
secondary-stressed stave it could support, and a number of words in the
all-A sentence itself or from elsewhere with which the word does or
|A WORD AS IN
|WORDS WHICH ALLITERATE
FOR PRIMARY/SECONDARY STRESS
WORDS FROM SENTENCE BOLD-FACED
||(aren't,) artful, artist|
||all, almost, always, auditory,
||anything, sympathetic, thaw, thirty-three|
|(alliterative,) re, right/write, wrong|
alliterative, equilibrium, lea/lee
||ample, (and, as, at,) piano|
||agreement, glad, go, vulgarity|
||audible, awe, ought|
||apparently, independent, pea/pee|
||act, addict, meander, reaction|
||arguably, article, forearmed|
|any, ex, heir, howsoever, poetic|
(always,) one, overwhelm, we/wee
||bee, brown, combine, possibility|
|audible, mediocrity, or|
admiring, instrumental, mind
||accepted, accessible, (also,) sea/see|
|audible, augury, ornament|
(attempt, choice, competition, true)
||against, green, photographic|
||than, thee, there, thine, they, thy|
||anything, anywise, however|
||arguably, arm-in-arm, army|
||attention, attracts, (auditory)|
||act, ambiance, annals, reactionary|
||any, end, whatsoever|
||assumed, cent/scent/sent, sway|
|can, inclusive, key/quay, unrequited|
day, idea, introduction, jeans/genes
||assumed, slip, sued/pseud|
||act, add, algebra, angle, reality|
||appearances, disappoint, print, reply|
(alliterations, interrupt, moderation)
|(audible, aural, autumn)|
(admiring, community, tomorrow)
|audible, augur, awesome|
(anywise, interwoven, reward)
||attempt, choice, sixteen, tea/ti, true|
||act, amatory, animal, apple, ash|
|audible, awe, ought|
assumed, conversation, except, slip
The first column in this table lists the words of the all-A
Their one or more pronunciations are shown in the partial bicameral
phonemic transcription as used in the Vocabulary of Alliteration.
The number in the second column is the number of syllables of the
pronunciational variant represented in the first column.
The third column contains the potential stave(s) for primary and,
if applicable, secondary stress.
The number on the right of each stave is the ordinal number of the
stressed syllable which does or would carry the alliteration with the
stave in question.
If the syllable referred to has primary stress, a superscript is used; if
secondary stress, a subscript; if either primary or secondary stress,
then the number is put on a level in between.
The fourth column gives examples of words which will alliterate
with the word in the first column for the pronunciation concerned,
provided that the distance between the stressed syllables which are
supposed to carry the alliteration is not too large.
Alliteration admits of degrees.
If there is alliteration or 'stave-rime', its physical strength will
- the number of sounds repeated (one sound or a cluster)
- whether the syllables are primary- or secondary-stressed
- the distance(s) between these stressed syllables
- the number of syllables which support the stave
The most common, and prototypical, form of alliteration involves the
repetition of one stressed sound only, such as the |AW| in the pair
audible and all, provided they are close enough to speak of
In nonrhotic dialects the stave of the pair arguably and
artful is only one vowel too (|AH|), but in rhotic dialects the
complete stave is |AHR|, a cluster of a stressed vowel followed by a
fully stressed consonant.
In audible and auditory a cluster of three sounds is repeated
(|AU·d·i| or |AU·d·a|, with a schwa) but only the first
sound is fully stressed, while the third is clearly unstressed, so that the
stave is only |AW|, or perhaps |AWD|.
For the same reason, the potential stave in the pair alliterations
and alliterative is not |a-LI·t·a| but only |LI|, perhaps
(If alliterative is pronounced with secondary stress, the other
potential stave will be |REI|, with |EI| as in eight.)
The potential stave of the pair anywise and any(thing) is |E|
or |EN| but not |E·n·ee| or |E·n·i|.
In addition to |LI|, the all-A sentence of our study contains two
more pairs in which a cluster of two fully stressed sounds is or would be
repeated: the pair attempt and attention with the
stave |TE|, and the pair accessible and accepted with the
Hence, with respect to the type of potential stave we must conclude that it
is usually one vowel or one consonant which is repeated; sometimes it is a
vowel followed by one consonant or a consonant followed by one vowel.
In the Arguably sentence the stave is never a traditional |SK|, |SP|
or |ST| cluster, nor a cluster of three or more undoubtedly fully stressed
The above table provides all the information about primary and secondary
stress, but we need at least one more table to give us some idea of what
distances are involved between which words which may take part in a
The last thing to express such a distance in is, of course, the number of
The number of sounds might be a candidate, but it is much simpler to opt
for the spoken syllable, which i will do at this place.
So, for each potential stave we will consider the A words which
may support it.
If there is only one of them (and since none of the words in the
all-A sentence shows word-internal alliteration), it cannot
participate in alliteration.
If there are two or more of them, we can write them down with the distance
in syllables between the '(potential) stave bearers', that is, the
relevant stressed syllables of these words.
(This distance in syllables is not the number of syllables between
syllable A and syllable B; it is the distance from A to B, which is
|WORDS AND DISTANCE(S)
BETWEEN STAVE BEARERS
<MIN. TO MAX. DISTANCE IN THE NUMBER OF
||act <8> and <60-64> ample|
||arguably <47-50> artful|
||audible <14> all <12-13> automatically <7-8> auditory|
<40-42> (almost) <2> always <6> also
||anywise <20-22> any <9> anything|
||against <24-27> agreement|
||alliterations <63-66> alliterative|
||automatically <46-49> (almost) <10> admiring|
||appearances <50-53> apparently|
||alliterations <63-66> (alliterative)|
||assumed <20-21> accessible <10> accepted|
||(auditory) <12> attempt <32-33> attracts <9> attention|
||authentic <46-49> anything|
||anywise <53-56> (always)
The sound in the first column of this table is not a stave until
alliteration is established: it is a potential stave.
The minimum distance in the second column is the distance between
potential stave bearers for the pronunciational variant(s) with the
smallest number of syllables; the maximum distance the one for the
pronunciational variant(s) with the largest number.
Judging by the distance in syllables between the pertinent
stressed ones the alliterative pairs are in descending order of the
strength of the alliteration:
- almost (if not pronounced |awl-MOHST|) and always, with
double-primary-stressed double-phoneme stave |AWL| and a distance of
2 syllables in almost always [attracts]
- always and also, with double-primary-stressed
double-phoneme stave |AWL| and a distance of 6 syllables in
[almost] always attracts ample, also [admiring, attention]
- automatically and auditory, with double-primary-stressed
elementary stave |AW| and a distance of 7 to 8 syllables in
automatically assumed auditory [agreement]
- act and and, with double-primary-stressed stave |AE| and
a distance of 8 syllables in act against all appearances
- attracts and attention, with double-primary-stressed
stave |T| and a distance of 9 syllables in attracts
ample, also admiring, attention
- any and anything, with double-primary-stressed stave |E|
and a distance of 9 syllables in any artful attempt at
- accessible and accepted, with double-primary-stressed
double-phoneme stave |SE| and a distance of 10 syllables in
[anything] accessible accommodatingly accepted
- almost (if not pronounced with stress on the first syllable
only) and admiring, with double-primary- or
secondary-primary-stressed stave |M| and a distance of 10
syllables in almost always attracts ample, also
- auditory, if pronounced with secondary stress, and
attempt, with secondary-primary-stressed stave |T| and a
distance of 12 syllables in auditory agreement, altho
any artful attempt
- all and automatically, with primary-secondary-stressed
elementary stave |AW| and a distance of 12 to 13 syllables
in [act against] all appearances and aren't anywise about
automatically [assumed auditory agreement]
- audible and all, with double-primary-stressed elementary
stave |AW| and a distance of 14 syllables in audible,
authentic alliterations act against all [appearances]
After a distance of 14 syllables, the next larger distance is no less than
20 to 21 syllables (between assumed and accessible).
Therefore, this is a good moment to deal with a tricky question to which
any answer is arbitrary to a certain degree.
(I can only make the answer as little arbitrary as possible.)
It is the question of what the maximum distance between two potential
stave bearers can be in order to create a repetition of the same
sound(s) in a similar position of which the aural
effect is strong enough to be called "alliteration".
We must, then, keep in mind too that the grammatical phrase, clause or
sentence (in prose) or the line (in poetry) will often be much longer, even
tho it is only about a quarter longer in the 18-syllable clause audible,
authentic alliterations act against all appearances.
The phrase the return of
for instance, is 14 syllables long, but the distance between the
primary-stressed bearers of the stave |T| is 'merely' half that number.
An 18-syllable text in prose is longer than an iambic or trochaic
octameter in poetry, which counts 16 syllables.
(An octameter is the longest line in metric verse.
Its length is measured in metrical feet, of which it has eight.
An iamb is a foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a
stressed one; a trochee a foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed
by an unstressed one.)
Octameters can be dactylic too, but this will not change the number of
stressed or long syllables, which will remain eight (for a dactyl is a
foot with one stressed or long syllable followed by two unstressed or
Since the usual foot has only one stressed syllable and no more than three
syllables in total, the maximum distance between stressed syllables with
the same potential stave is 21 syllables in an octameter.
(There are other feet, up to four syllables long, but they are not intended
or not suitable to be used, say, more than three or four times in a whole
When we now check the figures for the part of the all-A sentence
from assumed to accessible the shortest text to which they
both belong is assumed auditory agreement, altho any artful attempt at
While this text by itself is not yet acceptable grammatically, it counts
already 24 to 25 syllables, the same number as in a dactylic octameter,
give or take one; and 10 to 11 stressed syllables, clearly more than the
eight in an octameter, the maximum in rhythmical metric verse.
The grammatical or 'minimally ungrammatical' —admittedly, a vague
criterion— part of the sentence which contains the text from
anywise to any (a distance of 20 to 22 syllables) is
aren't anywise about automatically assumed auditory agreement, altho any
artful attempt with 27 to 30 syllables, which may be rejected for a
survey of potential staves, as it is even longer than an octameter with a
dactylic or other trisyllabic foot.
Hence, after the pair audible and all we may, indeed, stop,
because the distance between potential stave-bearing syllables is more than
21, because the grammatical or minimally ungrammatical text concerned is
more than 24 syllables long, or because the number of stressed syllables in
that text is more than sixteen.
Before proceeding i will recapitulate the above requirements for
These requirements are that two (primary- or secondary-)stressed syllables may be considered to be
immediately connected under one stave if:
- they start with the same phoneme or cluster of phonemes
(the stave), while there is no other stressed syllable between them
which starts with the same phoneme
- the distance between these two syllables is no more than 21 syllables
(that is, there should be no more than 20 in between)
- the shortest grammatical or minimally ungrammatical part of the
sentence to which they both belong is no longer than 24 syllables
- the number of stressed syllables in that part of the sentence is no
more than 16
We have now definitely found instances of alliteration in the all-A
Arguably sentence in pairs of words of which the stave bearers are
two to fourteen syllables apart.
It is obvious that alliteration in pairs which are one or two syllables
apart is much stronger than alliteration in pairs which are thirteen or
fourteen syllables apart, other things being equal, that is.
The clearest standard for comparison is, then, the case in which the stave
is a single sound, not a cluster; in which there are only two stave
bearers, that is, one pair with the stave in question; in which both these
stave bearers have primary stress; and —which applies to this entire
article— when there are no special graphical, grammatical, semantic
or other effects of a nonphysical or nonaural type which strengthen or
weaken the alliteration.
For such a standard case i shall speak of "strong alliteration" when the
distance between the stave-bearing syllables is 1 to 4 syllables; of
"weak alliteration" when the distance is 11 to 14 syllables; and of
"medium strong alliteration" when it is 5 to 10 syllables.
On the basis of this terminology the only instance of strong
alliteration in the whole 35-word all-A sentence is in the two
consecutive words almost always, provided that almost is
pronounced with (primary) stress on the first syllable.
(A result of 2 out of 35 is approximately 6%.)
If so, the alliteration with the stave |AWL| in almost always is
enhanced by the first syllable of also in the middle of the
16-syllable text almost always attracts ample, also admiring,
The stave |AWL| rime in the pair always and also is of medium
strength tho, just like the stave |AE| rime in act and and,
the |AW| rime in automatically and auditory, the |E| (or
|EN|) rime in any and anything, the |SE| rime in
accessible and accepted, and the |T| rime in attracts
When we take the strength of a double-phoneme cluster stave into
consideration this will leave the pair almost always stronger than
it already was.
The medium strong alliteration in the pair always and also
may actually be strong, but the medium strong alliteration in the pair
accessible and accepted will remain just that, since it
seems somewhat farfetched to give a distance of 10 syllables between the
supporters of a double-phoneme stave the same weight as a distance of 1 to
4 syllables between the supporters of a single-phoneme stave.
We find weak alliteration in the pair audible and all, in the
pair auditory and attempt, if auditory receives
secondary stress, and in the pair almost and admiring, if the
second syllable in almost receives primary or secondary stress.
The upshot of all this is that 18 out of the 35 words in the all-A
sentence do definitely not alliterate with any other word in the sentence;
and that 2 words (attempt and admiring) may participate in
alliteration not depending on their own pronunciation, but depending on the
pronunciation of two other words in the sentence (auditory and
Hence, only for 15 out of the 35 words, that is, 43% of the words, is
Of these 15 words 2 or 3 may show strong alliteration, or none may show
this, dependent on the pronunciation of almost; 10 or 11 words will
show medium strong alliteration; and 2 will show weak alliteration only.
In the following figure these little awesome results are shown in a
more graphic way.
ALLITERATION IN 35-WORD ALL-A SENTENCE
a 6% may show strong
a 31% medium strong
a 6% show weak
51% of words do not alliterate
6% depend on pronunciation
No less than 51 to 57% of the 35-word all-A Arguably sentence
is 'spurious and shallow' in that it purports to present real alliteration
where it offers no more than some fake 'eye alliteration' — as in
spurious and shallow.
But what about the other 43 to 49%?
The words almost (if not pronounced with stress on the second
syllable only) and always certainly form a rough-and-ready pair,
with the same initial letters and merely one syllable between the
primary-stressed first syllables, altho it may be unusual for some that
the initial sounds (and letters) are vowels rather than consonants.
And, unlike rough and ready itself (with stave |R|), almost
always displays cluster alliteration with its double-phoneme stave
Almost always is 'rough and ready' in the strictest sense; in a
looser sense, however, (1) audible and all, (2) act
and and (if stressed), (3) automatically and auditory,
(4) any and anything and (5) always and also
could be classified as "rough and ready" too, because only the distances
between the stressed syllables —a secondary-stressed syllable in the
case of automatically— are longer than one syllable (but less
With these six pairs, or eleven words —always participates
twice— 31% of the words in the all-A sentence are involved in
rough-and-ready alliteration in a strict or loose sense.
The pairs (1) accessible and accepted, (2) almost
(with a stressed second syllable), and admiring and (3)
attracts and attention, are more refined or sophisticated,
because they alliterate with a stave supported, not by the first, but by
the second syllables.
Moreover, accessible and accepted with the stave |SE| show a
stronger cluster alliteration as well.
Finally, there are auditory, if secondary-stressed, and
attempt, which is the only pair in which the stave (|T|) is not
carried by two first or two second syllables but by a third syllable and a
So, altogether there are two to four pairs, or four to six extra words,
that is, 11 to 17% of the total number, which are also related to each
other by a more or less refined or sophisticated form of alliteration.
(Because of rounding off, the percentages do not add up to 100.)
As far as the quality of alliteration is concerned, the result of our
sentence analysis is therefore, on the basis of the number of words
- spurious and shallow 'eye alliteration': 51-57%
- rough and ready (but real) alliteration: 31%
- refined or sophisticated alliteration: 11-17%
Is an auditory attempt the most refined or sophisticated sort of
alliteration with A words we can think of or which 'eye
alliteraters' could create by accident?
Consider, for example, the following three A words, all of them
with primary stress on the fourth syllable and secondary stress on one or,
dependent on the pronunciation, two preceding syllables:
antediluvian, applicability and accommodation.
Apart from one or two secondary-stressed potential staves, the word
antediluvian may form a stave |L| pair with an A
word such as alas or appellation, as in alas, an
Three times |L| is a twofold stave |L| rime.
In this respect an antediluvian elixir of life does not differ from
But more interesting from the point of view of alliteration and assonance
is the antediluvian loonies that rule the roost, with two different
cluster staves, |LOO| and |ROO|, which share the same vowel.
In whatever way the beginning of applicability is pronounced this
word will form a stave |B| pair with an A word such as
abandon or algebraic, as in abandon algebraic
But do not the applicability of beating about the bush (with
threefold stave |B| rime) and irrelevance obliterates applicability
(with the staves |R| and |B|) give more food for thought?
The two alliterations in the latter example are even intertwined: the
primary-stressed second syllable of obliterates forms a stave |B|
pair with the succeeding primary-stressed fourth syllable of
applicability, whereas the secondary-stressed fourth syllable of
obliterates forms a stave |R| pair with the preceding
primary-stressed second syllable of irrelevance.
The strongest potential stave of the word accommodation is the
sound |D| (with primary stress) and therefore suitable A words for
stave |D| rime are address and adobe.
The phrase adobe accommodation, for instance, is suitable for an
all-A sentence, but the alliteration in this pair (the |D| rime) is
nothing to do with the words both starting with the letter a.
The same applies to alas, an antediluvian appellation with its stave
|L| and abandon algebraic applicability with its stave |B| rime.
And what applies to shorter phrases applies even more so to whole sentences
in the case of spurious and shallow 'eye alliteration'.
In a language whose spelling is not entirely phonematic by any manner of
means we should, therefore, refuse to associate the notion of alliteration
with sentences or phrases created on purpose of words which start with the
same letter of the alphabet (with the possible or impossible exception of
some unstressed monosyllabic words).
Such all-one-word-initial-letter sentences are largely nonalliterative
— alliterative they are simply by accident or because there is still
more than a vestige of correspondence between pronunciation and spelling.
Hence, as far as the repetition of sounds at the beginning of stressed
syllables is concerned the all-A Arguably sentence above is
an orthographical earsore we should forget about!
This is not the end.
In my opinion it would be an offense to take away something from people
that they believe in or have always held onto, however harmful or silly
that thing may be, without offering them something better in its place.
Hence, i shall refuse to destroy a more or less popular word game here
without creating a new one to replace it.
The all-one-word-initial-letter game of producing something like the
all-A sentence at the beginning of this article is not only silly
but also harmful in a sense, because it implicitly saddles the player with
a fallacious notion of alliteration.
The game we need instead is one that does not mislead the player but
teaches this person the basics of genuine alliteration in a playful
The concrete goal of this game is not an all-one-word-initial-letter
sentence which is as long as possible but a one-stave sentence which
is as long as possible (while at the same time being of sufficient
substantive interest in one way or another).
An example of a one-stave sentence containing the word antediluvian
is Alas, their antediluvian language was little felicitous (a-LAS
their AN·t·e-DI-LU·v·i-an LAN-guage was
LI·tt·le fe-LI·c·i·t·ous) with five times
primary-stressed |L|, that is, a fourfold stave |L| rime.
Altho antediluvian has a potential stave |AE| too, and, dependent on
the pronunciation, a potential stave |D|, this stave or these staves are
not activated, because there is not even another word with |AE| or |D|.
Note that the words their and was are unstressed monosyllabic
words immediately adjacent to a syllable which is stressed.
An example of a one-stave sentence containing the word applicability
is We'd better abandon this blueprint, for its applicability is bad or
debatable (we'd BE·tt·er a-BAN·d·on this BLUE-PRINT
for its A·pp·li·c·a-BI·l·i·t·y
is BAD or de-BA·t·a·b·le) with six times
primary-stressed |B|, that is, a fivefold stave |B| rime.
In general, the word applicability may also be pronounced with
secondary stress on the second syllable
(a-PPLI·c·a-BI·l·i·t·y) but not in this stave
|B| sentence, for it would create a double-secondary-stressed stave |P|
supported by the second syllable of blueprint and the second
syllable of applicability, a distance of only four syllables.
Note, again, that the contraction we'd and the monosyllabic words
this, for, its, is and or are
immediately adjacent to a syllable which is stressed and need, therefore,
no stress themselves.
(If anyone of them did, that word, contraction or no contraction, could
not be used.)
Before presenting the third and last example of a one-stave sentence, i
will list the rules of the game, at least, insofar as they even apply to
one person creating a one-stave sentence.
When composing a one-stave sentence one could start from the desire to
create a particular effect by using a particular stave, say |R|, because
|R| is a liquid (like |L|), a consonant which is articulated without
friction in roughly the same manner as a vowel and may evoke a sense of
movement; or |S|, because |S| is a sibilant (like |SH|), a consonant which
is relatively soft and gentle, but may also have a hissing effect; or,
perhaps, |N|, because |N| is a nasal (like |M|) which may be associated
with the neutral or moderate, if not the impartial.
Such considerations are entirely justified in poetry and in literary prose,
where they may enhance the beauty of a verbal work of art, or contribute to
a greater correspondence between the physics and the semantics of such a
Here, however, in this essay and in the word game i have in mind, we are
concerned with something that precedes the choice of stave.
It is the question of how alliteration works and what makes it work,
regardless of the stressed phoneme or cluster of phonemes repeated —
it could be any with the exception of, as i pointed out earlier, an initial
sound |NG| and, in native words, an initial sound |ZH|.
Therefore, the player should not even have the choice of stave.
Worse, the player should not even be given a stave; what the player should
be given by another player or, for example, on the back of a card, is a
word; a word which has to be used somewhere in a sentence!
After the player has received the word, the first question this person has
to 'solve' then is: What is or are the potential staves of the word?
I shall call this word given in the game the "hoardword".
It is the reverse of wordhoard (with or without a hyphen), the term
derived from Old English wordhord, a supply of words, which may be
interpreted as a vocabulary.
In the olden days when people still 'unlocked their wordhoard' they also
knew how to rime in a genuine, oral way, free from fake eyerimes at the
beginning or the end.
(Yes, because the printing press had still to be invented.)
As a tribute to the ancient keepers of the wordhoards, even my one-stave
sentence game itself may be called "HoardWord".
Before you can start in HoardWord you are given a word of two or more
syllables of which the first syllable does not start with the stressed
phoneme of (the beginning of) the stave.
(This aim of this requirement is to more clearly distinguish real
alliteration from the fake 'eye alliteration' in all-one-letter sentences.)
If you are alone you may choose such a di-, tri- or polysyllabic word more
or less ad random.
It is your task, then, as a player, to make a one-stave sentence with that
word in it.
You will receive a point for every time the only or primary-stressed stave
of the given word, the hoardword, is repeated.
(If two players score the same number of points, the one whose sentence
has the smallest number of syllables wins.
If their number of syllables is also the same, the one whose sentence has
the smallest number of words wins.)
The task is not as simple as it might look at first sight, because during
the construction of the sentence the player must take care that the
following requirements are fulfilled:
- all primary-stressed syllables, and therefore all non-monosyllabic
words, must support the same stave
- secondary-stressed syllables are allowed, provided that the distance
between secondary-stressed syllables with the same initial phoneme is
at least 22 syllables, unless that phoneme is the same as the
(beginning of the) one stave for the whole sentence
- monosyllabic words may be considered unstressed, provided that:
- they are not notional verbs, nouns, adjectives or adverbs
- they are not part of a sequence of more than three unstressed
- contractions are considered one word and are only allowed if they
contain nonnotional (auxiliary or 'relational') verbs
- every word with a stressed syllable may occur only once
- no names or adjectives derived from them are allowed
- the sentence must make sense (convey a message) or make fun of
something (be comical)
The hoardword of my one-stave sentence is accommodation, in which
the primary stress is on the fourth syllable, so that the elementary stave
of the sentence is going to be |D|.
In theory, the nonelementary stave |DEI| is possible too: think of, for
example, My daily accommodation in the dale was outdated and
dangerous (my DAI·l·y a-CCO·mm·o-DA·ti·on
in the DALE was OUT-DA·t·ed and
(The second syllable in outdated receives primary stress, the first
syllable receives secondary stress or else primary stress as well.)
In practice, however, such a ten-word sentence will never get us close to
the thirty-five-word sentence this article began with.
So, my example cannot be an all-|DEI| sentence; it will simply have to be
an all-|D| sentence.
Unlike the stave |DEI|, the stave |D| also gives me the opportunity to
include the phoneme group |DZH|, represented in the standard spelling by
a j, as in reject or g, as in suggest.
I would now like to propose and discuss the following
one-hundred-and-twenty-one-word all-|D| sentence presented at the end of
this article in a more graphic way:
Don't dice with death and jeopardize your distant days, be subjective
and indorse the indubitably self-indulgent, mundane or dim and dull ideal
of longevity, or dare to be objective and do what's done in this didactic
if definitely conducive to enduring justice by productive deeds, digest and
adapt your traditional or dauntlessly different ideas from dawn to dusk;
while you're dwelling, with the door ajar, in an undamaged accommodation,
draw on and enjoy what you're endowed with during a deal of industrious,
seductive decades of majority so dear to the diligent and daring;
when, due to a delicate condition, you dread to be destined to die like a
dog adrift, endeavor with genuine dignity to gently join the
The word |in-DO(R)S| is spelled either indorse or, less
phonemically but more frequently, endorse.
A more etymological spelling variant of |in-DE·v·a(r)| is
The alliterative (mainly orthographical, partly phonemic) transcription of
this sentence is, with small capitals for secondary word stress:
<DON'T DICE with DEATH and JEO·p·ar-DIZE your
DI·st·ant DAYS, be sub-JEC·t·ive and in-DORSE the
SELF-in-DUL·g·ent, mun-DANE or DIM and DULL i-DEAL of
lon-GE·v·i·t·y, or DARE to be ob-JEC·t·ive
and DO what's DONE in this di-DAC·t·ic
if DE·f·i·n·ite-ly con-DU·c·ive to
en-DU·r·ing JU·st·ice by pro-DUC·t·ive
DEEDS, di-GEST and a-DAPT your tra-DI·ti·o·n·al or
DAUNT-le·ss·ly DI·ff·e·r·ent i-DEAS from DAWN
while you're DWE·ll·ing, with the DOOR a-JAR, in an
a-CCO·mm·o-DA·ti·on, DRAW on and en-JOY
what you're en-DOWED with DU·r·ing a DEAL of in-DUS-tri-ous,
se-DUC·t·ive DE·c·ades of
ma-JO·r·i·t·y so DEAR to the
DI·l·i·g·ent and DA·r·ing;
when, DUE to a DE·l·i·c·ate con-DI·ti·on,
you DREAD to be DE·st·ined to DIE like a DOG a-DRIFT,
en-DEA·v·or with GE·n·|j|·u-(|w|)ine DIG-ni·t·y to GENT-ly JOIN the
The words general, definitely, traditional and
different may be pronounced 'in full' or, with the elision of a
schwa, with one syllable less.
Especially in poetry, these words thus pronounced may be written as
gen'ral, def'nitely, traditi'nal and diff'rent
An elision will affect the strength of the alliteration, for the smaller
the number of syllables between the stressed syllables whose one or more
phonemes are repeated the stronger the alliteration.
It will also change the alliterative representations into <GENE-ral>
(in which <GENE> is pronounced |DZHEN|), <DEFI-nite-ly> (in
which <DEFI> is pronounced |DEF|), <tra-DITIO-nal> (in which
<DITIO> is pronounced |DISH|), and
<DI·ffe·r·ent> (in which <ffe> is pronounced
|F|/|f|) or <DI·ff·erent> (in which <erent> is
The word decades is also pronounced |DE-KEIDZ|,
with extra secondary stress, or |da-|, |de-| or |di-KEIDZ|, with primary
stress on the second syllable instead, a pronunciational variant which
does not fit into my proposed sentence.
The word genuine is sometimes pronounced with secondary stress in
what is originally a spelling pronunciation, namely
In these two cases the applicable alliterative transcriptions would be
<DE-CADES> and <GE·n·|j|u-|W|INE>, with or without
small capitals for the syllables with secondary stress.
Obviously, this sentence is a complex one.
It starts already with the part before the colon, which is a compound
structure in which the sentence Don't dice with death and jeopardize
your distant days and the sentence be subjective and indorse the
indubitably self-indulgent, mundane or dim and dull ideal of longevity, or
dare to be objective and do what's done in this didactic general
recommendation are coordinated by the word but which is left
Moreover, the first coordinated sentence of this part, may or may not be a
compound sentence itself in which the sentences Don't dice with
death and don't jeopardize your distant days are coordinated by
the explicitly mentioned word and, after which the second
don't is ellipted.
(Instead, it may be read as a complex sentence with only one don't:
"Don't dice with death, which jeopardizes your distant days, that is, your
The colon is used to introduce a refinement of the initial advice in which
the stages of a person's life are now considered one by one.
For when still very young the suggestion is that you may 'digest', that is,
think over and arrange, your ideas and, if necessary, change them, so long
as they contribute to what is good for the future; when still hale and
hearty that you must make use of and may enjoy what you are endowed with
and that you can keep your ideal of longevity; but once the ailments of old
age begin that you should try to die with dignity, in other words, prepare
for death notwithstanding.
There is a complete parallel between form and content here, because it is
also excactly three sentence parts which succeed the colon.
They start with if, the beginning of a (finite) clause of condition,
while, the beginning if a clause of time, and when, also the
beginning of a clause of time.
Since these subordinate complex sentences are members of a list, as it
were, they are separated by semicolons.
The hoardword accommodation occurs in the (finite) clause of time
while you're dwelling in an undamaged accommodation.
It is used in a figurative sense: the 'accommodation' is your body, the
'undamaged accommodation' your unscathed and healthy body.
Perhaps, you would normally say that you 'live' or 'dwell' in such a body,
rather than 'are living' or 'dwelling', but the progressive form of the
verb is used here to hint at its limited duration between the not yet
fully grown child's body and the body which will start deteriorating later
in life (a period which may last less than a day for the most unfortunate).
At any rate, you dwell instead of you're dwelling is also
possible here and will not change the number of (stressed) |D|'s.
Another thing which one would certainly normally not say is the clause
endeavor with genuine dignity to gently join the dead or, in a
shorter form, endeavor with dignity to join the dead, which is
supposed to be endeavor to join the dead with dignity.
I have allowed myself this deviation from a strict grammatical rule
—an act of poetic license— because in this way the end of the
total sentence, the dead, corresponds with the end of life, death.
Again, it has no impact on the number of |D|'s, and should one have major
objections against it, one may read, "endeavor to gently join the dead with
In the whole sentence there is only one pair of stressed syllables which
immediately succeed each other, namely |DOHNT DAIS| (Don't dice).
Double-stressed |DOHNT DAIS| right at the beginning is a strong
introduction to the sentence at the highest level, a sentence which starts
with death and ends with death, neither as something to be avoided at all
costs nor as something to be invited lightheartedly or, worse, recklessly.
Apart from |DOHNT DAIS| all stressed syllables are separated by one or
more unstressed ones.
The longest sequences of unstressed syllables possible can be found in
indubitably subjective and definitely conducive, with four
unstressed syllables between the stressed second syllable of
indubitably or the stressed first syllable of definitely and
the stressed second syllable of subjective and conducive
In both phrases an adjective is turned into an adverb by affixing the
stressless suffix -ly to it.
However, four unstressed syllables in a row is quite a stretch, and
normally too much, so that one may expect that definitely will
actually be pronounced as def'nitely here, with one vowel and
Three unstressed or short syllables in a row is also the maximum in a line
of metrical poetry with a tetrasyllabic foot —the longest type
recognized— with only one stressed or long syllable and three
unstressed or short ones (a first, second, third or fourth paeon, dependent
on the position of the stressed/long syllable).
The same practical maximum of three consecutive unstressed syllables lies
at the basis of my 'rule of limited stresslessness' that monosyllabic words
cannot be presented as unstressed if thereby a sequence of more than three
unstressed syllables is created.
The consecutive four unstressed syllables in indubitably subjective
are no reason to allow four unstressed monosyllables in a row, because in
(the variants of) non-monosyllabic words it is entirely fixed which
syllable is stressed and which one is not, whereas the stress pattern is
not fixed in a sentence in which a monosyllabic word occurs together with
another monosyllabic word or adjacent to the unstressed syllable(s) of a
di-, tri- or polysyllabic word.
Hence, if stress on a monosyllable means that a speaker does not have to
prounounce four or more unstressed syllables in a row, we may assume that
that monosyllable is going to be stressed.
Once the general context of the one-stave sentence has been established
the rule of limited stresslessness may make it impossible to use certain
semantically more attractive or additional words.
For example, my sentence contains the phrase industrious, seductive
decades in which the adjectives should normally have been coordinated
by and or or, as in industrious and seductive
(<in-DUS-tri-ous 'and' se-DUC·t·ive>).
Yet, this is not possible, because it would create a sequence of four
unstressed syllables — the word and would, then, be stressed
in spite of what we intend and this would introduce the phoneme |AE|.
In the phrase so dear to the diligent and daring the term
diligent corresponds to industrious and the term
daring to seductive.
It would have been better to speak of "the diligent and the daring"
(<the DI·l·i·g·ent 'and' the
DA·r·ing>), but then and would have been pronounced
|AEND| again to prevent an accumulation of four unstressed syllables.
Note, however, that the daring and the diligent (<the
DA·r·ing and the DI·l·i·g·ent>) would have
been quite alright with and pronounced |and| or just |an|.
We must not forget to assure ourselves that non-monosyllabic words with
secondary-stressed syllables do not create a second stave in the sentence.
The syllables with secondary stress are: |DAIZ| in jeopardize,
|SELF| in self-indulgent, |RE·k| in recommendation, |AN|
in undamaged, |KAH·m| or |KO·m| in accommodation, and, dependent on
the pronunciation, |KEIDZ| in decades and |WAIN| in genuine.
The word jeopardize, that is, |DZHE·p·a(r)-DAIZ|, is one of
the few verbal gems with word-internal alliteration.
The initial phoneme of its secondary-stressed third syllable is the same as
that of its primary-stressed first syllable, and |DAIZ| will only reinforce
the role of the stave of the whole sentence.
The syllables |SELF|, |RE·k|, |AN| and |WAIN| all have a uniquely
stressed initial phoneme in the sentence and therefore do not and cannot
form any alliterative relationship.
Only |KAH·m| or |KO·m| followed by |KEIDZ| could cause a problem
Fortunately, the distance between these two stress bearers is no fewer than
27 syllables, whereas we have established a distance of 21 syllables as
the maximum distance for alliteration.
(It does mean, however, that draw on and enjoy what you're endowed with
during a deal of industrious, seductive could not have been six
The 121-word Don't dice sentence contains 67 stressed mono-, di-,
tri- and polysyllabic words and 54 unstressed monosyllabic words.
The stressed words are all different, the unstressed ones often occur more
than once: to 8 times, and 7 times, a(n), the
and with 4 times, be, of and or 3 times,
in, your and you're twice, and by, if,
from, like, on, so, this, what,
what's, when, while and you only once.
The stressed words are all |D| words, and since jeopardize counts
two |D|'s, there are 68 |D|'s in the whole sentence.
The 121-word sentence shows a 67-fold alliteration with one elementary
stave, the stave |D|.
At least, the number of instances of alliteration in pairs is 1 less,
provided that all pairs are interconnected; if not, the sentence might show
no more than 34 times a 1-fold alliteration with 34 times the same stave.
To find out if all pairs are indeed interconnected i will list the number
of syllables between each syllable which carries the |D| sound, using the
phonemic transcription system of the Vocabulary of Alliteration:
|DOHNT| 0 |DAIS| 1
|DETH| 1 |DZHE·p| 1
|DAIZ| 1 |DI·st| 1
|DEIZ| 2 |DZHEK·t| 3 |DORS| 2 |D(J)OO·b|
5 |DAL·dzh| 2
|DEIN| 1 |DIM| 1 |DAL|
1 |DEEL| 2
|DZHE·v| 3 |DAE(R)| 3 |DZHEK·t| 2 |DOO|
1 |DAN| 3 |DAEK·t|
1 |DZHE·n| 5
|DE·f| 4 |D(J)OO·s| 3 |D(J)OO·r| 1
|DZHA·st| 3 |DAK·t| 1 |DEEDZ| 1 |DZHEST| 2 |DAPT| 2 |DI·sh|
3 |DAHNT| 2
|DI·ff| 3 |DEEZ| 1
|DAWN| 1 |DASK| 2
|DWE·l| 3 |DO(R)| 1
|DZHAH(R)| 3 |DAE·m| 4 |DEI·sh| 1 |DRAW|
3 |DZHOI| 3 |DAUD|
1 |D(J)OO·r| 2
|DEEL| 2 |DAS| 3
|DAK·t| 1 |DE·k| 3 |DZHO·r| 3 |DEE(R)|
2 |DI·l| 3
|D(J)OO| 2 |DE·l| 3
|DI·sh| 2 |DRED| 2
|DE·st| 2 |DAI| 2
|DOG| 1 |DRIFT| 1
|DE·v| 2 |DZHE·n| 2 |DIG| 3 |DZHENT| 1 |DZHOIN| 1 |DED|.
The Don't dice sentence contains, without elisions, 205
syllables, of which 68 stave bearers (stressed syllables starting with
|D|), 4 syllables with secondary stress which start with a phoneme other
than |D| and 133 unstressed syllables (if the words are pronounced in full
and, in the case of variants, without secondary stress).
The 68 stave bearers support a 67-fold alliteration with stave |D|.
When looking at the consecutive pairs of stave bearers and the strength of
the alliteration on the basis of the distance between them, which is 1 more
than the number of nonparticipating syllables, the situation is as
We must not confuse words and syllables.
The Don't dice sentence is composed of 121 words which, in turn,
comprise 205 syllables together.
Only 72 of these syllables are primary- or secondary-stressed, that is,
35% of 205; of which 33% stave bearers and 2% with secondary stress on a
phoneme other than the stave |D|.
Of the words, however, 67 are involved in alliteration, which is 55% of
For each adjacent pair of stave bearers there is alliteration; it is strong
in 94% of the cases and medium in 6% of the cases.
All medium strong alliteration is found in the middle of phrases
consisting of a noun with the second stave bearer preceded by an adjective
with the first one or an adjective with the second stave bearer preceded by
an adverb with the first one.
They are: indubitably self-indulgent, general recommendation,
definitely conducive and undamaged accommodation.
In all these phrases the first stave bearer has a strong relationship with
the stave bearer of the preceding stressed word, and the second stave
bearer a strong relationship with the stave bearer of the following word.
This means that all stressed words, even those in phrases with
medium strong alliteration, strongly alliterate with other stressed words.
With these results it is now possible to draw a picture similar to that
shown for the 35-word all-A Arguably sentence with the
percentages based on words rather than syllables:
ALLITERATION IN 121-WORD ALL-|D|
a 55% show strong
a 7% also medium
45% of words do not alliterate
A large number of monosyllables, 45% of the total number of words, in the
all-|D| Don't dice sentence are unstressed, and unstressed syllables
do not participate in alliteration by definition.
As was to be expected, of the remaining 55% (67 words) a great part of the
stave |D| rime is created by pairs of words which start with the letter
D/d in the spelling and whose first syllables are stressed.
These pairs are Don't-dice, dice-death, distant-days,
dim-dull, do-done, dauntlessly-different,
dawn-dusk, dusk-dwelling, dwelling-door,
during-deal, dear-diligent, diligent-daring,
daring-due, due-delicate, dread-destined,
destined-die and die-dog.
While the alliteration in these seventeen pairs is not spurious by any
manner of means, it is hard to deny that the alliteration borders on the
shallow here: they are all rough-and-ready pairs.
The pairs done-didactic and deeds-digest may look like
rough-and-ready pairs too, but because the stress in didactic and
digest is on a noninitial, the second, syllable it is not that
obvious anymore that the D word will have a potential stave |D|,
that is, not even a secondary-stressed first syllable starting with |D|.
(Consider, for example, degree with stressed |G(R)| and no |D| or
discrimination with the potential staves |S(K(R))| and |N| only.)
The second syllable of didactic starts with a d in the
spelling and a |D| in the pronunciation, which is reason enough to count
done-didactic among the rough-and-ready.
In digest the second syllable starts with a g in the
spelling, which in this particular word is pronounced |DZH|, and to connect
deeds with digest is therefore more refined or sophisticated
With done-didactic there are 18 rough-and-ready pairs with 27
Merely nine of these words (7.4% of 121) are involved in rough-and-ready
alliteration exclusively: Don't, dice, dusk,
dwelling, diligent, daring, due,
destined and die.
The other eighteen (14.9% of 121) are involved in refined or sophisticated
alliteration as well, together with the 40 words (33.1% of 121) which show
no other than a form of refined or sophisticated alliteration.
As far as the quality of alliteration is concerned, the result of our
second sentence analysis is therefore, on the basis of the number of words
- unstressed words without alliteration: 45%
- spurious and shallow 'eye alliteration': 0%
- rough and ready (but real) alliteration only: 7%
- rough and ready and refined or sophisticated: 15%
- refined or sophisticated alliteration only: 33%
In the first half of this essay we saw that 51% of the 35 words of the
all-A sentence did not show any alliteration and that this depended
on the pronunciation for 6%.
Of the words that certainly did alliterate 6% might show strong
alliteration, 31% showed medium strong alliteration, and 6% showed weak
However, we cannot directly compare these figures for an
all-one-word-initial-letter sentence with the results we have now found for
the all-one-stave sentence, because in such a sentence it is not words or
syllables in general which count but stressed words —words with at
least one stressed syllable— only.
Hence, before comparing the all-A sentence with the all-|D| sentence
we should reconsider the former and distinguish its stressed words from its
The only monosyllabic words which must or may (but need not) be considered
unstressed are, when we follow the rule for all-one-stave sentences, the
words all, and (if followed by A·r·en't or
AREN'T), at and as.
(If and is followed by unstressed aren't, it must be
stressed, since and is preceded by appearances, a word which
ends with two unstressed syllables.
Such a word will not be followed by two stressable monosyllables which
will both be kept unstressed.)
Now, all was made to alliterate with audible and and
(followed by unstressed aren't) with act.
So, these two monosyllables are treated as being stressed, and only
at and as remain as unstressed words.
In theory, as could be stressed, whereas at between two
immediately adjacent stressed syllables could not be but unstressed.
The 35-word all-A sentence therefore comprises 33 stressed words.
This difference of merely two words will only change two percentages: the
percentage of stressed words with medium strong alliteration is not 31 but
33% (11 out of 33), and the percentage of stressed words which do not
alliterate at all is not 51 but 48% (16 out of 33).
These are the figures with which we should compare the results of the
|| 0-6% of all
0-6% of stressed
| 55% of all words|
100% of stressed words
|| 31% of all
33% of stressed
| (7% of all words)|
(12% of stressed words)
|| 6-12% of all
6-12% of stressed
| 0% of all words|
0% of stressed words
|| 51-57% of all
48-54% of stressed
| 45% of all words|
0% of stressed words
To some it may come as a surprise that the all-A sentence contains
only 6 to 12% more words which do not alliterate than the all-|D| sentence.
Indeed, these percentages may not differ that much.
Yet, the real difference does not lie in these numbers here, but in the
kind of words which do not alliterate.
In the all-|D| sentence they are only stressless monosyllables, in the
all-A sentence they include polysyllabic words such as
accommodatingly, with 6 syllables, and, with 5 syllables,
alliterations and alliterative.
At the other end of the scale even the difference in numbers is enormous:
whereas no less than 55% of the words in the all-|D| sentence show strong
alliteration, this is the case for none to only 6% of the words in the
Whether strong, medium or weak, alliterations can also differ in their
ranges, that is, the number of pairs of stave bearers connected to each
other by one and the same stave.
Because utterances are made in one-dimensional space (time) a stressed
syllable only couples with an immediately preceding or following stressed
syllable, provided that the first stressed phoneme is the same and so long
as the distance is not too large.
Hence, within the range of one alliteration, the number of pairs of stave
bearers is one less than the number of stave bearers .
In the all-A sentence the alliterations between act and
and, between auditory with secondary stress and
attempt, between any and anything, between
accessible and accepted, between almost with
secondary-stressed second syllable and admiring and between
attracts and attention are all confined to one pair of stave
I shall call such alliterations "onefold".
Between the |AWL| in always, with stressed first syllable, and the
|AWL| of also there are only five syllables, so that we have a case
of twofold alliteration in almost always and also here, the
two pairs of words alliteratively connected being
almost-always and always-also.
Between the stressed syllables |AWL| of all and |AW·t| in
automatically there are 11 or 12 other syllables, a distance still
short enough to couple the pair audible-all with the pair
automatically-auditory under the same stave |AW|.
This is a case of threefold alliteration (between audible and
all, between all and automatically, and between
automatically and auditory).
Since in an all-one-stave sentence such as the all-|D| sentence there are
only unstressed syllables and an occasional secondary-stressed syllable
between the stave bearers, the distance between these stave bearers will
always be small enough to connect every primary-stressed syllable other
than the first one with a preceding one, and every primary-stressed
syllable other than the last one with a following one.
In other words, any all-one-stave sentence with more than three or four
primary-stressed syllables will present one manifold alliteration.
The all-|D| Don't dice sentence with its sixty-seven pairs of stave
bearers supporting the same stave |D| presents us with a 67-fold
alliteration, something that is totally out of the question in an
|RANGE OF THE|
|One pair: onefold
||four to six times
|Two pairs: twofold
||none or once
|Three pairs: threefold
|Four or more pairs
||once (67 pairs)|
Nowhere have i argued in this essay that alliteration or rime in general,
for that matter, should, let alone must, be used in poetry or even in
My sole concern was that if one intends to make use of this
linguistic device, or claims to be using it or to be interested in it, one
ought to be able to distinguish the alliteration which does or can make
sense from the so-called 'alliteration' which is nonsensical.
In full sentences and arithmetic detail i have made the distinction in
alliteration between the refined or sophisticated on the one hand and the
spurious and shallow on the other explicit.
In the process of doing this i have tried to explain exactly what does and
what does not count in determining whether two syllables or whole words
are or are not connected by stave rime, which may sometimes depend on a
variant pronunciation of the word.
The qualities refined and sophisticated and both
shallow and profound all admit of degrees, and there may be
less or more of them to please the human ear.
The choice of a particular stave, and the range of the alliteration, too,
may be less or more appropriate in a certain context.
However, there is not an iota of excuse left anymore for espousing the
spurious — definitely not after having read, nay, heard these
I spell the first-person singular pronoun with a small i, as i do
not consider myself a Supreme Being, a King (whether or not by the grace
of God) or anything else of that Ilk.