Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Breath Pauses and "swa" Clauses

After I record passages for my podcasts of Old English poems at Anglo-Saxon Aloud, I go back and use Garage Band to do some quick editing. No processing, pitch-changing, etc., but I do eliminate nasty saliva noises, hard breaths, the sound of turning pages, etc. When I was editing Exodus (which, by the way, should be completely posted by Monday and on iTunes by the following day), I noticed that I almost always had to edit out a heavy breath intake right before a "swa" clause. I wonder if that is a linguistic marker of some kind and if it might be related to pointing (or lack of pointing) in the manuscript.

Now I am reading the poetry as prose, attempting to inflect it for the story rather than emphasizing alliteration or even the caesura (which Tolkien called a "breath-pause" in "On Translating Beowulf," which is still the easiest-to-understand treatment of basic metrics for Beowulf, and which I use for my students). I'm guessing that if I chanted or sung the Anglo-Saxon (which I did for Finnsburg in Beowulf Aloud, so you can hear my singing/chanting there if you are in need of amusement), it might be different. Still, it is an observation of possible linguistic interest that there aren't a lot of places to breathe running right up to a "swa" clause. I wonder if we should consider punctuating those clauses as starting new sentences.

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