Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures lecture


Wednesday, April 1, 2020, 12:00pm to 1:00pm


The Kates Room, Warren House, 12 Quincy Street

David Stifter (Maynooth University), Alliterating by Number in Early Irish Literature. Sponsored by the Standing Committee on Medieval Studies and the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures. CANCELLED

Research since the 1980s has made it clear that the poetical-rhetorical device of alliteration in Early Irish literature is not merely restricted to the traditionally recognised context of sequences of stressed words (‘narrow alliteration’), but that Irish poets could make use of a range of elaborate alliterative patterns (complex alliteration, paired alliteration, and mirrored alliteration). To these, a further type, compound alliteration, can be added that has been hiding, as it were, in plain sight. But how can we actually prove conclusively that a sequence of words with a complicated pattern of initial sounds is deliberate and not due to chance? It will be shown that the probabilistic evaluation of alliteration and mathe­matical formulae allow us to determine precise values to decide whether certain patterns are random or the product of poetic design. While this paper will only use examples from Old Irish litera­ture, the principles are universal and can be easily applied to any language that makes use of alliteration. In addition, a simple method of formally representing alliteration will be introduced that can facilitate the theoretical discussion of the device in the future.