One frosty night, not too long after Christmas Day, 1066, with William on the throne and England duly conquered, the most typical Norman teenager you can imagine muttered a quick slew of choice Old French swear words and slipped out to meet her new heavier tongued Anglo-Saxon friends. And the rest, as we English speakers say, is history. In coming to terms with prosody and the rhythmical nature of anglophone poetry, it may help to bear in mind these two main forebears of our messy language. Even now, the combination of Germanic Anglo Saxon (or Old English) and Old French sounds gives modern English its particular texture. Anyone who has ever looked up a word in a dictionary and found one or more of its syllables marked with an accent or in bold knows that language has such a thing as stresses. Its the property that makes Americans say AD dress when they mean ad DRESS. Broadly speaking, every syllable in English is either stressed or unstressed. What you may not realize, however, is that the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables varies significantly between languages and that this variation has a profound effect on different poetic traditions.
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