23. May 2018

Rhyme and Meter render sentences (often) more ambiguous

Rhyme and meter render sentences more prosodically fluent as well as more memorable. At the same time, they act as constraints on word choice and word order, and are routinely associated with non-canonical syntax and unusual word forms. In a preceding study (Menninghaus et al., 2015 Cognition), we had already shown that rhyme- and meter-driven gains in ratings for beauty, praegnanz(succinctness) and power of persuasioncome at the expense of reduced comprehensibility.

The present study advances the understanding of semantic disfluency associated with rhyme and meter in a twofold fashion. First, we measured heightened cognitive effort not only through subjective self-reports, but report convergent results for objectively measured reading speed. Second, we show that a substantial portion of the adverse effect on comprehensibility can specifically be understood as increased ambiguity. We thus provide the first empirical evidence for Roman Jakobson’s speculative hypothesis (1960) that the “poetic function” of language tends to render sentences and texts more ambiguous.

Original Publication:

Wallot, S., & Menninghaus, W. (2018). Ambiguity Effects of Rhyme and Meter. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Advance online publication. Doi:  10.1037/xlm0000557


Prof. Dr. Winfried Menninghaus

Director of the Department of Language and Literature
Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik, Frankfurt am Main
+49 69 8300479-101