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Encyclopedia > Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of a leading consonant sound in a phrase. A common example in English is "Peter Piper" picked a peck of pickled peppers". Alliteration can take the form of assonance, the repetition of a vowel, or consonance, the repetition of a consonant; however, unlike a strict definition of alliteration, both assonance and consonance can regularly occur within words as opposed to being limited to the word's initial sound. Some critics hold the opinion that the term "alliteration" applies just as accurately to phonetic repetitions that occur elsewhere than the first position (first letter), sometimes falling on later syllables, yet retaining alliterative properties due to the form of the example's meter, which, through affecting the syllables stress may mimic the intensity of the initial. Further, the use of differing consonants of similar properties (labials, dentals, etc.) is sometimes considered to be alliteration.[1] Similarly, phrases such as "Apt alliteration's artful aid" still seems to retain the efficacy of alliteration despite the unique pronunciation of the "a" in each word. This has been attributed by the American writer Fred Newton Scott to the sharing of the attribute of a glottal stop (which he terms the "glottal catch") by virtually every vowel in the English language when it is found in the initial position.[2] In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a sound in spoken language that is characterized by a closure or stricture of the vocal tract sufficient to cause audible turbulence. ... Peter Piper is a Mother Goose nursery rhyme, well-known as a tongue twister: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled boners, If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, Wheres the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked? or (how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick... Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in non-rhyming words, for example Do you like blue?. Here the oo sound is repeated within the sentence. ... Consonance is a stylistic device, often used in poetry characterized by the repetition of two or more consonants using different vowels, for example, the i and a followed by the tter sound in pitter patter. ... In poetry, the meter or metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse. ... Labials are consonants articulated either with both lips (bilabial articulation) or with the lower lip and the upper teeth (labiodental articulation). ... Dentals are consonants such as t, d, n, and l articulated with either the lower or the upper teeth, or both, rather than with the gum ridge as in English. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

The relative formal accessibility of alliteration makes it one of the most commonly used literary tools in English, tracing its origins back to Old English and other Germanic languages such as Old High German, Old Norse, and Old Saxon. Particularly notable examples of early literary alliteration can be found in these languages' poetry, namely Alliterative verse. Alliterative verse is a form of poetry that relies heavily on consonance and assonance rather than rhyme. Perhaps the most famous example of alliterative poetry is the Old English epic, Beowulf. A line extracted from Beowulf which bears an example of the most common “hypermetric” form contained in the poem follows. Note the alliterative ‘’g’’ initials: Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon[1], Old English: ) is an early form of the English language that was spoken in parts of what is now England and southern Scotland between the mid-fifth century and the mid-twelfth century. ... The Germanic languages are a group of related languages constituting a branch of the Indo-European (IE) language family. ... The (Late Old High) German speaking area of the Holy Roman Empire around 950. ... Old Norse or Danish tongue is the Germanic language once spoken by the inhabitants of the Nordic countries (for instance during the Viking Age). ... Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, is a Germanic language. ... The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written in alliterative verse. ... A rhyme is a repetition of identical or similar sounds in two or more different words and is most often used in poetry. ... This article is about the epic poem. ...

Gan under Gyldnum Beage, þær þa godan twegen[3]

As testament to the pervasive use of alliteration in English poetry, it is commonly tabulated and statistically analyzed, and has even for example been mapped in a Thomas Churchyard poem in order to correctly date it in relation to his other works.[4] Statistics can also fuel debates on author’s alliterative motive, in attempts to determine if the alliterations that critics find were included by chance or by the author’s volition. One such study of 100 Shakespearian sonnets concluded that the author “might as well have drawn his words out of a hat”, and provoked other critics' defense of the questioned alliteration.[5] Thomas Churchyard (c. ... Shakespeare redirects here. ... The term sonnet derives from the Provençal word sonet and the Italian word sonetto, both meaning little song. ...

Books aimed at young readers often use alliteration, as it consistently captures children's interest.

Alliteration in English survives today most obviously in flashy magazine article titles, advertisements and business names, comic strip or cartoon characters, and generally cliché expressions: [6]

  • Magazine articles: “Science has Spoiled my Supper”[7] and “Too Much Talent in Tennessee?”[8]
  • Comic/cartoon characters: Beetle Bailey, Donald Duck
  • Restaurants: Coffee Corner, Steak ‘n’ Shake, Sushi Station
  • Expressions: busy as a bee, dead as a doornail, good as gold, right as rain, etc...
  • Music: Blackalicious' "Alphabet Aerobics" focuses on the uses of alliteration in rhyme

However, it still seems to maintain an important, though perhaps more subtle, part in modern English poetry.

See also

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in non-rhyming words, for example Do you like blue?. Here the oo sound is repeated within the sentence. ... Consonance is a stylistic device, often used in poetry characterized by the repetition of two or more consonants using different vowels, for example, the i and a followed by the tter sound in pitter patter. ... The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written in alliterative verse. ...


  1. ^ Stoll, E. E. "Poetic Alliteration". Modern Language Notes, Vol.55, No. 5. (May, 1940), pp. 388
  2. ^ Scott, Fred N. "Vowel Alliteration in Modern Poetry". Modern Language Notes, Vol. 30, No. 8. (Dec., 1915), pp. 237.
  3. ^ Hieatt, Constance B. “Alliterative Patterns in the Hypermetric Lines of Old English Verse”. Modern Philology, Vol. 71, No. 3. (Feb., 1974), pp. 237.
  4. ^ Shirley, Charles G, Jr. "Alliteration as Evidence in Dating a Poem of Thomas Churchyard: An Exploratory Computer-Aided Study". Modern Philology, Vol. 76, No. 4. (May, 1979), pp. 374.
  5. ^ Stoll, Elmer E. Modern Language Notes, Vol. 55, No. 5. (May, 1940), pp. 388-390.
  6. ^ Coard, Robert L. "Wide-Ranging Alliteration". Peabody Journal of Education, Vol. 37, No. 1. (Jul., 1959),pp. 30-32.
  7. ^ Wylie, Philip G. “Science has Spoiled my Supper”. Atlantic April 1954.
  8. ^ Dykeman, Wilma. "Too Much Talent in Tennessee?" Harper's Magazine. 210 (Mar 1955): 48-53.

  Results from FactBites:
Alliteration (171 words)
Alliteration is a frequent tool of poetry but it is also common in prose, particularly short phrases.
Alliterative verse in one form or another is shared by all of the older Germanic languages.
Alliteration makes for very catchy phrases and is frequently used in modern news headlines, corporate names, literary titles, advertising, buzzwords, and nursery rhymes.
Alliteration - LoveToKnow 1911 (734 words)
Although mainly Germanic in its character, alliteration was known to the Latins, especially in early times, and Cicero blames Ennius for writing " 0 Tite tute, Tati, tibi tanta, tyranne, tulisti." Lucretius did not disdain to employ it as an ornament.
As thus far considered, alliteration is a device wholly dependent on the poet's fancy.
This, for example, is the principle on which Icelandic verse is founded; and we have a yet nearer interest in it, because it furnishes the key to Anglo-Saxon and a large portion of early English verse.
  More results at FactBites »



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