3.2.5 - Monosyllables and What to Do About Them, or, The Case of the Underlined W
In doing Exercise #4, if you treated "Black birds" as a noun phrase, with "birds" receiving the strongest stress, you would have no recourse but to make "black" weak. However, many if not most readers feel that "black" has significant stress, perhaps equal or nearly equal to that on "bird." Because the generative approach is syntactic in its orientation, a phrase composed of monosyllabic words will always obey the Nuclear Stress Rule, with the dominant stress on the noun, "bird." By contrast, in conventional scansion, such a phrase would commonly be treated as an example of a spondaic foot, i.e., two consecutively stressed syllables. Generative metrics outlaws the spondee because stress is always relative within a word or phrase and hence while "black" has stress, it is nonetheless subsidiary to "bird." I have developed a notation for handling such situations as these using an underlined w, i.e., w. I use this notation for consecutive monosyllabic words in a single phrase to indicate that the word has lexical stress but that it is syntactically weak compared to the word to which it is joined, usually the head of the phrase. (A w is the equivalent of a demotion in Attridge's system which we will come to later. ) Thus, in the sentence, "Black birds nibbled on the frost-covered corn," I would scan the first phrase as follows:
Another example of this pattern can be found in line 3 of Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII, "Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May," where "Rough winds" can be scanned as w s.