Sublime Prime Rhyme Time

Sometimes it's only when you write things down you realise they're wrong.

That's why I managed to write 10,000 words on why there are are seven kind of rhyme in English...only to realise reading it back that there had to be either hundreds...or about five.

So here's what I reckon on the kinds of rhymes.

Oh, 'Kinds' and 'Rhymes'. They sort-of sound the same. I'm a poet and I don't kn-....

[Cough.] Anyway...

The division of speech sounds into consonants and vowels has its problems, but I think it's good enough for our purposes.

Sound Example
/p/ Pit
/b/ Bit
/t/ Tit
/d/ Dim
/k/ Kit
/g/ Git
/tS/ Church
/dZ/ Judge
/f/ Fill
/v/ Vat
/s/ Sit
/z/ Zip
/S/ Show
/Z/ Television
/T/ Think
/D/ Those
/x/ Loch
/m/ Me
/n/ Knee
/N/ Thing
/r/ Run
/l/ Let
/w/ Water
/j/ Yes
/A/ Part
/V/ Putt
/O/ Port
/Q/ Pot
/u/ Poot
/U/ Put
/i/ Peat
/I/ Pit
/E/ Pet
/a/ Pat
/3/ Pert
/@/ ago
/aU/ Now
/VI/ Nigh
/eI/ Neigh
/@U/ No
/OI/ Noise

So a nice common word like 'Kapitano' has the sound: /kapItAn@U/

I'm using the hash symbol (#) to indicate the syllable of the word which is stressed, so my name is: /kapIt#An@U/

Now we can find words which rhyme perfectly with my name, by searching for any that end in /#An@U/ - that is, words which have the same sound from the vowel of the stressed syllable, forward to the end.

Which gives us: Boliviano, Guano, Carnot, Mano, Mexicano, Meccano, Romano, Soprano...and plenty of others.

These are perfect rhymes - my first type.

I'm glossing over a lot here. /r/, /w/ and /j/ are stricly speaking what are called semivowels or glides. The two-part vowels are diphthongs. There are some diphthongs like /U@/ in 'poor', which linguists disagree about. There are some sounds like /VI@/ in 'tire' which can be analysed in more than one way. There are vowels like /{/ which only occur in loan words like the German 'Froelich'. The consonants /tS/ and /dZ/ may be represented as two other consonants jammed togther, but in sound they're not. /l/ is really two sounds - the 'light' /l/ in 'Let' and the 'dark' /l/ in 'Full'. And so on.

Having lampshaded these difficulties, I'm now going to completely ignore them.

If there are perfect rhymes, what kind of imperfect rhymes - or 'half rhymes' - are there?

Well, about half of the consonants can be grouped into pairs by whether they're voiced or not. The /p/ in 'Pat' is unvoiced, and its voiced counterpart is the /b/ in 'Bat'. Likewise:

Unvoiced Voiced
Part Bart
Tart Dart
Call Gall
Mitch Midge
Fail Vale
Sip Zip
Rush Raj
Think That

There are other ways to group consonants, for instance by place of articulation - whether they're made with the lips, the tip of the tongue or the blade of the tongue. Thus the final sounds of 'Gap', 'Saff' and 'Lamb' could be grouped together. But are you more likely to try to rhyme 'Gap' with 'Cab' than 'Gap' with 'Lamb'?

For purposes of finding rhymes, the voicing distinction seems the most useful. But what about the consonants that don't have unvoiced counterparts, and are there any that can be put in groups of more than two? The answers are yes, and...yes, but be careful.

Here's my full list of consonant groupings:

/p/ /b/
/t/ /d/ T D
/k/ /g/
/tS/ /dZ/ /S/ /Z/
/f/ /f/
/s/ /z/
/m/ /n/ /N/
/r/ /l/
/w/ /j/

This does allow for half rhymes that you might think a stretch too far - rhyming 'Third' with 'Firth', or 'Pang' with 'Sam'. If so, just ignore the ones you don't like and keep the ones you do. Or come up with your own system.

Incidentally, the consonant /h/ is nothing more that a devoiced version of the vowel which comes after it, so it can't be grouped with anything.

My third category of rhyme involves, somewhat inevitably, grouping vowels instead of consonants.

Now, about half the vowels fall into short and long pairings, like this:

Long Short
/A/ /V/
/O/ /Q/
/u/ /U/
/i/ /I/
/3/ /@/

/a/ doesn't have a long counterpart. There's some dispute over whether words like 'Hair' have a long version of the /E/ sound or something like a /Er/ glide - my source (the SOED) doesn't make a consistent distinction, so I've dropped it, leaving /E/ for both the vowels in 'Pet' and 'Mare'.

After some long, painful thinking, I've decided the five diphthongs can't be grouped with anything else. Well, they can, but it gives some painfully 'off' rhymes.

So with vowel half-rhyming, we can rhyme 'Gart' with 'Putt', and 'Seen' with 'Gin'.

My forth category is simply to group consonants and vowels.

This is getting quite a long way from the perfect rhymes, allowing us to rhyme 'Seed' with 'Sith', 'Horse' with 'Moss' and 'Cup' with 'Garb'.

The fifth kind is one familiar to poets - the vowel rhyme. This just involves putting all consonants into one group, and rhyming words if the vowels are the same, and they have consonants or consonant clusters in the same place.

This rhymes 'Barre' with 'cafe', 'Deck' with 'then', and 'Bill' with 'Did'.

Category five is the same as four, but with vowels in groupings.

Words are accepted as rhyming in songs which people would never accept as rhyming in speech. Poetry is even more loose, but these two give rhymes which I think few poets would accept.

There is one assumption which I haven't broken from the start - that the 'rhyming part' of the word is from the emphasised syllable to the end. With the implicit assumption that in monosyllables, the first and only vowel is the emphasised one.

This means that 'Subject' and 'Object' as verbs rhyme, because the emphasis is on the second syllable. But as nouns they don't rhyme, because the emphasis is on the first syllable.

But could we break this rule and ignore the word stress? Could we rhyme a word like 'Telecine' (/telis#Ini/) with a word ending in /esIni/? Probably, but I can't think of a single example of any real words we could do this with.

So for my sixth category, I'm including all the potential rhymes for the first five which were excluded by the emphasised syllable rule. This kind of rhyme is like the locrican mode in music - a theoretical possibility, but barely ever used, and terrible to listen to.

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