[Part III. Para-metrical phenomena, Pif paf poof]

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Known as <i>ablaut reduplication, apophony, consonance, consonantal rhyme</i> or <i>vowel gradation</i>, sound sequences such as <i>Pif paf poof</i> appear to be widespread in children&#8217;s rhymes around the world. As part of an ongoing investigation of universals in children&#8217;s folklore, this paper analyzes ablaut reduplicatives (AR) extracted from a corpus of 1884 counting-out rhymes in 51 languages (38 IE, 13 non-IE). After defining and justifying the choice of counting-out rhymes for this study (&#167;2), I address methodological issues in Section 3. Section 4 presents the findings concerning the frequency of AR sequences in 30 languages and analyzes vowel contrasts within these sequences. The dominant pattern displays strong or maximal contrast between a high front vowel 1 and a front low, back low or back mid vowel 2, thus confirming previous research on lexical AR, notably in English. However, non-canonical contrasts, such as <i>puh pah</i> (Finnish) or <i>puff paff</i> (German) are also found in the data. Furthermore, it is noted that French often exploits oppositions between nasal vowels (e.g., <i>pin pan</i>). Following this analysis of the data, Section 4.3 offers possible explanations for the dominant tendency. Section 5 briefly examines the interplay between various forms of reduplication (AR, copy, rhyme) and the rhythm of counting-out rhymes, focusing on examples from the corpus with four-beat lines. Such self-generating beat-synchronized reduplicative patterns are characterized as core structures readily found in isochronic oral poetry from which more elaborate poetic forms may spring. The conclusion points to further avenues of investigation and suggests analogies between AR as a verbal art product and similar patterns in other expressive semiotic systems, in particular music and the visual arts.


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