(373) Lengths and L-motifs of Rhythmical Units in Formal British Speech

Andrew Wilson

GLOTTOMETRICSIssue 48, pp 37 – 51 (2020)


The lengths of rhythmical units (as defined by Karl Marbe in 1904) were identified, and their frequencies counted, in twelve complete texts from the Aix-MARSEC database of formal spoken British English. The texts all belonged to the genre of current affairs commentary. L-motifs (i.e. maximal monotone non-decreasing sequences) of the rhythmical unit lengths were also identified, and the frequencies of the different L-motif lengths were counted. The frequencies of both rhythmical unit lengths and L-motif lengths were modelled using a continuous approach with the Zipf-Alekseev function. Good qualities of fit were obtained for both kinds of unit on all texts. The parameters a and b of the Zipf-Alekseev function for the rhythmical unit lengths (though not for the L-motif lengths) were also found to be related in the form of a further Zipf-Alekseev function. Further research should aim to extend the application of the motif approach to rhythmical units.


Rhythmical units; Motifs; L-motifs; Zipf-Alekseev function.