From a theory of verse to a typology of musical rhythm and back again

Eduard Sievers - Gustav Becking - Roman Jakobson

Patrick Flack

pp. 201-216

This paper assesses the ties between the philological models of Eduard Sievers (1850-1932) and the theory of rhythm of the Prague-based German musicologist Gustav Becking (1894-1945), as well as their positive reception by Roman Jakobson (1896-1982). Its most obvious purpose is to shed light on this intellectual filiation and to highlight its significance for the historiography of literary theory. In particular, this episode will be mobilised here to underline the crucial role played by the interactions between fields such as linguistics, musicology and verse theory in their concomitant rejection of psychologism and their progressive turn to “formal” models in the first three decades of the 20th Century. In so doing, this paper hopes to bring some nuance to the widely accepted narrative that presents the emergence of “modern” theory of literature in the work of the Russian formalists and Prague structuralists primarily as a function of the successful emancipation and segregation of literary studies as an autonomous discipline exclusively focussed on its specific object. The facts considered here will emphasise instead how the crystallisation of new discourses and models in the human sciences, including literary theory itself, was enabled and conditioned by a fluid, cross-disciplinary process of conceptual and methodological transfers.


Eduard Sievers


Theodor Frings

Leipzig, Hirzel

Linguistics and natural sciences


Roman Jakobson

in: Main trends in the science of language, New York : Harper

Histoire de la linguistique: de Sumer à Saussure


Bertil Malmberg

Paris, Presses universitaires de France



Stefan Rieger

in: Rhythmisch-melodische Studien, Genève-Lausanne : sdvig press

Rhythmisch-melodische Studien


Eduard Sievers

Genève-Lausanne, sdvig press

O ritmiko-melodičeskich opytach prof. Sieversa


Vladimir Šklovskij

Sborniki po teorii poetičeskogo jazyka 2

Russian formalism: A metapoetics


Peter Steiner

Ithaca, Cornell University Press



Carl Stumpf

Leipzig, Hirzel

Istoki russkogo formalizma


Ilona Svetlikova

Moskva, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie

Revue germanique internationale 3

L'Allemagne des linguistes russes


Voprosy teorii literatury


Viktor Žirmunskij

Leningrad, Izd. Academia

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(2018) "Deux théories du vers et une typologie du rythme musical", in: Flack Patrick, Idée, expression, vécu, Paris, Hermann, pp.63-82.


Theory of literature as a theory of the arts and the humanities

Michał Mrugalski, Schamma Schahadat 2017 - Wiener Slawistischer Almanach Special Issue Sonderband 92