Alliteration is the conspicuous repetition of initial consonant sounds of nearby words in a phrase, often used as a literary device. A familiar example is "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers". Alliteration is used poetically in various languages around the world, including Arabic, Irish, German, Mongolian, Hungarian, American Sign Language, Somali, Finnish, Icelandic.
The word alliteration comes from the Latin word littera, meaning "letter of the alphabet". It was first coined in a Latin dialogue by the Italian humanist Giovanni Pontano in the 15th century.
Alliteration is used in the alliterative verse of Old English, Old Norse, Old High German, Old Saxon, and Old Irish. It was an important ingredient of the Sanskrit shlokas. Alliteration was used in Old English given names. This is evidenced by the unbroken series of 9th century kings of Wessex named Æthelwulf, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, and Æthelred. These were followed in the 10th century by their direct descendants Æthelstan and Æthelred II, who ruled as kings of England.[a] The Anglo-Saxon saints Tancred, Torhtred and Tova provide a similar example, among siblings.
Today, alliteration is used poetically in various languages around the world, including Arabic, Irish, German, Mongolian, Hungarian, American Sign Language, Somali, Finnish, Icelandic. It is also used in music lyrics, article titles in magazines and newspapers, and in advertisements, business names, comic strips, television shows, video games and in the dialogue and naming of cartoon characters.
In literature, alliteration is the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words, even those spelled differently. Some literary experts accept as alliteration the repetition of vowel sounds, or repetition at the end of words. Alliteration narrowly refers to the repetition of a letter in any syllables that, according to the poem's meter, are stressed, as in James Thomson's verse "Come . . . dragging the lazy languid line along".
Consonance is a broader literary device identified by the repetition of consonant sounds at any point in a word (for example, coming home, hot foot). Alliteration is a special case of consonance where the repeated consonant sound is in the stressed syllable. Alliteration may also refer to the use of different but similar consonants, such as alliterating z with s, as does the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, or as Anglo-Saxon (Old English) poets would alliterate hard/fricative g with soft g (the latter exemplified in some courses as the letter yogh – ȝ – pronounced like the y in yarrow or the j in Jotunheim).
Head rhyme or initial rhyme is a method of linking words for effect; for example, "humble house", "potential power play", "picture perfect", "money matters", "rocky road", or "quick question". A familiar example is "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers".
Symmetrical alliteration is a specialised form of alliteration, which contains parallelism, or chiasmus. In this case, the phrase must have a pair of outside end words both starting with the same sound, and pairs of outside words also starting with matching sounds as one moves progressively closer to the centre. For example, "rust brown blazers rule" or "fluoro colour co-ordination forever". Symmetrical alliteration is similar to palindromes in its use of symmetry.
Poets can call attention to certain words in a line of poetry by using alliteration. They can also use alliteration to create a pleasant, rhythmic effect. In the following poetic lines, notice how alliteration is used to emphasize words and to create rhythm:
"Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling!' Walt Whitman, "Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun"
"They all gazed and gazed upon this green stranger,/because everyone wondered what it could mean/ that a rider and his horse could be such a colour-/ green as grass, and greener it seemed/ than green enamel glowing bright against gold".[b] (232-236) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Bernard O'Donoghue (In the original, and in J. R. R. Tolkien's translation, this poem in fact follows an alliterative meter.)
"Some papers like writers, some like wrappers. Are you a writer or a wrapper?" Carl Sandburg, "Paper I"
Alliteration can also add to the mood of a poem. If a poet repeats soft, melodious sounds, a calm or dignified mood can result. If harsh, hard sounds are repeated, on the other hand, the mood can become tense or excited. In this poem, alliteration of the s, l, and f sounds adds to a hushed, peaceful mood:
"Softer be they than slippered sleep the lean lithe deer the fleet flown deer."
Alliteration has been used in various spheres of public speaking and rhetoric. Alliteration can also be considered an artistic constraint that is used by the orator to sway the audience to feel some type of urgency, or perhaps even lack of urgency, or another emotional effect. For example, H or E sounds can soothe, whereas a P or a B sound can be percussive and attention-grabbing. S sounds can imply danger or make the audience feel as if they are being deceived. Other sounds can create feelings of happiness, discord, or anger, depending on context. Alliteration serves to "intensify any attitude being signified".: 6–7 Its significance as a rhetorical device is that it adds a textural complexity to a speech, making it more engaging, moving, and memorable. The use of alliteration in a speech captivates a person's auditory senses; this helps the speaker to create a mood. The use of a repeating sound or letter is noticeable, and so forces an audience's attention and evokes emotion.
A well-known example is in John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, in which he uses alliteration 21 times. The last paragraph of his speech is given as an example here.
"Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on Earth God's work must truly be our own." — John F. Kennedy
Other examples of alliteration in some famous speeches:
Translation can lose the emphasis developed by this device. For example, in the accepted Greek text of Luke 10:41 the repetition and extension of initial sound are noted as Jesus doubles Martha's name and adds an alliterative description: Μάρθα Μάρθα μεριμνᾷς (Martha, Martha, merimnas). This is lost in the English NKJ and NRS translations "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things."
For vch mon had meruayle quat hit mene myȝt
Þat a haþel and a horse myȝt such a hwe lach,
As growe grene as þe gres and grener hit semed,
Þen grene aumayl on golde glowande bryȝter.