This article explores issues of versification as an epitome of cultural programs. It is devoted to the question of how cognitive processes shape and constrain cultural and literary forms. It assumes that the generation of culture is governed by adaptation devices exploited for cultural and aesthetic ends. The argument is propounded in four stages. The first stage deals with an issue of poetic prosody, foregrounding the conflict between the influence-hunting and the cognitive-constraint approaches to the same problem. The second stage adduces an instance of how, “in the process of repeated social transmission, cultural programs come to take forms which have a good fit to the natural capacities of the human brain” (D'Andrade 1980). The third stage treats the versification systems as cultural artifacts and attempts to account for the differences among them. The fourth stage examines what appears as a counterexample to one of the central generalizations in this article. The concluding section not only summarizes the article's argument but also widens its scope, briefly alluding to some further research, in which similar cognitive assumptions are applied to an instance of figurative language, the metaphysical conceit.

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