Sound decisions

Two things about New Paltz. The name comes from Pfalz, a region of Germany that once hosted the oft-persecuted, always-on-the-move Dutch settlers of Die Pfalz, including the twelve, the Duzine. Apparently, the north-flowing Wallkill and its plains reminded them of their time near the Rhine and the Mosel, the two famous rivers of the Rhineland-Palatinate. I’ve been to the Pfalz region, and I think our settlers must have been high. Or protein-deficient. Yes, a slow and narrow brown river, but New Paltz sports nothing like the steep, v-shaped grape-layered banks of the Rhine.

The “Pf” in German is an affricate, neither precisely a P nor and F, but a Teutonic power move (is there any other kind?) in which the former propels the latter. If you had to choose one in your anglicizing, F is a lot closer to the sound than P. We went with P. So it is kind zero for two with the naming.

They say everything in Italian rhymes, a head start enjoyed by Dante in the interlinking rhyme scheme of the terza rima form (ABA, BCB, CDC…) and by the great writers of Italian opera from Monteverdi to Puccini.


The English language is biased in favor of the verse foot known as the iamb — an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one, like despair, resolve, impart, conclude, betray, forgive, denude, relax, and, because. Iambic pentameter (lines of accentual-syllabic verse in which at least three of the five verse feet are iambs) comes so naturally in English that Shakespeare could reel off 39 plays in it and you never even really notice that they are in metrical verse.

We think in iambs. Jazz is iambic. “I think I’ll go to bed tonight at ten” is a flawless line of iambic pentameter. “And so is everything you think and say.” The American self is iambic, which is why we so often butcher the accentuation of the names of our Japanese friends and so many others.

The opposite of the iamb, the trochee, is a much less common verse foot, though you can hear it in such single words as helpless, vermin, Burdick, and, oddly, iamb. Trochees are the resistance, the minority voice, the obstacle creating the whorls and rhythmic ripples in our otherwise unbroken iambic skipping and swinging.

Yeah, so iambic new York, iambic New Delhi, iambic New Amsterdam,  iambic New Mexico, iambic New England, iambic New Jersey.  But New Paltz? A trochee? WTF?

Third thing about New Paltz: Our mascot is a rock.

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.