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Re: Latin Pronunciation
> [Dennis:] I have a question of my own. One of the nuisances with
> Latin is that vowel length is phonemic, a contrasting
> distinction, but vowel length is only marked in textbooks. What
> happened in medieval Latin? Were vowel lengths forgotten?
Perhaps vowel length was converted to stress?
But, did vowel length play a significant role? I suspect that
constrasting pairs were rather rare, so the loss of that particular
bit would not have made much difference.
In any case, I noticed that some old Latin books (eg. Schmidl's Jesuit
History, 17th c.) use diacritics, which the Romans certainly didn't use:
Collegii Pragensis locupletissimum hoc quoque anno Caelum sibi
vendicavit, /Jacobum/ inquam /Horcziczky/, Latinis postea dictum
/Sinapium/. Hunc Virum Fortuna pedentim per varios gyros ex imis
provexit ad sublimia eíque constanti ( quod rarum ) vultum arrisit.
Fortunæ verò suæis ipsus ( DEO conatus promovente ) dexterrimus
faber existit, unáque ostendit, quid possit humanum ingenium ; si
modò, qua in re excellere possit, ipsémet animadvertas , eóque
culturam & industriam conferas. Itaque /Jacobus/ obscuro loquo
natus, in coquina Collegii Crumloviensis Coco primùm lixarum operam
diutinam puer addixit. Quia verò ingeniosor apparebat, quàm
ferendum censerem Nostri, ut inter fumos obsolesceret ; è culina
extractus, & ad Musas traductus est. Literis mansuetioribus
utcunque perceptis, Pharmacopaeo ejusdem Collegii, Fratri nostro
/Martino Schaffner/, ab Arte Medica, sed eâ praesertim, quam
/Botanicam/, /Chymiquamque/ vocant, longè latéque celebratissimo
(1), additus est : cujus dum artem omnem docili ingenio,
attentísque & oculis, & auribus, assiduè hauris sedulo tyro ;
I could not figure out what the diacritics mean. They do not seem
to denote stress. Perhaps open/closed distinction, or vowel length?
> Here's a classic book on how Latin in the time of the
> Roman empire was pronounced:
> Vox Latina : A Guide to the Pronunciation of
> Classical Latin by William Sidney Allen. (June 1989)
> Cambridge Univ Pr (Pap Txt); ISBN: 0521379369
Well, it is great to have some hard reference. However, quoting the
Fortean Times, "for every expert there is an equal and opposite
I have no real knowledge in the matter, but I recall a colleague in
the US who, after researching this question, concluded that no one
really knows how classical Latin was pronounced. This seems to be a
politically charged subject, where often the linguistics is strained
and stretched to "prove" that one's received pronunciation
is in fact the "right" one.
The official story, it seems, is that Romance languages were derived
from a "vulgar" form of Latin, which had acquired the soft
pronunciations; while the educated Romans of Caesar's time used a
polished form of the language, with the hard sounds.
It is a fact that in virtually all Romance languages, from Portugal to
Romania, the Latin letters "c" and "g" correspond to "soft" sounds
when they occur before "e" and "i". While convergent evolution in all
those languages is a possibility, it seems more likely that the same
feature was already present in their common ancestor --- namely the
Latin of the Roman armies and settlers in the 2nd century AD.
The exceptions to the soft-C pronunciation are some dialects of
Sardinian, which apparently have split off from Latin at a much
earlier date than the rest of Romance. Also, Latin words loaned by
other languages in ancient times generally use the hard sounds.
Besides, the fact that the pre-Roman Italic peoples used the same
letter for "canto" and "centum", when they started to write their
languages, is evidence that the sounds were the same at that time.
In summary, Romulus may have said [ke], while Trajan's soldiers
probably said [tche] --- which seems a plausible ancestor of all
soft-C sounds ([tse], [se], [the], etc.) found in modern Romance
languages. So the question boils down to whether Julius Caesar, five
centuries after Romulus and two centuries before Trajan, would have
used the "vulgar" [tche], or the "classic" [ke]. Needless to say, I
prefer to believe the former... 8-)
All the best,