Letters as Representations of Sounds

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Letters as Representations of Sounds

Postby Victoria Aurelia Ovensa on Fri Sep 01, 2006 12:04 am

Salwete Omnes,

I am new here. My name is Thais Aurelia Owensa.
I have a question relating to what you may have noticed is my non-standard way of spelling Latin words. I understand that the Latin alphabet (which has evolved into our own) used the character "V" to represent the sounds we now represent with "W" and "U". And they used the character "I" to represent the sounds we now represent with both "I" and "J". And, conversely, they used the character "C" to represent the sound "K", whereas we now use it to represent both the sound "K" and the sound "S". And as these things changed, our English pronunciation of Latin words changed to reflect them. All of which makes for a lot of confusion when an English-speaking person tries to read Classical Latin as we currently print it. It is very difficult for an English-speaker to look at a word that's printed as "Vesta" and read "Westa"; or read "Ianuarius" as "Januarius", not "Yanuarius"; or read "Ceres" as "Keres", not "Seres".
So, aside from convention, is there any reason why we do not or cannot write these words with modern Roman letters that make more phonetic sense instead of archaic ones that, to modern eyes, misrepresent the sounds of the language?
I must confess I have taken to writing my Latin this way already, for my own ease of reading. "I" becomes "J" at the beginning if followed by a vowel, and in the middle between vowels (also if it is an initial letter followed by a vowel after a prefix in a compound word, e.g. konjunx);
"V" becomes "W" at the beginning, between vowels, or between a consonant and a vowel (except in words such as "cui" where the "u" is emphasized), and "U" elsewhere; and all "C"s become "K"s.
It really makes the whole thing so much simpler, I'm amazed such basic modernizations in spelling haven't been made. It's really no different than changing the archaic "S" in the Germanic languages, which looked like a long "F".
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Postby Q Valerius on Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:56 am

What would you propose for the consonantal I? Y wouldn't work, since it's also the vowel Y borrowed from Greek? And then what about Ecclesiastical Latin? It pronounces the V like an English V, not like an English W. Why bother adding even more confusion to it? Finally, works in Latin are universal, i.e. not every country pronounces the V like an English V. Latin is written as Latin, not English. Your view is rather Anglocentric.
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Thet Thar Lat'n-speak

Postby Aldus Marius on Fri Sep 01, 2006 4:40 am

Salve, Aurelia, et salvete omnes...

I've had a bit to say about 'standard' Latin pronunciation; it may be summarised as follows:

The rules you've presented comprise an accurate-enough snapshot of Latin as it was spoken by the educated Roman of Rome in Cicero's time.

Note I said "educated".
Note I said "in Rome".
Note I said "in Cicero's time". Three very important qualifiers, these.

How was Latin spoken a century before Cicero, or two centuries after? How was it spoken in Trajan's Spain, Severus' Africa, or Pelagius' Britain?

We have answers, or at least indications, for some of these. The grammatist Quintilian, one of the famous ones, wrote from Spain in the second century AD; and he vouches, among other things, for the shift from Cice's [w] to a [v] sound for that pesky 'V' symbol. I have a slim work by a fellow from late-Roman Britain; it's not a grammar, but it demonstrates some interesting things about the Latin of that time and place.

Other changes were underway even between Early and Late Republic; witness the way 'Cosul' became 'Consul'--and that's not an isolated case. Diphthongs got compressed. Terminal sounds tended to drop out. And lazy people like Aldus Marius were permitted to live after saying things like "Bene'st, amice bon'!" >({|;-)

All of which is to say, hopefully without coming down too heavily, that Latin evolved like any other living thing, adapting itself to the peoples, times, and places to which it travelled. Cicero would think I had an accent; I would think he had a speech impediment. Let neither of us be bound by the stylistic preferences of the other.

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Postby Victoria Aurelia Ovensa on Fri Sep 01, 2006 5:16 pm

Q Valerius Scerio wrote:What would you propose for the consonantal I? Y wouldn't work, since it's also the vowel Y borrowed from Greek? And then what about Ecclesiastical Latin? It pronounces the V like an English V, not like an English W. Why bother adding even more confusion to it? Finally, works in Latin are universal, i.e. not every country pronounces the V like an English V. Latin is written as Latin, not English. Your view is rather Anglocentric.


Well, I am "Anglo", so that's really the only way I can see the world. :wink:
But seriously, of course this would only be for English-speaking people, as I stated. Ecclesiastical Latin, well, I don't know anything about that whatsoever, and it doesn't really have anything to do with what I'm talking about.
Obviously different people around the world pronounce V and W differently. In many countries today the two sounds are interchangeable. Listen to anyone from India or Pakistan and they will switch back and forth between V and W seemingly at random, even for the same word sometimes!!! So I guess there has always been a lot more fluidity to those sounds than we have now. Maybe it doesn't matter whether one uses a V sound or a W sound.
My main concern, I suppose, was, Do we have a universal, standardized Latin pronunciation, according to the way we currently print Latin text? People on this forum obviously spell their Latin the conventional way... but how do they actually pronounce it? Do they say "salvete" or "salwete"? "Vesta" or "Westa"? I understand that may not be a big concern for some people, but as a devotee of the Religio and the Gods, it is certainly a huge deal to me if I am getting some of their names wrong!!! So, what is the general consensus of the learned Latinophiles of this forum? Is there one?

P.S. Sorry, forgot your first question. I actually put in my original post, the consonantal "I" is a "J". Just like it already is in "Jupiter", "Janus" etc. Only it needs to be more consistent, because in other places which we know to be a consonantal I it is still printed as an "i", which regardless of the other changes I mentioned, is something that should be fixed simply for the sake of consistency. Either change them all to "I" or uniformly make the consonantal Is into Js.
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Postby Q Valerius on Fri Sep 01, 2006 7:28 pm

But the J doesn't sound like a modern English J. Also, you'll rarely see J in Latin texts, and never in Ancient Latin texts. It was a medieval invention.

Why do we need this standardization you ask for?
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Pronouncing Latin (even Marius' way!)

Postby Aldus Marius on Sat Sep 02, 2006 1:56 am

Salvete amici Romani...

A reference and resource...I'll cross-post from a similar thread we had last year. Here ya go...


Posted: Wed Jan 12, 2005 12:34 am Post subject: Pronouncing Latin (even Marius' way!)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

... The best serious attempt to reconstruct Latin pronunciation has got to be
Vox Latina by W. Sidney Allen. This book is surprisingly slender and a pleasure to read even if one is not a hard-core phoneticist. And it is the one reference on the subject cited by nearly all the others.

Professor Allen first discusses the many ways Latin has been pronounced, including Church Latin, proto-Romance (iirc), and some of the gods-awful constructs heard in British boys' academies and similar settings. He then pieces together, as much as one can from ancient grammarians and other primary sources, just what sound elements most likely did make up Classical Latin. His schematic makes room for the development of Latin after its "Golden Age" (which is where Marius gets off with his Spanish V's!--Cicero would've been appalled, but they were trending that direction by Quintilian's time).

There are no final answers here, only best guesses--and as with so much else in Roman civilization, the "right" thing really depends on what year it was and which neck of the woods you were in. Find it used; it's worth the search...or check it out of your local Library, they're likely to have it.


Allen, W. Sidney. Vox Latina: The Pronunciation of Classical Latin. Second edition. London: Cambridge UP, 1965 (1978). ISBN 0 521 22049 1 (First edition ISBN 0 521 04021 3)


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Postby Q Valerius on Sat Sep 02, 2006 2:36 am

Via amazon: Vox Latina and if you're interested, Vox Graeca.
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Erratum

Postby Aldus Marius on Mon Sep 04, 2006 5:25 am

Salvete omnes,

I made a boo-boo here when I wrote:


> I have a slim work by a fellow from late-Roman Britain; it's not a grammar, but it demonstrates
> some interesting things about the Latin of that time and place.


This is what I get for being away from my sources. I dug the critter up from storage...and it's actually a medieval work, by one Brito Metricus, who studied in France.

But it is almost a grammar; it deals with origins and relationships of Latin (a few), Hebrew (some), and Greek words. It is most useful in answering the perennial question: How much Greek was an educated European likely to know in the 1300s AD? --Apparently enough to make a longish Latin poem out of!

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Postby Victoria Aurelia Ovensa on Thu Sep 07, 2006 5:56 am

Q Valerius Scerio wrote:But the J doesn't sound like a modern English J. Also, you'll rarely see J in Latin texts, and never in Ancient Latin texts. It was a medieval invention.

Why do we need this standardization you ask for?


http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/Latin/Grammar/Latin-Pronunciation-Syllable-Accent.html

The above website seems to say that the consonantal I was indeed a J sound. Also, the derivation of, for example, Janus from Dianus or Jovis Pater from Dius/Deiwos Pater requires the J sound to evolve from the rapidly spoken "Di" or "dy" sound merging into a single consonant. I'm not sure where the idea that "J" is a medieval construct comes from, but the evidence would appear to indicate otherwise. Perhaps the idea came about because of the German pronunciation of J as Y? The Germanic pronunciations were certainly dominant for a while during the European Dark Ages. English, interestingly enough, preserved the J sound independently, and would appear to hold to a more faithful pronunciation.
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Postby Q Valerius on Thu Sep 07, 2006 6:34 am

Er, that website you linked disagreed with you. The [j] sound is the modern English Y. Learn IPA. The modern English J is actually [dʒ].
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J and W

Postby Aldus Marius on Thu Sep 07, 2006 6:39 am

Salvete iterum...

The [j] sound has, as you've stated, a very long pedigree. But the letter "J", as a distinct symbol for that sound, dates only from the late Middle Ages. Apparently telling students that those were initial-I's as opposed to middle-of-the-word I's wasn't enough anymore... (Kids!)
>({|;-)

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Re: J and W

Postby Victoria Aurelia Ovensa on Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:20 pm

Aldus Marius wrote:Salvete iterum...

The [j] sound has, as you've stated, a very long pedigree. But the letter "J", as a distinct symbol for that sound, dates only from the late Middle Ages. Apparently telling students that those were initial-I's as opposed to middle-of-the-word I's wasn't enough anymore... (Kids!)
>({|;-)

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Salve,

I understand the J symbol has not been around very long... but anyway, it still seems apparent to me that that was the sound represented by a consonantal I. Obviously many disagree, but really, with the understanding that the initial consonantal I in many cases replaced a previous Di, it seems rather screamingly obvious that the sound was like a modern English J. A process of mutation that can be likened to the way we now say "Did you..?", which has become for all intents and purposes "Dija..?"
The more I think about it, the more it seems that the Germanic influence must have been largely responsible for the consonantal shift of both I and V. Germanic tongues pronounce the J sound as Y, and the W sound as V, both of which found their way into ecclesiastical Latin, which prevailed so long we lost all knowledge of it ever being different.
Does modern Italian have a J sound?
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Postby Victoria Aurelia Ovensa on Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:21 pm

Q Valerius Scerio wrote:Er, that website you linked disagreed with you. The [j] sound is the modern English Y. Learn IPA. The modern English J is actually [dʒ].


Thank you.
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Postby Q Valerius on Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:44 pm

The consonantal I as [j] has much more evidence than consonantal I as [dʒ]. To begin with, in ProtoIndoEuropean reconstruction, all languages had the [j] sound, but none had [dʒ]. We must first presume that the earliest in Latin would therefore be [j]. Next, we look at inherent structure. While you do see a parallel between DI = [dʒ] in English and DI = I in Latin, that one parallel cannot be taken as conclusive. It also causes problems with words like maia or peius in which which the I acted as a double consonant originally and was reduced to a single consonant as time progressed. If you sound out the word slowly, MA-I-A, and then rapidly, you can here yourself forming a shadowed [j]. This could have only arised if the consonantal I was [j] and not [dʒ]. Finally, although Italian and French changed the consonantal I into G [dʒ] and J [ʒ] respectively, Spanish clearly attests to the [j] sound. The Latin iam became the Spanish yam, and so forth. Also, where consonantal I was less emphatic, it dropped off entirely, something that [dʒ] doesn't seem to do.
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Re: J and W

Postby Q Valerius on Fri Sep 08, 2006 9:50 pm

Thais Aurelia Ovensa wrote:Germanic tongues pronounce the J sound as Y, and the W sound as V, both of which found their way into ecclesiastical Latin, which prevailed so long we lost all knowledge of it ever being different.

English is a Germanic language. Furthermore, Ecclesiastical Latin pronounces its consonantal I as the English J (with a soft vowel afterwards, i.e. ae, oe, e, i) and its V as modern English V. Classical Latin sound was a reconstruction based on historical linguistics. Perhaps Quintilian even wrote about it.

Does modern Italian have a J sound?

Yes. G followed by ae, oe, e, or i.
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Postby Victoria Aurelia Ovensa on Sat Sep 09, 2006 8:47 pm

Salve, Valeri,

Many people do not classify English as a Germanic tongue. It has a basic Germanic grammar, but the bulk of its vocabulary is derived from Latin and later Romance languages. English is really a unique language that cannot be comfortably classified in any of the existing language groups; it is the offspring of German and Latin.

Anyway, to get back on track, is there any information on how Ecclesiastical Latin developed and what influenced the consonantal pronunciation changes? Was it contrived, or was it a natural evolution? And should we, as members of the SVR, prefer reconstructed Classical Pronunciation or Latin as it later developed?

Vale,
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Postby Q Valerius on Sat Sep 09, 2006 9:17 pm

Salve Ovensa,

Thais Aurelia Ovensa wrote:Many people do not classify English as a Germanic tongue. It has a basic Germanic grammar, but the bulk of its vocabulary is derived from Latin and later Romance languages. English is really a unique language that cannot be comfortably classified in any of the existing language groups; it is the offspring of German and Latin.

However true this may be, the grammar is still Germanic, the lineage is ultimately from Germanic, far more than Romance, and it's core, basic vocabulary is Germanic. While the "bulk" of the vocabulary comes from Latin, the Germanic influence in common speech dwarfs that of the Romantic influence. Furthermore, the bulk of Latin speech is much newer than the earliest Latin influences on the language, which even date to Old English times.

Anyway, to get back on track, is there any information on how Ecclesiastical Latin developed and what influenced the consonantal pronunciation changes? Was it contrived, or was it a natural evolution? And should we, as members of the SVR, prefer reconstructed Classical Pronunciation or Latin as it later developed?

Ecclesiastical Latin was the evolved form (i.e. not fabricated) from vulgar Latin as a learned language. So while very few spoke it naturally (I believe Erasmus was the very last, and even he was rare in his day), it was not a language taken from anything, but instead preserved.

As a member of SVR, I prefer Classical pronunciation with a modern emphasis, i.e. keeping the very most of antiquity with updates from modern thinking.
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Postby Quintus Marius Primus on Tue Dec 05, 2006 2:14 pm

English is, as pointed out a Germanic language with a large Romance element of vocabulary, but it is a Germanic language. Of the 100 most common words used in our language 99 are Germanic, only the word "very" being Romance.

I'm a little confused by this desire to amend the spelling of a language whose spelling has remained (largely) unchanged in two millennia, just to suit a few people who cannot grasp the fact that a foreign language's spelling conventions differs to English. If anything, Classical pronunciation is easier to master as there is generally one sound per letter, unlike Ecclesiastical Latin which is essentially Latin with a modern standard Italian pronunciation (although again this differs depending on the country where the Latin is being spoken).

Regarding the use of J as a consonantal I, this came about it early medieval Europe in scriptoria to distinguish the consonant from the vowel, but as spoken Latin changed over time the sound that the consonant I represented differed in different parts of the former Empire - in Italia it didn't change the sound and it still is a /j/ sound (i.e. the English Y sound); in northern France over the course of a few centuries it changed to the modern English J sound which was then carried over to England by the Norman Conquest and French still influences how Latin is spoken in England (incidentally, the J sound in French later softened to the modern day French J whereas English retained the harder J sound).

There was a point made about people in the sub-continent swapping between V and W - this is actually one sound that is between the two English sounds but sounds like chopping and changing between the two English ones as we are unused to it - I have read that this was the sound of the letter V round about Cicero's time and later on moved towards being a full dental sound (i.e. a /v/).
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Pronunciation

Postby Valerius Claudius Iohanes on Wed Feb 14, 2007 9:54 pm

Salvete et Aurelia Ovensa, et Maiores Omnes -

If I may, speaking with less authority but with perhaps also with some sense, I would add a word or two.

That the Latin orthographic "v" or "i" or whichever can vary in pronunciation is simply part of the history, charm and exent of Latin. I expect one could still communicate with ecclesiastical Latin speakers in, say, the Vatican, even though one spoke a purely classical Latin.

Every language has its phases, levels, oddnesses and quirks. For my part I treat the relative unity of Latin orthography as a kind of treasure, as a kind of elasticity. Whichever pronunciation you choose to use, you would just map your sounds to the letters, to the conventions. Not really a problem.

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