Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The sounds of Latin

Last Saturday I spent a couple of hours reading a very interesting book I got at Loome in June.

There has been some discussion elsewhere on the pronunciation of Latin, so I thought I would show you a little of what I was reading:

The sources for our knowledge of the pronunciation of Latin in ancient times include the following:
(a) The direct statements of ancient grammarians and phoneticians.
(b) The evidence of the meters of poetry, which show the quantities of vowels in open initial and medial syllables and in final syllables.
(c) Ancient puns, old etymologies, representations of animal cries, and the like.
(d) The spellings in inscriptions where variations are especially valuable
(e) The spellings in manuscripts
(f) The spellings used in Latin for words borrowed and transliterated from other languages, and those used in other languages for words borrowed and transliterated from Latin.
(g) The pronunciation of Vulgar Latin and of the ROmance dialects.
(h) The value of sounds as shown by comparative grammar.
[Roland G. Kent, The Sounds of Latin §28. Linguistic Society of America, 1945]

So that is how they explain the "classical" pronunciations - as compared to the "ecclesiastical" - and how the work on other ancient tongues is accomplished.

(Not: I am not a linguist or philologist, and for all I know in 60 years perhaps Kent has been ostracised; - but his points seem sensible!)

Kent deals with the change to T (becoming SH before i/e plus vowel) and C (becoming S before i/e):

(§ 45)This change occurred even earlier in country dialects: Marsian (a minor dialect of central Italy) MARTSES = Latin Martiis


(§47 II) "'MVNDICIEI'" for munditiei in an inscription of 136 A.D. is perhaps the earliest example of the confusion.

So perhaps is not all that unbelievable that the Roman centurion who gave us "Domine non sum dignus sounded more like an Italian at Mass than a scholar in the library...


At 14 July, 2005 14:26, Blogger Joe said...

"'MVNDICIEI'" for munditiei in an inscription of 136 A.D.

This is good... a good friend of mine chides about the ecclesiatical "Italian" Latin pronunciations; now I have a little ammo to shoot back


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