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What are circumflex and acute accents?

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What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby RiceMonster » Mon Oct 28, 2013 10:55 pm

In my recent commencement of learning the Latin language, I've come across a bit of a confusion regarding accent, that is, the syllable of a word that is to be stressed. I've looked at two different sources about this: Wheelock's Latin 7th edition; and A Practical Grammar of the Latin Language by George Adler.

From Wheelock's Latin:
V------------------------------------------------------------V
Words in Latin, like those in English, were pronounced with extra emphasis on one syllable (or more than one, in the case of very long words); the placement of this stress accent in Latin (unlike English) followed these strict and simple rules:

1) In a word of two syllables, the accent always falls on the first syllable.

2) In a word of three or more syllables
a) The accent falls on the next to last syllable (sometimes called the penult) if that syllable is long;
b) otherwise, the accent falls on the syllable before that.
^--------------------------------------------------^


The above rules from Wheelock's Latin were very straightforward and made sense, but then I had a look at what Adler's book had to say:
V--------------------------------------------------V
I. Accent is the peculiar tone or emphasis with which a particular syllable of a word is uttered.
Every Latin word has one principal or leading accent, and only one.
The leading accent is either the circumflex ( ^ ) or the acute ( ' ).

There is also a subordinate accent called the grave (`). But this denotes rather the absence of the principal accent, and is scarcely used. In words of several syllables, the last syllable but one is called the penult or penultima, and the last but two, the antepenult or antepenultima. The place of the accent is determined by the following laws : —

1. Monosyllables have the circumflex, when their vowel is long by nature, and the acute, when their vowel is short by nature or long by position.

2. In words of two syllables the accent is always on the penult, and it is
a) circumflex, when the penult is long by nature and the last syllable short; but
b) acute under all other circumstances

3. Words of three or more syllables are accented either on the penult or on the antepenult : —
a) When the penult is short, the antepenult has invariably the acute.
b) When the penult is long by nature and the last syllable short, the former has the circumflex.
c) When the penult is long by position, or when the last syllable is likewise long, it has the acute.

4. The antepenult is the limit of the accent, and polysyllables are all treated like words of three.

5. Some words are entirely unaccented, as ne, que, re, ce. But these never appear alone, being always appended to other words, of which they often change the place of the accent.

6. The quantity of a word being given (as it commonly is in Lexicons), its accent can be easily determined according to one of the above rules. — The beginner should carefully distinguish between quantity and accent, which in Latin are not only distinct, but often apparently at variance. The former is the principle of versification, the latter the indispensable condition of a correct pronunciation and the very soul of living discourse.

^--------------------------------------------------^

This is too much for my fresh brain to handle!

In all seriousness though, I see that the rules stated in Adler's book are pretty much the same as stated in Wheelock's, except that Adler's has rules for two types of accents; Wheelock's only mentions an accent of a simple stress on a particular syllable of a word. Why is this? And exactly what is the difference between an acute and a circumflex accent anyway?
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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby mwh » Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:05 am

Hi Eric and a belated Welcome!
It's a shame you didn't get a prompter reply to your query. The short answer: follow Wheelock, and forget Adler. Adler was a great philologist of the mid-19th century, but his differentiation between "circumflex" and "acute" accent in Latin has now been given up. Ancient Greek has circumflex and acute (and grave) accents, which are written in modern texts, and Adler was applying the same principles to Latin. Today it's recognized that the spoken accent in Greek was more a matter of pitch than in Latin, where it's more a matter of dynamic stress, so there's little justification in Latin for a distinction between circumflex and acute, since that represents pitch variation (circumflex rises and descends, acute rises) and so is more applicable to Greek than to Latin.

If you really want to learn about this stuff, W. Sidney Allen's Vox Latina is the place to go. But for the basic rules on where the accent goes, Wheelock will do just fine. As you may have noticed, Latin accent rules are pretty much the same as in English (only English is a bit more variable), so there's nothing too hard about it.

And don't listen to anyone talking of vowels being "short by nature but long by position." Any given vowel is either long or short (by nature). The same goes for syllables. But it's important to distinguish vowels from syllables. So long syllables are better referred to as "heavy" and short ones as "light." You can have short vowels in heavy(long) syllables. -- This is probably much too cursory to be helpful, and may merely mystify, for which I apologize. But do watch out that you don't confuse vowels and syllables. I don't know what Wheelock has to say about this.

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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby cb » Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:57 am

hi mwh, i'm outside the classics world and so i'd love to know: on what basis have people now said latin pitch accent no, dynamic stress accent yes?

when i went through all the materials on this a few years ago it seemed to me that the pitch accent for latin was pretty clear. i don't have any of these materials near me now and so i'm just asking the question rather than putting forward a position.

the one thing i really remember well is a really bad argument in many books saying that the ancient latin grammarians described latin as having a pitch accent but that must only have been because they were trying to copy what ancient greek grammarians said about ancient greek. this based on no evidence, but only the assumption that the dynamic stress accent is correct and so the ancient grammarians must be deluded. at the time this reminded me a lot of that saying in sherlock holmes or wherever that you need to twist the theory to fit the facts, and not the other way around.

there seems to have been the same doubt in the 1800s that ancient greek could have had a pitch accent. now the position is, it did have a pitch accent and when we read the doubts on this from the 1800s in the face of the clear evidence, it's clear that those old doubts were based on false assumptions rather than the evidence. i wonder whether in 100 years the same thing will happen for latin and the 2100s classicists will look back and say "how could those guys discount the ancient evidence on the basis that the ancients, writing books about pronunciation, were actually describing a completely different language"?

or if there's other evidence supporting no pitch accent in latin,i'd really love to hear it! the days when i had the time to wade through all the materials on this to try to work out the least objectionable position have now passed -- my very limited classics time is now just reading primary texts -- and so i need to rely on people like you for important points like this, especially as new and better positions are reached in the classics world and new books come out with new research etc., and so i'd love to hear your views, thanks!! cheers, chad
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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby RiceMonster » Fri Nov 15, 2013 11:33 pm

Thank you very much, mwh. I had indeed suspected that the information in Adler's book may have been outdated, and that that may have been the reason I could not find any current information regarding these two accents. And you are right about Vox Latina being the place to go. After I had decided I wanted to correctly use Classical pronunciation, I picked up a copy from my local library. It is more than enough for my purposes, but nonetheless incredibly useful :D
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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby adrianus » Sat Nov 16, 2013 1:19 pm

Hello, RiceMonster

Grave is an accent with a falling pitch, acute has a rising pitch and circumflex rises and then falls (in a sing-song Italian way). All have additional volume stress. My first thread on Textkit was about accenting: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=6031 (´`ˆ accents in early posts were mangled a few years back for wiki software changeover reasons).

I recently suggested to mvh that he read Allen's Vox Latina. I find Allen brief and unconvincing on this, claiming that everything the ancient grammarians and many grammarians up to Adler have said about acutes, graves and circumflexes is mistaken. I don't ignore these accents and try to write and speak my Latin using acute, circumflex and grave in this tradition. For almost two thousand years people have been taught to speak Latin with reference to these accents and some wonderful scholars have written about this. Many people today don't get it and find it all too odd or troublesome.

Salve MonstrumOryzae

Grave accentum in vocale litterâ est tonus descendens, acutum ascendens, circumflexum ascendens tunc descendens (modo Italico moderno cantatrice). Omnia spiritum vocis elevant ut vim habeat syllaba quae vocalem continet. De hâc re prima epistula mea hîc tractavit. (Omnia paginarum priscarum accenta in hôc foro corrupta sunt programmatis commentari causâ.)

Recenter istud opus de Allen, Vox Latina nomine, sodali mvh suasi ut is legat. Quod scribit Allen,—omnes grammaticos antiquos et modernos errare qui triplicem tonum sospitent,—id non amo,—defunctorium, non persuasibile habeo. Meâ parte, discrimen inter tonos sustineo, secundum morem didacticum qui duo millennia durat, de quo tractaverunt multi philologi magni. Sunt autem multi his diebus qui distinctiones toni non diligunt et alienas scaevasve eas habeunt.


Post scriptum

Cum cb concurro.
I agree with cb/chad.
Last edited by adrianus on Sun Nov 17, 2013 1:36 am, edited 2 times in total.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby adrianus » Sat Nov 16, 2013 4:51 pm

I forgot that this never-finished article is still online:
Me hos commentarios imperfectos in interreti posuisse oblitus sum:
http://www.adrianmallonmultimedia.com/latin/dryfigs/dryfigs.pdf

This is the original version with some uncorrected spelling mistakes. I meant to rewrite the article to highlight the role of Erasmus in writing Lily's Grammar.
Haec est versio pristina cum erratis orthographicis. Commentatios convertere volui ut ops Erasmi in grammaticâ scribendâ cum Lilio demonstetur.
Last edited by adrianus on Sat Nov 16, 2013 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby mwh » Sat Nov 16, 2013 6:11 pm

Chad, I'd like to give you a serious response but I am withdrawing from these boards at least for the time being. They're just too distracting, and some posts are not good for my blood pressure. :D

adrianus, you really need to find yourself a latin teacher.

ricemonster, sorry to have subjected you to this. All the best with your studies.
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Re: What are circumflex and acute accents?

Postby adrianus » Sat Nov 16, 2013 7:09 pm

mwh wrote:adrianus, you really need to find yourself a latin teacher.

I don't claim to have perfect Latin and I try to improve. Perhaps it will never be good. I'm not pretentious like some. I lay out my limitations. I do look down on pretentiousness, bad manners, lack of self-control, lack of humour, drama queens.
Latinitatem absolutam habere non clamo; continuò conor ut melius fiam, at forsit nunquam erit bona mea latinitas. Passis mendis, me ostendo; me scire id quod ignoro non simulo. Verè, fastidiosè contemno eos qui simulant, qui sunt inurbani, sine festinitate, sine temperatione sui, pleni cupiditatis sui.
I'm writing in Latin hoping for correction, and not because I'm confident in how I express myself. Latinè scribo ut ab omnibus corrigar, non quod confidenter me exprimam.
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