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i and u

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i and u

Postby timeodanaos » Tue May 20, 2008 10:41 pm

Since it is so succesful all of a sudden to discuss phonology, I should like to present to you a question:

In short: what's up with the failing destinction between i and u in Latin?


Slightly more elaborated (I would like to present a whole line of examples, but due to the lateness of the hour, only what springs to mind is included);

in verbs: we read 'legimus', the i somehow being grandchild of the thematic vowel o. In the copula, however, 1. person plural is one of the thematic forms, but is read 'sumus'. I remember having read somewhere that Octavianus is said to have pronounced sumus as simus.

nouns: the superlative of magnus is maximus - but the other day I stumbled across this form in Sallust: maxumus. And the opposite, in the same text (bel. Cat. ch. 6-7) minume instead of minime. Same chapter, legitumum for legitimum.

Today, reading Seneca (tranq. animi. ch. 9), I see him writing bybliotheca (I who thought Seneca of anyone would distinguish between iota and ypsilon) and in the samme passage monimentum instead of monumentum.



So, there you have a few examples that I can't quite make sense of. Have they anything in common, except the obvious mixup of these two (three) vowels - what makes them similes?
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Postby Lucus Eques » Tue May 20, 2008 11:09 pm

Excellent point of discussion!

Also, Sulla is known in Italian as Silla.

There appear to be two "dialects" of Latin leading up thru the Classical period, whereby choices were made whether to say (and therefore write) short 'u' or short 'i' — but only in certain positions in words, that is for certain types of short u/i.

It seems that these short 'u's or short 'i's were put in place of a schwa, and the schwa was put in certain words to separate consonants (usually at or in word endings).

For example, in Vergil you see occasional oclos for oculos, and you see this in inscriptions from the earliest periods thru the Classical. To me, this indicates that the vowel is intrusive, a schwa originally meant to separate consonants for the sake of sonority. In Irish and Scottish accents of English, due to the nature of Gaelic having worked its way into these dialects, one does not say film in one syllable but instead filum — l+m, r+t (e.g. tá grá agam ort) and a few other combinations do this.

So: bellissuma for bellissima. (Actually, earlier bellisuma was written with one 's' — either the syllable was short back then and came to be lengthened later, or the 'i' was said long.)

But the clear, 7-vowel system of Latin would come to direct these short schwas into short 'i's and 'u's. And eventually you have two trends, one for 'i' and the other for 'u', exsisting commingled thru the Classical period, but generally favoring the shift to 'i'. Actually Sallust is considered to be emulating archaisms of a past aera when he wrote as he did; it was part of his litterary style.

It comes out to be something like how, in English, some people say "direct" with a short 'i' like in "hit" (actually more of a schwa), others consistently with a long 'i' as in "bide", and yet others do one or the other depending on mood (I fall into the final category).
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Postby adrianus » Wed May 21, 2008 1:16 am

My own idea about this is that, because the 'i' sound requires more jaw-muscle energy to express than the 'u' sound, the aristocratic tendency is to acquire the 'i' sound. So in the city of Rome the 'i' will replace the 'u', leaving those who affect the 'u' to appeal to a more antique style of polite talking (of Terence, for example) and to the rural classes, where the 'u' sound will survive longest into the classical era.

Meâ sententiâ, sonum 'i' sonando maxilla vim majorem conficit quam casu 'u' litterae. Eo ratione, optimatis est sonum 'i' acquirere. Ergo Romae, in urbe, 'u' sonus in 'i' commutat apud optimates. Et qui 'u' assumat (Terentium imitans puta) adorat eos qui mores antiquos aestimant et paganos, inter quos sonus 'u' longissimè in aevo classico manserit.
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Re: i and u

Postby benissimus » Wed May 21, 2008 2:53 am

timeodanaos wrote:In short: what's up with the failing destinction between i and u in Latin?


Slightly more elaborated (I would like to present a whole line of examples, but due to the lateness of the hour, only what springs to mind is included);

in verbs: we read 'legimus', the i somehow being grandchild of the thematic vowel o.

There is a tendency for an inherited short vowel in a medial syllable to become 'i' when followed by a single consonant, 'e' when followed by two or more consonants, with some exceptions (see Sihler §66).

In the copula, however, 1. person plural is one of the thematic forms, but is read 'sumus'. I remember having read somewhere that Octavianus is said to have pronounced sumus as simus.

The athematic verbs are for some reason or another exceptions to the above rule (damus), except in those forms which have been regularized (ferimus). If Octavian did in fact pronounce sumus as simus, I would not interpret it as mispronunciation but an attempt to regularize the conjugation.

nouns: the superlative of magnus is maximus - but the other day I stumbled across this form in Sallust: maxumus. And the opposite, in the same text (bel. Cat. ch. 6-7) minume instead of minime. Same chapter, legitumum for legitimum.

Today, reading Seneca (tranq. animi. ch. 9), I see him writing bybliotheca (I who thought Seneca of anyone would distinguish between iota and ypsilon) and in the samme passage monimentum instead of monumentum.

'u' and 'i' are particularly confused when followed by labial consonants:
pontifex/pontufex, uolumus/(expected uolimus), optumus/optimus, mancipium/mancupium, et al (see Sihler §69).

Lucus Eques wrote:For example, in Vergil you see occasional oclos for oculos, and you see this in inscriptions from the earliest periods thru the Classical. To me, this indicates that the vowel is intrusive, a schwa originally meant to separate consonants for the sake of sonority. In Irish and Scottish accents of English, due to the nature of Gaelic having worked its way into these dialects, one does not say film in one syllable but instead filum — l+m, r+t (e.g. tá grá agam ort) and a few other combinations do this.

oculus may not be the best example for your theory. The PIE root is okw-, which probably came into Latin as ocu- (with a suffix added at some time).
Last edited by benissimus on Wed May 21, 2008 8:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 21, 2008 5:27 am

Oh awesome, scratch the oclos then (tho' I feel certain I read than in the Aeneid somewhere) — let's go with "periclum." :)
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Postby Alatius » Wed May 21, 2008 9:28 am

Lucus Eques wrote:There appear to be two "dialects" of Latin leading up thru the Classical period, whereby choices were made whether to say (and therefore write) short 'u' or short 'i' — but only in certain positions in words, that is for certain types of short u/i.

It seems that these short 'u's or short 'i's were put in place of a schwa, and the schwa was put in certain words to separate consonants (usually at or in word endings).

I'm not sure this is the best explanation; rather, I would put it like this: as benissimus mentioned, historically, a lot of short vowels converged to /i/ (when not in the first syllable); hence we find, e.g., "conficio", rather than *"confacio", "dimidius", rather than *"dimedius", etc. However, in front of labials, the result was something else, usually spelled "u", which most likely was some kind of sound between /i/ and /u/. To call it a schwa is probably to go to far; I would presume it to be higher and more rounded (but to pinpoint vowels is always risky). Confer Allen, p. 56 and following.

It is thus not so much a "you say tomato"-issue, but rather that both spellings are compromises of the actual pronunciation. Note that, at the comparatively late time of emperor Claudius, he saw the need for a new letter to express this sound.

timeodanaos wrote:Today, reading Seneca (tranq. animi. ch. 9), I see him writing bybliotheca (I who thought Seneca of anyone would distinguish between iota and ypsilon) and in the samme passage monimentum instead of monumentum.

As for "bybliotheca", remember that all the antique texts that have been handed down to us are copies of copies of copies, at the very best, and we can never be sure if any manuscript preserves the orthography of the original. Writing "y" instead of "i" is very typical of mediaeval manuscripts, often in (persieved) Greek words. They were pronounced identically. Modern editions usually standardise the orthography.
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Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 21, 2008 9:52 am

How are you, Alati? Good to see you around again. You might join me and Adrian in our '-um' thread discussion. A lot to catch up on, but I know you are very sage when it comes to pronunciation and I'd like your input (even if you don't agree with me! :) ).

I also welcome anyone else to join us.
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Re: i and u

Postby timeodanaos » Wed May 21, 2008 5:05 pm

Thank you for your answers! I have never heard about the 'two dialects', except Cicero calling some expressions 'subrustica' - where and how can I learn more?


benissimus wrote:
In the copula, however, 1. person plural is one of the thematic forms, but is read 'sumus'. I remember having read somewhere that Octavianus is said to have pronounced sumus as simus.

The thematic verbs are for some reason or another exceptions to the above rule (damus), except in those forms which have been regularized (ferimus). If Octavian did in fact pronounce sumus as simus, I would not interpret it as mispronunciation but an attempt to regularize the conjugation.
'dare' isn't thematic, is it? It conjugates like any a-stem (except for the short -a-) and is athematic in Greek as well.
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Re: i and u

Postby benissimus » Wed May 21, 2008 8:27 pm

timeodanaos wrote:'dare' isn't thematic, is it? It conjugates like any a-stem (except for the short -a-) and is athematic in Greek as well.

sorry, that should have read "athematic", since both of my examples were athematic.
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Re: i and u

Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 21, 2008 8:46 pm

benissimus wrote:
timeodanaos wrote:'dare' isn't thematic, is it? It conjugates like any a-stem (except for the short -a-) and is athematic in Greek as well.

sorry, that should have read "athematic", since both of my examples were athematic.


Heh, this reminds me of an inscription my father wrote that I just found in a tile this morning: "GNOSTO DEO." Apparently he meant "with god UNknown," meaning he should have written "AGNOSTO DEO."

We'll just assume it's one of those weird results of too many double negatives, like how in French personne bafflingly means "no one."
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Re: i and u

Postby timeodanaos » Wed May 21, 2008 9:16 pm

benissimus wrote:
timeodanaos wrote:'dare' isn't thematic, is it? It conjugates like any a-stem (except for the short -a-) and is athematic in Greek as well.

sorry, that should have read "athematic", since both of my examples were athematic.
I've never quite known about 'fero', thus I didn't quite know. Since 'ferimus' has the thematic vowel by analogy, how come 'fert' doesn't? I would have suspected 3. p. sg. to be more common in everyday speech and thereby rather a subject of analogies than 1. p. pl.
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Re: i and u

Postby Lucus Eques » Wed May 21, 2008 10:30 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:
benissimus wrote:
timeodanaos wrote:'dare' isn't thematic, is it? It conjugates like any a-stem (except for the short -a-) and is athematic in Greek as well.

sorry, that should have read "athematic", since both of my examples were athematic.


Heh, this reminds me of an inscription my father wrote that I just found in a tile this morning: "GNOSTO DEO." Apparently he meant "with god UNknown," meaning he should have written "AGNOSTO DEO."

We'll just assume it's one of those weird results of too many double negatives, like how in French personne bafflingly means "no one."


Actually I talked with my father, and the 'A' was chipped off of the inscription over time; he did indeed mean it to say AGNOSTO DEO, "for God unknown" or "for an unknown god," which apparently, so he was told by a friend long ago, is inscribed somewhere in Rome (in the Forum or in some other ancient place). Anyone ever hear of it?
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Re: i and u

Postby benissimus » Thu May 22, 2008 5:49 am

timeodanaos wrote:I've never quite known about 'fero', thus I didn't quite know. Since 'ferimus' has the thematic vowel by analogy, how come 'fert' doesn't? I would have suspected 3. p. sg. to be more common in everyday speech and thereby rather a subject of analogies than 1. p. pl.

Your intuition is correct, that 3rd person singular is more common than 1st person plural. But the more common a word or form is, the more likely it is to preserve older forms. Maybe the more familar phrasing would be "the most common words (or forms) are usually irregular".
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Re: i and u

Postby Alatius » Thu May 22, 2008 7:36 am

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Postby Lucus Eques » Thu May 22, 2008 8:36 am

Awesome! Thanks.
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