Advertisement

Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

topic posted Fri, January 4, 2008 - 1:58 AM by  Rhys
Share/Save/Bookmark
Hi - Hopefully someone can assist me. I am trying to find some evidence for the pronunciation of Latin consonantal "v" as "w". All the material I have located tends to make definitive statements about its pronunciation as English "w" without providing examples or steps in the reasoning for coming to this conclusion. Of the reasoning I have seen much of it seems to be quite specious. For example, one source suggested that because we pronounce "wine" the way we do supports the fact that 'V" was once pronounced this way and thus we have Latin "vinum" being pronounced 'winum". But to me there are far more examples of Latin derived English words (brevity, veritable, venerable, virile etc) where the "v" sound is maintained - so is it not more likely that just the pronunciation of wine has changed? This argument requires that German, Italian and a lot of English words just changed to their current "v" pronunciation but "wine" is correct. Occam's razor wouldn't support this as an argument.

In terms of definitive works I've only found a couple. I've read W.Sydney Allen's perspective but it seems rather a concise and not well developed argument for the soft pronunciation (ie. English "w" sound). He may be right but he doesn't argue his point very well.
The Roman Pronunciation of Latin. Frances E. Lord makes a good argument but tends to suggest a harder sound more like a "vf" or I suppose Germanic "v" sound (if I've understood the author correctly)

I realize that at various times both "v" and "w" pronunciations may have been correct but I am curious as to where the evidence for the almost unanimous position that classical Latin pronounced it as a "w" sound comes from.

Any help would be appreciated

Cheers
posted by:
Rhys
Australia
Advertisement
  • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

    Fri, January 4, 2008 - 4:02 PM
    Very interesting!

    First, I'll admit that I have no background of study of classical Latin. But, I do remember being taught that the pronunciation of "v" was like the current English "w".

    My first thought was to find some kind of alliterative poetry that might compare words beginning with "v" with words beginning "u". Then, "Duh" I says to myself, I says: "There isn't a "u" in classical Latin, right?" V represents both "v", "u" and "w". U preceding vowels makes the "w" sound, at least I think that way when I'm writing IPA. "Weak" gets rendered as "uik." What happens in ecclesiastical/Italianized Latin?

    So, I think the strongest evidence is that "v" had to represent the vowel 'u" as in "unum" spelled "vnvm".

    Of covrse, I covld be completely vrong!

    Craig in Arcata
    • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

      Fri, January 4, 2008 - 4:34 PM
      Craig, I posted a response to this over in the Latin forum where Rhys also asked the question.

      You're right about the Romans only having one letter for vocalic and consonantal /u/, same as for the two types of /i/. Greek also had a letter called digamma which looked a lot like an F which was pronounced /w/. It stopped being used before Classical times. Wine (Latin vinum, Greek Ϝοινος, οινος) is possibly a loanword from a Semitic language. The emperor, Claudius, devised three additional letters for the Latin alphabet that were never really adopted: Ⅎ, Ↄ, and Ⱶ for bs/ps, v (vs u), and Greek υ (thought to have been pronounced as German /ü/. The first two were called antisigma and digamma inversum.

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claudian_letters
      • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

        Sat, January 5, 2008 - 7:04 AM
        Thanks for your responses.

        What I've found so far is, and I must stress I'm not an expert on ancient Greek by any means, but my reading suggests that digamma was a variable sound and could stand for several different things (generally an "ou" sound but not always). Additionally there (apparently) are some first century Latin writers that substitute a Latin "b" sound for digamma when translating Greek into Latin (eg. Plutarch). I have also read that the use of digamma for 'v" is not universal and sometimes Greek "b" (which I believe is a soft English "v" sound) was used when translating into Greek from Latin. Other things like the change in the classical period of "servare" to "serbare" which does suggest a harder pronunciation than "W". The other issue with a soft 'w" sound is trying to pronounce the double consonant in words like "ovvertit" and "ovvius". This would almost certainly require the two consonants to be pronounced as a single "w" would be rather unique given the Latins penchant for pronouncing both of a double consonant form.

        It's these points that I find tend to not get mentioned very often in discourses on Latin pronunciation but they are salient issues. Unfortunately my Latin isn't quite good enough to read the Grammarians in their original and I don't know ancient Greek so I kind of rely on translations and other's greater knowledge of the topic. I get the impression that the "w/v" and the ae diphthong are the two longest running debates in Latin pronunciation. Rather interesting when you look into it.
        • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

          Sat, January 5, 2008 - 7:43 AM
          In Classical Greek β was a voiced labial stop /b/, which become a voiced labial fricative /v/ (in Modern Greek, /b/ is written as a digraph μπ). Modern Greek and Classical Greek have different phonological systems, and the same holds for the phonology of Classical Latin and the various Romance languages. Also, Latin spellings of Greek loanwords represent Greek β as a B. If β was really a /v/ sound, wouldn't it have been represented as a V? (For example, Greek Ευβοια is Euboea in Latin.)

          In the end, we'll never really know how Latin consonantal V was pronounced, but the general opinion of Classicists and linguists seems to be as a /w/ and not a /v/. I was not aware that the pronunciation of the Latin diphthong AE was problematic, also. Latin praetorium is borrowed into Greek as πραιτωριον, so Latin AE = Greek αι (Old Latin orthography also had AI for AE IIRC). Do you have any references? That both vocalic and consonantal V are usually represented in Greek as ου, seems persuasive to me. /u/ and /w/ are quite similar in pronunciation and parallel how vocalic and consonantal I is both represented in Latin orthography and reconstructed.
          • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

            Fri, January 18, 2008 - 3:45 PM
            Hi jheem

            Thanks for your input.

            The ae dipthong was only an offhand comment based upon the amount of space dedicated to it in some of the older texts on pronunciation and the fact that as a biologist, if anyone is going to have a go at your pronunciation of a species name it'll almost certainly be for the 'ae" sound. I'm convinced of the "aye" pronunciation but personal experience shows me that many aren't (granted though that almost none of them speak Latin so I suspect that they just vehemently stick to the pronunciation taught to them by their biology lecturers).

            β may not have translated into a direct 'V' in Latin but the evidence that it was sometimes used for 'v" when going from Latin into Greek (can't remember where i read that) and the later change of Latin words like "servare" to "serbare" still suggest to me (along with numerous other inconsistencies) that it wasn't strictly a "w" sound. Francis Lord's "THE ROMAN PRONUNCIATION OF LATIN" is still the most convincing argument I have read.

            Mind you, I do use the 'w" pronunciation to keep the peace in Latin classes etc. But in the back of my mind it never feels quite right.
            • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

              Sun, January 20, 2008 - 8:44 AM
              The most detailed argument I've found (via Google Books) is by Henry John Roby and is called A Grammar of the Latin Language, from Plautus to Suetonius (1876), pp.xxxiii-xlvi.

              books.google.com/books

              Amongst his many reasons, two which stand out, are the case of QV for /kw/ (e.g., compare QVIS /kwis/ and CVIVS /kujus/), and Quintillian's (and Terentianus Maurus') not describing consonantal V as a voiced version of F (§ 9, pp.xxxvi-xxxvii). For me, if we posit V as /u/, /v/, and /w/, it is the only sound in Latin with three different pronunciations.
              • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

                Sat, February 16, 2008 - 1:49 PM
                I have read somewhere, an author mentioned in this very same thread, had said that the consonantal u was pronounced usually bilabially (it sounded almost like an english v as in the word verve, but was uttered without the upper teeth touching the lower lip): it was confused in writing for a b, but it was a fricative (it's what happens in the word 'invidia', it may have been, i guess, [in'βi:dia], from an earlier variant [in'wi:dia]. In the 3rd century AD and onwards, the u consonant was probably the same as the italian v.. The u consonant, during classical times in colloquial utterings, was a bilabial fricative, a rare sound in European languages. I pronounce Latin like this: usually no aspiration in any consonants, the vowels almost the same as Italian, ae was already pronounced by uneducated people as a long open [e] sound, which must have had an intermediate: [a] and [e] in succesion and the [e] eating away the [a], which is what I use. I have become accustomed to using the w sound but its usage varies (I usually try to check from what period and from what nation the text I'm going to recite is from. From about the I century AD I use the bilabial fricative without remorse, but anything earlier it varies. Authors, such as Plautus, I recite with the [w] all the time. In medieval texts I use the regional pronunciation. In late latin I use palatal pronunciation of c after [e] and [i] , -tia as [tsia], and I almost never try to pronounce the final m fully (in the classical texts I nasalise it, in the late latin texts I don't pronounce the final m even in the word unum(nasalisation in vulgar latin was probably reserved only for com- and con-, in the not so easy to find old latin texts I sometimes pronounce the m and lengthen the vowel before it, but there is evidence that the m was not even pronounced (or was weak) during the archaic times: -om est was commonly written as ost. However I think the final m might have been pronounced by educated people who wanted to boast their skills at grammar (common folks would have said samnio cepit (nasalised o), in classical orthography samnium cepit. After all, in poetry, it is appropriate to use elisions (Aeneid: Multum ille [mult'ille] or [multwille].)
  • In English, W can come after an initial T or D like R does (as in. twin and dwindle) and also after S (as swindle). However in latin V never occurs after an initial T or D even though R does and also never occurs after an initial S.

    It does come after an initial C, but is spelt QU (similarly in English).

    Karl
  • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

    Tue, February 19, 2008 - 5:06 AM
    I think V is still pronounced W in the Genova area. Hence the English name of Genoa for the Italian Genoa.

    Karl
    • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

      Tue, February 19, 2008 - 5:20 PM
      Italian for Genoa is Genova; the Genoese is Zena. A V in Genoese/Genovese/Zeneize is pretty much like standard Italian (The Z in Genoese is not an affricate as in Italian, but a voiced sibilant.).
      • Re: Latin Pronunciation of 'v"

        Sun, April 21, 2013 - 3:17 PM
        Catalan, Italian, Spanish and French (unfortunately I do not speak other latin languages) use 'v' as 'b'. In Catalan, it seems that 'v' had some friction (a bit like an 'f') ages ago. It seems impossible to believe that all these latin languages got it wrong, particularly Catalan and Italian that have kept quite close to their roots. There must be a very strong case to refute such tangible reality and defend that 'v' should be pronounced as a 'u'.

Recent topics in "Linguistics"