Pronouncing Long, Nasalised Vowels, and Prose Elision

By Iáson, in 'Pronunciation, Spelling and Listen to Latin', Jul 3, 2017.

  1. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    Apologies if this has been discussed before somewhere.

    According to Vox Latina (with some convincing arguments), where a Latin word is written ending in a vowel + m, this was normally pronounced as a long nasalised vowel in Classical times (except when followed by a syntactically closely connected word beginning with m, n, gn, b, d, g, p, t, k, or q).

    So how exactly does one pronounce these four long nasalised vowels (as in -am, -em, -im, -um)? Is it anything like French, or another modern language with conveniently available audio files?

    A second question: should one elide in prose? Is the second sentence of the Pró Marcelló thus something like:

    Tant' enim mansuétúdinE, t' inúsitát' inaudítamque clémentiA, tant' in summá potestáte rér' omniU modU, tan déniqu' incrédibilE sapienti' ac paene dívínA, tacitus praeteríre nulló modó possU.

    (writing capitals for nasalised vowels)
    It's a little difficult to see what is 'syntactically closely connected' - enim mansuétúdinE or enI mansuétúdinE?
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  2. Dantius Homo Sapiens

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    I think opinions vary regarding whether, and to what extent, elision took place in prose.
    Would the "in" have a nasalised vowel? I thought it only happened with "m".
  3. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    No, that was just my error. Thankfully...
  4. Imperfacundus Reprobatissimus

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    Portuguese has all those same nasal vowels (albeit only non-long versions of them) and there are many online sources that can help with those.

    Actually nasal a in Portuguese/French isn't quite an [ã], rather [ɐ̃] and [ɑ̃] respectively, of which the latter sounds more similar to [ã] to my ear, so I'd go with that if you're aiming for a familiar/easily-accessible approximation.
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  5. John Cook New Member



    In 1999, I made the elision, long, and short marks in Robert Sonkowsky's book which accompanied his recording of selections from Ovid. At the time, I had to do a lot of studying in order to mark the hidden quantities. As for nasalizing, my greatest trouble is lack of practice. For some reason, the " um " gives me the most trouble. For practice, I say Usu, and then repeat it with nasalization of the last vowel. It is still difficult to comprehend that, for example, Cicero could be understood when he would run his words together. Nonetheless, it seems that he did.
  6. Godmy A Monkey

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    Iáson regarding the nasalized consonant and length: I guess the length comes from the fact that the nasalization is attached (that makes more sense in regard to phonetic evolution) than from the vowel being made longer + attaching nasalization (that doesn't make much sense to me), so if you insist on nasalization of the "m", just do that and don't do anything special about the vowel length.

    Elision: as we know, speech wouldn't elide nearly as much as poetry (Allen has an article on it) and I suppose that there were certain contexts where there would be no elisions at all in speech. Either the context could be some special phonetic context (something following which causes the preceding word to be pronounced fully) or simply by adding emphasis to the speech. Let's say public speaking in senate or reading, I can imagine that inspired also the way classical Latin is written: all words are written fully because that was felt to be the emphatic form of the word (the only form, in their mind, to be fit to be written down), possibly then copied by poets too (even though they would elide). Since we can find great consistency across all classical prose authors of not eliding anything we would consider to be elision worthy - that's why I think there must have been a phonetic counterpart to it, words that were in some contexts (let's say for emphasis) pronounced fully (=and that subsequently became the standard for written Latin). Otherwise, if the full forms of the Latin words were merely a historic convenience that wouldn't exist anymore in any shape of form, the written Latin / the orthography would have to be much much more irregular / non-phonemic than we thought (we know it is in certain regards) and the Roman schooling system would have to be absolutely perfect and successful since we find so little evidence in the literature for the words never existing in the full form (=mistakes/mistypes) and even very little evidence in Plautus or Terence who wouldn't mind writing elisions here and there.

    These are my hypothesis based on what I read, but I think quite likely ones considering the reasoning I provide.
    Last edited by Godmy, Oct 16, 2018
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  7. Godmy A Monkey

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    Therefore I personally don't think it's a mistake to read prose fully, and if my hypotheses about the full forms being part of emphatic speech or recitation of what is written are true, then Romans themselves when reading something aloud /reciting (they never read silently) / constantly-emphasizing would always read the words fully in prose and then the elisions would be even out of place. (like when reading Cicero or Caesar)
    Last edited by Godmy, Oct 16, 2018
  8. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    I haven't seen an article by Allen on elision; but Sturtevant and Kent, 'Elision and Hiatus in Latin Prose and Verse' (1915) and Riggsby, 'Elision and Hiatus in Latin Prose' (1991) both argue that it was normal in prose, and their reasons seem convincing enough to me.

    On the writing: elisions aren't written in poetry any more than prose, and yet we must still assume them for the sake of the metre. Since the Romans were presumably still aware of the terminations of the words in isolation, I don't see why they would have any difficulty following a convention whereby words are written in full when actually writing them.

    The idea that elision might be suspended entirely for formal speech or recitation is a new one to me, and I'm not convinced. For a start, I think Cicero (Orator 150-2) says that the use of hiatus was considered rustic and unsophisticated. Of course, this is an area where it is very difficult to establish anything with certainty.
  9. Godmy A Monkey

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    Read the Article in Allen at the end when he speaks about elisions, it's the first thing you see, not hard to find at all. He uses the Catullus's Odi Et Amo, he specifically talks about some poetic elisions that most certainly were not done in prose.

    Now, many elision-ardent latinists are seemingly unaware of this while using the restored pronunciation and attempt to read prose EXACTLY as poetry, that is then most certainly a mistake. So, that much about the extent of elisions.

    Now about elisions in prose generally:

    I am convinced by the possibility of the elisions to be suspended entirely in formal speech or prose recitation (meaning, reading prose aloud, not poetic recitation + Romans didn't read [prose or poetry] silently anyway), for the reasons I mentioned. 1) if the Romans were aware of the terminations, they had to use them on certain occasions in order to know them natively (unless in extreme conditions known from some modern languages orthography, like French, which is unlikely in this case). And then, why wouldn't they use them, e.g. on emphatic occasions (which might as well be even formal speech / the whole prose recitation) 2) comparing (& interpreting) the classical orthography with Plautus/Terence orthography & comparing the Plautus/Terence orthography elision extent with how we need to read elisions in classical poetry (with classical orthography). That tells us a) that Plautus or Terence had their reasons to change the orthography on occasions as to orthographically imitate the "normal speech" in contrast to a presumable "normal [prose] recitation" as possibly hinted by the orthography also and b) seeing all the elisions their orthographies don't contain which are done in normal poetry.

    So, if all those interpretations and assumptions are on point / if true, the possibility is here and yes, then it might be an overkill to read the classical prose with all presumable non-poetry allowed elisions.

    ---------------

    I think people just tend to fall in love with elisions and seek ways how to read the classical prose better and better until they overdo it. I have another recommendation for reading the prose correctly: do the stresses and vowel lengths correctly + vowel qualities. Most advanced Latinists firmly profess to be able to do that and yet if they submit a recording to the "Analysis" thread, you find serious shortcomings with 90% of them. That, in my opinion, is the area to be worked on, not thinking what all you can elide in a simple prose reading.

    That's my opinion. (The last paragraph is my opinion, the preceding paragraphs is a reasonable hypothesis given some premises/facts we know - if you were not aware of that one until this point, you are now)
    Last edited by Godmy, Oct 21, 2018
  10. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    I'm not saying you're wrong, it's just that I'm not sure I understand where some of these arguments are coming from.

    1. Yes, but there would be plenty of opportunities to hear and learn unelided terminations, eg. before a consonant. 2. What hints have you found in Plautine orthography at the phonetics of elision? I thought Plautine orthography was mainly due to later editors.
    Also, what is the name of this Allen article? Or do you mean the chapter in Vōx Latīna?

    And I do agree with you that the most important thing is trying to get stress and vowel length correct. But I think one has to worry about sandhi effects at some stage.
  11. Godmy A Monkey

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    Yes, sorry, I meant Vox Latina, I didn't consider any ambiguity in my wording.

    Plautine/Terentian orthography being changed by the transcribers? That's a bold statement in regards to what the textual criticism (reconstruction) tells us about the works of Roman authors. I'm not aware of any hard evidence being here for something of this sort and, unless I have some gaps in my education (=that's always possible, in such case, my apologies), I quite think you don't have any either, so let's stay on the ground here ; ) We take the text as it is written on its face value.
    Last edited by Godmy, Oct 22, 2018
  12. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

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    Well, we don't have much choice. The manuscripts we have date from roughly three-quarters of a millenium later. Just think about that for a moment.

    I love Sidney Allen dearly, but I can't help thinking that any modern person reading a text, with whatever pronunciation, wouldn't have a reincarnated contemporary creased with laughter if they were able to hear it.
  13. Godmy A Monkey

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    Btw., when I said "changed by transcribers" I meant "willfully & radically changed", I didn't mean transcription inaccuracies or editorial additions where gaps had creeped in...

    Regarding reincarnated Romans: it's an impossible scenario; like in science we work with models and none model is perfect but we're working on the models to make them perfect. Like with Quantum mechanics, each interpretation is a model of how the world is supposed to work, but none of them is really correct or models all of its aspects well. But then again, it's no excuse not to use the up-to-date model(s) of the thing in question (like pronunciation) just because there is a considerable margin of error in regards to the real state 2000 years ago...
    Last edited by Godmy, Oct 23, 2018
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  14. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    Well, I'm not a Plautus expert, but on the 'updating' of the text of Plautus, cf de Melo, 'A Close Look at Two Recent Critical Texts of Plautus', Mnemosyne, Vol. 64, Fasc. 2 (2011), pp. 318-333:

    The article referred to is Redard, G. 1956. Le rajeunissement du texte de Plaute, in: Hommages a Max Niedermann (Brussels), 296-306; I haven't got round to chasing it up, but I assume the bottom line is that the spellings of the manuscripts do not correspond to inscriptional spellings of Plautine date, but to that of the later era. From what I've read of Latin orthography, it's in general unwise to consider the text of a modern critical edition as a reliable guide to the original orthography, because (a) there is so much manuscript variation and (b) modern critical texts do not aim to reconstruct the orthography of the original author; they use a conventional medieval orthography because it is more familiar to modern readers.

    But of course it does depend on what features of Plautine orthography you're using as evidence. What precisely are you referring to?
  15. Godmy A Monkey

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    Sure, but the critical editions is the best thing we have, so that's a starting point. I'm not sure how much inscriptions will be helpful. The modern critical editions is the closest thing we have to the archetype from the 5th century or so. Beyond that we know nothing, so, let's stay with that we know nothing, but we reconstruct what possibly the archetype was. That's all. In the end, we think that Plautus probably wrote differently and that it should probably reflect itself somehow on the modern reconstructions of the archetype. That's all.
  16. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    Inscriptions (and papyrus fragments, although they are rarer for Latin) have the benefit of actually having been written at the time, whereas manuscript evidence is subject to the vagaries of transmission. Inscriptions provide our best clue as to what the phonology and orthography was like at any given point, which is why modern work on phonetic change has been primarily based on them. One could not produce a work like that of Threatte by looking at manuscripts, put it that way.

    In the case of Plautus, it is accepted that the orthography was updated in the Varronian period. Thus, we know quite certainly that it is not reliable evidence for Plautus' time. One cannot rely on, say, de Melo's text to make points about Plautine orthography. The critical texts aim to reconstruct what words Plautus actually wrote, but not the orthography in which it was written.

    But which feature of Plautine orthography do you mean, as evidence for elision?
  17. Godmy A Monkey

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    The critical texts aim to reconstuct the archetype, not particularly words or orthography, but the archetype (with everything that comes with it, be it words or orthography). Of course, using our letters and punctuation, but that's about it. The archetype is still incomparably closer to the original work than any unrelated inscription is, that's my point. It is the ONLY starting point we have on any Roman work, beyond that it's wild wild speculations.

    I don't know whether it is accepted or not, it is opinion of some editors.
  18. Iáson Cívis Illústris

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    Well, partly. In practice editors are happy to print something different from the archetype if it's demonstrably corrupt. That is, even if all existing manuscripts agree on a reading, an editor may well prefer a conjecture if they think it was more likely in the autograph.

    No, not in terms of orthography. There is often ample evidence for orthographical practice that does not appear in the surviving manuscripts. For example, Quintilian states explicitly that Cicero and Vergil used the spellings CAUSSAE, CASSUS, DIVISSIONES (Quint. Inst. 1 7.20). No editor (as far as I know) would doubt that Quintilian was telling the truth, but equally no-one would actually restore them in a critical edition of Cicero or Vergil.

    This serves to demonstrate how unreliable a guide the manuscripts are to the original orthography, and so it's far more sensible to use the evidence of epigraphy and papyrology for it. Such evidence is not 'speculation'; it's far more likely to reflect contemporary practice than the manuscripts.
  19. rothbard Civis Illustris

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    About older Latin orthography, the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus has been preserved in its original form. Written towards the end of Plautus' life, it includes several archaic forms which I haven't come across while reading Plautus or Terentius, such as: foideratei, sibei, nisei, utei, ceivis, sententiad, magistratud, suprad, etc. Of course this doesn't imply that Plautus' texts have been edited. For all we know, this SC may have been deliberately written in a way that was considered old fashioned at the time.
    Caussa is also found in Augustus' Res Gestae.
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  20. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    Which, of course, is also an epigraphic text.

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