How do grammarians know that a vowel is long by nature when it is long by position?

Quasus

Civis Illustris
I'm simply pointing out that how nasals behave in other languages isn't really useful for reconstructing Latin, in that there are a variety of ways this can work.
I've been saying that all along. What happens in other languages just illustrates the possibilities. Typology, so to say. How do we know which one really take place? It would be nice at least to consider alternatives and their pros and cons. But Allen just exclaims, "look, the evidence is compatible with nasalization, surely it was nasalization!!!". What else is it compatible with? Which are the reasons to single out nasalization among the alternatives?

BTW, it's Tronski who points out the lack of confusion between m and n in his fundamental Historical grammar of the Latin language, even though both were "weakened" in the positions -m and -nf-, -ns-. He concludes that this may be an indication that -m retained some consonantal value.

BTW, a typological argument against Dutch-like disappearance of -m is that in Dutch as well as in Middle English, -n is more stable before vowels than before consonants.
 

Iáson

Cívis Illústris
sānē, fatendum est illam hypothesin certam nōn esse; fortasse addendum est nōn satis hanc quaestiōnem recentē scrūtātam esse. multīs modīs acūtior est scientia linguistica iam nōbīs quam Allenī vel Tronskis.

tamen mihi saltem illa hypothesis satis vērīsimilis vidētur. sed nescio multum dē structūrā syllabae apud Batavicum linguam.
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
For example we have the verb nārrō, and in the dictionary both the "a" and the "o" are marked with a macron.
That one is actually very much contended, and I suspect it originates from some odd etymology that is not accepted anymore. It's pretty regrettable it appears in Hans Ørberg's LLPSI (which is generally excellent when it comes to this topic, "hidden quantities"), as well as the Elementary Lewis, which is apparently where people are seeing it supposedly has ā. Neither Ernout's etymological dictionary, nor De Vaan's, nor the Gaffiot 2016 dictionary have nārrō, but instead have narrō. The etymology is taken to be *gnārāō (so a cognate of gnārus and ignārus), which via the lītera ~ littera sound change produced narrō narrāre, after a stage of being *gnārō *gnārāre.

I thought the n in words like īnfāns and mēnsa represented a nasalized vowel rather than a nasal consonant, much like the singular accusative -m.
A bit unlikely, since even Old Latin inscriptions show COSOL. Allen says nasalization was a likely intermediate step before arriving at things like COSOL, but this frequent absence of -n in Old Latin and other things such as inconsistent grammarian advice on -ns vs. -s (quotie(n)s) suggest that there might've been an informal pronunciation without a trace except the long vowel ("mēsa" for MENSA), and a formal one with a fully restored [n] (or [m] before [f], mentioning republican inscriptions like EIMFERIS for īnferīs). It also matters that ancient grammarians (not named) apparently go out of their way to criticize hypercorrected THENSAURUS, OCCANSIO for thēsaurus, occāsiō.

(Btw, amusingly, he also cites Greek spellings like κλημης for Clēmēns(!), and a comment by Velius Longus (2nd c. AD) that Cicero was apparently known to have said FORESIA/HORTESIA (i.e. forēsia/hortēsia) for forēnsia, hortēnsia, something that people would probably not have said if he still had the -n- as nasalization...)

There is more evidence that Godmy didn't mention btw, in favour of vowels there being long, such as Romance outcomes (mēnsa, tēnsum/am > Old Spanish la mesa, teso/a, instead of *miesa, *tieso/a < *mɛsa *tɛsu/a < *mĕ(n)sam *tĕ(n)sum), inscriptions with an i longum (IN SPECTACULIS for "īn spectāculīs"), and comments by Cicero (1st c. BC), Probus (1st c. AD) and Pompeius Festus (2nd c. AD) on some words with -ns.

Who knows. AFAIK m and n are not confused in inscriptions.
Allen mentions a few like EIMFERIS, IM FRONTE for īnferīs and īn fronte, but he thinks these just reflect a phonetic articulation influenced by the [f] on the restored [n] sound ("restored" because in more informal speech at least īnferīs may have been basically "īferīs").

It's an example of -n being lost without any nasalization. What about Latin? We know that words were spelled with -m (though not always); there is vague contemporary evidence that its pronunciation was kind of unclear; in poetry -Vm is elided; -m is lost in Romance languages. Does this logically imply existence of nasal vowels? I think not. It's a plausible scenario, but a Dutch-like scenario is not ruled out, and there is no way to know for sure.
Well, regarding word-final -m (a different topic from -Vns- -Vnf-), Allen's argument seems to rely entirely on a passage from Quintilian, and something reported by Velius Longus (2nd c. AD) about the grammarian Verrius Flaccus (late 1st c. BC, which some other unnamed people, "nōnnūllī", also did). Quintilian's passage in Institutiones 9.4.40 says:

Atque eadem illa littera, quotiens ultima est et vocalem verbi sequentis ita contingit, ut in eam transire possit, etiam si scribitur tamen parum exprimitur, ut "multum ille" et "quantum erat", adeo ut paene cuiusdam novae litterae sonum reddat. Neque enim exprimitur sed obscuratur.
And this same letter [the letter M], when it is word-final touching a vowel in the next word, as if it was to continue into it, is hardly pronounced even if it is written. For example, in "multum ille" and "quantum erat", to the point it almost represents the sound of a new letter.

This "adeo ut paene cuiusdam novae litterae sonum reddat" wording suggests the -m may have still been sounded out in some fashion, so still not completely gone, yet not a full [m] either as in most other positions.

For Verrius Flaccus, Allen seems to interpret his use of a half-M (looking like Λ) for a final -m before a vowel-initial word as possibly reflecting it was pronounced differently. But I don't even think that is how the relevant passage in Velius Longus' De Orthographia 80.17 should probably be interpreted...

Nonnulli circa synaliphas quoque observandam talem scriptionem existimaverunt, sicut Verrius Flaccus, ut, ubicumque prima vox m littera finiretur, sequens a vocali inciperet, m non tota, sed pars illius prior tantum scriberetur, ut appareret exprimi non debere. Est etiam ubi vocales subducebantur, si id aut decor compositionis aut metri necessitas exigebat, ut "adeo in teneris consuescere multum est".
Some people, like [the grammarian] Verrius Flaccus, have thought of observing synaloephas [i.e. the pronunciation of the transition of two words as one syllable] writing them so that if a word ends in -m and the next starts with a vowel, they don't write the M whole, but only a part of it, so that it's clear it shouldn't be pronounced. This is where vowels were taken away if the grace of a composition or the needs of metre required it, as in "ade|ō‿in tene|rīs cōn|su̯ēscere | multum‿est".

This seems to be talking about elision in prose clausulae and poetic metre rather, which probably had their own rather artificial conventions anyway... so that this half-M "Λ" would simply be a marker of elision, instead of representing something about pronunciation (unlike Emperor Claudius' proposed new letters).

(Allen also mentions Priscian (late 5th - early 6th c. AD) saying "obscurum in extremitate dictionum sonat" (it sounds "obscure" at the end of utterances, Institutiones Grammaticae 2.29 in Keller's Grammatici Latini numeration), but I would not give much credit to anything a 5th century grammarian would say, except in terms of the formal pronunciation of that time and place. Late Latin grammarians vary a lot on what they say about final -m before a vowel, in fact, some even seem to prescribe something like a nasalized vowel + full [m], quam asper [kwãm asper], with no elision, being more concerned about clearly separating words for rhetorical reasons in prose speeches than what we would normally call correct pronunciation, say, so that "quam asper" is not heard as "qua masper". See Anna Zago's fairly recent article "Mytacism in Latin Grammarians" (2018), Journal of Latin Linguistics vol. 17, iss. 1, DOI: 10.1515/joll-2018-0002 (scihubbable) for an extended discussion.)
 
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Clemens

Active Member
A bit unlikely, since even Old Latin inscriptions show COSOL. Allen says nasalization was a likely intermediate step before arriving at things like COSOL, but this frequent absence of -n in Old Latin and other things such as inconsistent grammarian advice on -ns vs. -s (quotie(n)s) suggest that there might've been an informal pronunciation without a trace except the long vowel ("mēsa" for MENSA), and a formal one with a fully restored [n] (or [m] before [f], mentioning republican inscriptions like EIMFERIS for īnferīs). It also matters that ancient grammarians (not named) apparently go out of their way to criticize hypercorrected THENSAURUS, OCCANSIO for thēsaurus, occāsiō.
So the nasalized vowel stage occurred so early in the history of the language as to be irrelevant for our purposes? Do I understand you?
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
So the nasalized vowel stage occurred so early in the history of the language as to be irrelevant for our purposes? Do I understand you?
Yes, that is what Allen wrote, and what Godmy and I are saying. But please note in that paragraph I was talking about Vns Vnf specifically (and the preposition "in" before a word beginning with s- f-). The topic of word-final -m is another matter (and I tried to cover that later in the same post).
 

Michael Zwingli

Active Member
Since "a" is before a double vowel it would be long by position even if "a" is a short vowel by nature.
Here is a noob question from a bona-fide noob:
I am familiar, from Allen & Greenough, with the positional rules for vocalic quantity, but am unfamiliar with the "natural quantity" of the Latin vowels. Will you please describe them for me? I would guess, with Latin being an IE language, that E and O are naturally long, while A, I, and U are naturally short, but am by no means sure of that.
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
Here is a noob question from a bona-fide noob:
I am familiar, from Allen & Greenough, with the positional rules for vocalic quantity, but am unfamiliar with the "natural quantity" of the Latin vowels. Will you please describe them for me? I would guess, with Latin being an IE language, that E and O are naturally long, while A, I, and U are naturally short, but am by no means sure of that.
Oh, that stuff has to do with some "traditional" terms used in Latin (not really that old, but definitely common in textbooks for at least the past 150 years...). Since you're more familiar with general linguistics:

"a vowel long by position" = a vowel in a closed syllable (or "checked vowel", as Sanskritists and others like to say)
"a vowel long by nature/quantity" = a phonemically long vowel such as /a: u:/ [a: u:]

This has to do with the notation used in poetry, since what matters is whether syllables are heavy (—, "long syllables") or light (u, "short syllables"). Macrons and breves do a different duty in that context, with macrons being used on heavy ("long") syllables and light ("short") syllables. On the other hand, phonemically speaking, all six vowels of Latin can be short or long: ī i ȳ y ē e ā a ō o ū u = /i: ɪ y: ʏ .../, and you can find many minimal pairs in this thread, such as pīla 'mortar; pillar, column' (also plural of pīlum 'mortar pestle; javelin') versus pila 'ball; ball game'.

Ciaciaufufu made a mistake there and meant to write "Since "a" is before a double consonant it would be long by position even if "a" is a short vowel by nature." Or translating this into linguistics terms: 'since "a" is before a geminate consonant, the syllable is closed, even if "a" is a short vowel phonemically'. He was saying this because he found the macron on nārrō surprising, as it certainly can't stand for a heavy ("long") syllable, considering the conventions of the textbook/dictonary where he saw it, so how would someone figure out a phonemic long /a:/ there?, he asks. (And he got a bunch of good replies. I also mentioned it's better thought of as narrō, with short -a-.)
 
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Clemens

Active Member
Yes, that is what Allen wrote, and what Godmy and I are saying. But please note in that paragraph I was talking about Vns Vnf specifically (and the preposition "in" before a word beginning with s- f-). The topic of word-final -m is another matter (and I tried to cover that later in the same post).
I see, thanks for clarifying. I didn’t get my information from Allen, though, so I wonder if there is some disagreement among Latinists about this.
 

Godmy

Sīmia Illustris
That was a very informative post, earlier on this page, so thanks for that, @Serenus!

I had no idea about nārrō... or... narrō being an issue today. I don't know why I had in my head some pseudo-archaic form "gnaurigō" <- no idea where I read it, when I check any source I have at hand, I don't see anything of that sort - I may have hallucinated that, haha, or it may be one of those outdated etymologies. Well, I write then narrō form now on, but some people may consider it wrong perhaps ;P Try asking Rōderīcus what he thinks of it: it's likely he may not be as informed on the issue as you are (or he will and may provide an interesting discussion).
 
Late Latin grammarians vary a lot on what they say about final -m before a vowel, in fact, some even seem to prescribe something like a nasalized vowel + full [m], quam asper [kwãm asper], with no elision, being more concerned about clearly separating words for rhetorical reasons in prose speeches than what we would normally call correct pronunciation, say, so that "quam asper" is not heard as "qua masper". See Anna Zago's fairly recent article "Mytacism in Latin Grammarians" (2018), Journal of Latin Linguistics vol. 17, iss. 1, DOI: 10.1515/joll-2018-0002 (scihubbable) for an extended discussion.)
All the grammarians without exception agree that pronouncing a full [m] results in a barbarism called mytacism which makes it sound like the [m] belongs to the next syllable. We have direct evidence that the phonetic value of final -M was not the bilabial nasal [m], while we don't have direct evidence for the phonetic value of the letter A (it could have been any vowel lower than low-mid). The phonemenon of elision is direct evidence that these words phonemically ended in a vowel, because a consonantal phoneme, however faintly pronounced in ordinary speech, prevents hiatus on the level of mental representation, and the Greek model has no such thing as elision across consonants.

The per suspensiōnem solution offered is the same as what a Portuguese speaker will use to avoid a run-on of consecutive vowels - it's a simple insertion of a prosodic boundary, a suspension of articulation, typically via a glottal closure. It does not mean that in Portuguese you pronounce quem as [kẽm] unless a vowel follows directly - that would be the same as sticking an [m] to any other vowel-final word. Listen to this example: the prosodic boundary occurs between homem and a in addition to both the graphic commas.

There can be a phonetic bilabial stop there in the same way there can be in, say, Portuguese - as an artifact of closing your mouth. In English this has been turned into an actual phoneme in the word yep, from yeah + emphatic lip closure - this could be seen as the reverse of what happened in Latin. As a curious parallel, in one forum post, a French learner of Russian heard nasalised vowels where Russians simply hear a speech mannerism of finishing your utterances with a lip closure. And in this recording of Nuorese Sardinian, vowels ending each couplet are so nasalised that at first I wondered whether the singer didn't have actual Latin accusative endings preserved in his speech, and doubtless an ancient Roman would think so too - until they heard normally spoken Nuorese, that is.
 
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Quasus

Civis Illustris
Vel potius [kẼĩ] cum diphthongo nasali, ubi Ẽ variis modis proferri potest, exempli gratia [ɐ̃].
 
Quōmodo Lūsītānicē istaec phōnēmata prōferrī possint rēs omnīnō alia est atque ea sat implicāta. Jūstē tamen monēs in istā linguā diphthonga etiam esse nāsālia, nōn modo vōcālīs simplicīs; id quod ad Latīnum sermōnem nōn pertinet.
BTW, it's Tronski who points out the lack of confusion between m and n in his fundamental Historical grammar of the Latin language, even though both were "weakened" in the positions -m and -nf-, -ns-. He concludes that this may be an indication that -m retained some consonantal value.
Equidem rem hōc modo interpreter: AN litterātūra, quoniam prō sē longa vōcālis Á pōnī potuit dummodo in mediā vōce pōnerētur, jam ipsa vōcālī longae suppōnī coepit. -M autem cum vōcēs terminat, quoniam longās ante sē plānē nōn admittit (sīc grammaticī necnōn linguae Rōmānicae), semper brevem ante sē ostendit vōcālem. Ita fit ut variā vice quaeque litterātūra fungerētur, quod ipsum impedīmentō est quō minus hae duae litterātūrae inter sē confunderentur.

Nunc autem EIMFERIS prō 'īnferīs' equidem possim prō [ẽj̃] sūmere vel prō [ɪ:ɱ], ut puta sī scrīptor (seu caelātor) sonum medium longum inter [i:] et [e:] significāre voluerit, quis scit an et nāsālem, aut etiam /n/ [ɱ_f] per analogiam adjectā; neque ei IM scrībendum fuit quia -M littera brevem vōcālem ante sē ostendisset. Est ubi suspicārī licet istum sonum medium et in aliīs vōcibus extitisse quae ōlim diphthongum /ei/ habuerant, post plēraeque per /ī/ ecferrī coepērunt qubiusdam exceptīs (sibei, herei, -ī perfectum); quamquam est ubi EI et prō /i/ brevī invenītur.
 
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