Vowel quality vs. quantity

Clemens

Member
When I learned Latin, none of my teachers made any attempt to reflect vowel length in pronunciation, nor did they require it from us, even though we still had to learn where the macrons went (I think). Later in life, I've reopened Latin and made the effort to distinguish vowel lengths orally. It's a revelation! Poetry that had seemed completely opaque to me (in terms of its auditory effect) now makes sense. Medieval Latin poetry had always been more accessible to me, but it's because it ignores vowel length and relies on stress and rhyme, as traditional English poetry does. Classical poetry, with the language's prosodic features removed, is just a string of words with no apparent organization.
 

Quasus

Civis Illustris
I would envy you if I cared for poetry. How does a sequence of spondees like Quae te ultra tellus, quae gens feret, inclyte regum? make sense to you?
 

Clemens

Member
I'm by no means an expert on Classical versification, but an entire line of spondees might not be the best illustration of an interesting verse. My point is, the arrangement of long and short syllables is the basis for the metrical organization, and if you ignore vowel length, that organization and the interest it creates is lost.

By the way, I'm not familiar with the line you quoted. Where is it from?
 

Iáson

Cívis Illústris
Interesting. My guess would be that the spondees would slow down the first part of the line and thus give weight to the exclamatory question.

It would be interesting to know how Janus would have pronounced it. Hungarian (at least in modern form) has contrastive vowel length, so one imagines that he would have been able to have a good feel for the meter; but this depends on a lot of assumptions, knowing nothing about how Latin was studied in Hungary in the 15th century.
 

Quasus

Civis Illustris
My point is, the arrangement of long and short syllables is the basis for the metrical organization, and if you ignore vowel length, that organization and the interest it creates is lost.
I fully agree with you from theoretical standpoint. If anyone is curious about metrics, of course, he has to analyse verses through quantity.

As for appreciation of poetry, I'm afraid I can't share your enthusiasm.

In Pannonius' line every other heavy syllable is prominent in a way. That's ictus. So in order to appreciate the verse, you have to take into account not only quantity, but ictus as well, even though it's deductible from quantity. AFAIK we don't know what exactly ictus is, but in practice, stress is commonly substituted.

Now I confess that when I read with dynamic stress quAE t' ultrA tellUs, quae, I can't hear any metre but trochee, i. e. I perceive it as a verse in my native language. The equivalence of one heavy syllable and two light ones worked for Romans, but doesn't work for my ear. This means I'm unable to perceive the interplay of quantity as intended. If I say that gEns feret, Inclyte rEgum sounds all right for me, it's probably not thanks to quantities, but because it sounds like dactyl in my language. All in all, I think I perceive Latin poetry as if it were stress-based verse in a modern language with trochees disrupting the rhythm. Difficult meters (Horace?) just confuse me and I can't hear the pattern whatever.

Great if it's different for you.
 

Iáson

Cívis Illústris
It is. Quasus is saying, I think, that he finds it difficult to hear both the metrical stress and the word-stress at the same time.
 

Quasus

Civis Illustris
I mean that no matter what you call it, the nature of the "metrical stress" (or "ictus") is unknown. As far as I know. I even remember reading that in theory, ictus could be conveyed by gesticulation (don't ask me about the source). But certainly I don't know what the state of the art is.
 
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Bestiola

Speculatrix
Staff member
It would be interesting to know how Janus would have pronounced it. Hungarian (at least in modern form) has contrastive vowel length, so one imagines that he would have been able to have a good feel for the meter; but this depends on a lot of assumptions, knowing nothing about how Latin was studied in Hungary in the 15th century.
He was born and died in Croatia, educated in Italy, in the Guarini school and in Padua, only later did he move to the Matthias Corvinus' court. He was of mixed Croatian and Hungarian origin, even if Hungarians prefer to call him "Hungarian humanist" :p
 
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Iáson

Cívis Illústris
I mean that no matter what you call it, the nature of the "metrical stress" (or "ictus") is unknown. As far as I know. I even remember reading that in theory, ictus could be conveyed by gesticulation (don't ask me about the source). But certainly I don't know what the state of the art is.
I think it may be Allen who mentions the gesticulation theory, although I'm not sure the idea there is that it was entirely conveyed through tapping the foot.

The impression I get from Devine and Stephens' book (on Greek) is that, at least on their view, ictus is a fundamental property of the way humans hear rhythmic patterns. To give a trivial example, if you listen to a clock ticking, even if the ticks are the same amplitude and interval apart, your mind will automatically organise them into a 'tick-tock' pattern, and one of each pair may well sound regularly louder than the other to you (so to speak, it has an ictus). Humans can be coerced into grouping the sounds in a certain way by making alternate intervals longer or changing the intensity of alternate signals.

So ictus need not have actually been marked by any acoustic change. On the other hand, it seems fairly likely, given that the ictus/arsis syllables were perceived as having greater prominence, that the pattern was brought out by a small degree of increased intensity and durational adjustment. But this is not to say that this would have overridden the natural stress and vowel lengths of the words; rather, it occurred on the 'level above', as it were. (ie. a short syllable in ictus might be a bit longer than a short syllable which does not receive ictus, but it would not be as long as a long syllable).

But I've never seen anything explicitly laying this out in writing, so I might be misunderstanding the idea.
 

Iáson

Cívis Illústris
I've seen a lot of videos etc. and peoples' opinions bandied about on the matter, but not a lot of recent scholarship. Scorpio Martianus cites an article supporting the quality theory in one of his videos, but I've never been able to get hold of it. Vox Latina has the arguments on the existence of quality distinctions; but that was a while ago, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's been newer scholarship since. However, the latest articles that show up on Année philologique are from the 70s.
I have actually found the article now; Calabrese, A. (2003). 'On the evolution of the short high vowels of Latin into Romance'. In Pérez-Leroux, A. T. and Roberge, Y. (eds.) Romance Linguistics: Theory and Acquisition. Selected papers from the 32nd Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL), Toronto, April 2002 (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 244) (Amsterdam): 63-94. You can find a preview here, although I haven't yet found a place on the internet where it can be read for free in its entirety.
 

Clemens

Member
Imagine pronouncing imperator as "emberaator" (IPA [embeˈɾɑːtˤoɾ]) with a typical Eastern Arabic accent.
Hmm. أمبراطر (?) Maybe?

That makes me think Arabic or Japanese might be useful models in to get an idea of the long/short thing in Latin, especially Arabic, where a difference in length also entails a difference in quality.
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
I have actually found the article now; Calabrese, A. (2003). 'On the evolution of the short high vowels of Latin into Romance'. In Pérez-Leroux, A. T. and Roberge, Y. (eds.) Romance Linguistics: Theory and Acquisition. Selected papers from the 32nd Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL), Toronto, April 2002 (Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 244) (Amsterdam): 63-94. You can find a preview here, although I haven't yet found a place on the internet where it can be read for free in its entirety.
I was able to find it in full here in this archive.org page. And I found the link on Calabrese's personal page on University of Connecticut's site, which has links to most of his other publications (isn't he nice!). I haven't read it yet though, but from a very quick skim of it, it seems to rely on typological arguments and the model of phonological features, with some reference to Greek transcriptions of Latin. It should be interesting to discuss it, particularly as the YouTuber ScorpioMartianus seems to be currently popularizing its conclusions.

Serenus dixit:
Imagine pronouncing imperator as "emberaator" (IPA [embeˈɾɑːtˤoɾ]) with a typical Eastern Arabic accent.
Hmm. أمبراطر (?) Maybe?

That makes me think Arabic or Japanese might be useful models in to get an idea of the long/short thing in Latin, especially Arabic, where a difference in length also entails a difference in quality.
Yeah, إمبراطر. This word exists in Arabic though, but as I understand, over there it's إمبراطور [embɑɾˤɑːˈtˤuːɾ] (imbaraaṭúur...).

Unlike Arabic/English/German, Japanese doesn't have differences in quality in long vowels much though...
 
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