What's the rule for pronouncing Y?

Discipulus Probus

New Member
Hello,

I'm working with the series, "Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata" and am currently starting the 5th chapter. I've been using Luke's readings as a guide for pronunciation, but now have a question regarding "y" in Latin words.

In the word Syria, it's pronounced like an "i", but in the word Peristylum, it's pronounced like an "u".

Is there a rule for how to read "y"?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Or a German ü.

Y occurs only in Greek borrowings (barred some misspellings like lacryma for lacrima). It has a sound (the same as the French u or German ü, as has been said) that does not originally exist in Latin. It is likely that at least educated Latin speakers, who usually knew Greek, pronounced it as in Greek. I'm not sure everyone did so, though. It's possible that some pronounced it as an i or u, but I don't know what evidence we have for this apart from the fact that it did end up sounding like i in medieval Latin and many modern languages.

The Greek sound can be hard for an English speaker to produce because it doesn't exist in English (though it used to in Old English). A trick is that if you say "eeee" and round your lips at the same time, you should end up with that sound.
 
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EstQuodFulmineIungo

Well-Known Member
After reading this thread I have another question. I think it's related to what the original poster has asked:
Can I ask you whether in your opinion it would be more correct to spell "hyems" or "hiems"?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Hiems.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Yes, hyems, like lacryma, is a misspelling — very common in medieval manuscripts, but maybe it already occurred earlier, I don't know — made by people for whom i and y sounded the same and who therefore confused them. Hiems isn't a Greek borrowing; it's an originally Latin noun that has always had an i and never a y sound as far as it can be traced.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Possibly, but it depends what you mean by "Suu-ria"...
 

Godmy

Sīmia Illustris
I'm not sure everyone did so, though. It's possible that some pronounced it as an i or u, but I don't know what evidence we have for this apart from the fact that it did end up sounding like i in medieval Latin and many modern languages.
I would probably agree mostly, but we also have to keep in mind that according to the restituted pronunciation, Latin had natively some sort of "middle vowel" too [with pretty much the "y" vowel quality] which would have been in the words such as optumus/optimus (hence the two spellings) and perhaps in all superlatives with this suffix(?), but then, this may be rather reflecting some archaic or pre-archaic stage of Latin than the classical period where it would settle either on i or u in these words. But I'm not sure anymore (It's been a long time I studied it.)
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Latin had natively some sort of "middle vowel" too [with pretty much the "y" vowel quality]
I've heard of that before, but I wasn't sure if that sound was /y/ or something else. Now maybe you'll say, what else could there be between i and u...
 

Bitmap

Civis Illustris
Is it for the same reason you mentioned lacrima and lacryma?
Yes, hyems, like lacryma, is a misspelling — very common in medieval manuscripts, but maybe it already occurred earlier, I don't know — made by people for whom i and y sounded the same and who therefore confused them. Hiems isn't a Greek borrowing; it's an originally Latin noun that has always had an i and never a y sound as far as it can be traced.
I used to think that it is less of an error than actual intention because some handwritings relied heavily on very similar arcs for many letters (just like in modern handwriting, there are people where you cannot tell apart u, n or m) ... so "lacrima" could easily look like "laciiiiia" in handwriting or like "lacnma" ... or "hiems" could easily look like "iiiems" ... so the y was put in there instead of an i to make the spelling clearer and easier to read.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
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