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Macrons, their importance / Latin vowel length

Discussion in 'Lingua Latina (Latin)' started by Nigellus_Summanus, Jan 15, 2009.

  1. Nigellus_Summanus New Member

    Small Town America
    English (American/British)
    Hey! So I was wondering how important are the macrons (the "dash" ¯ ) over over long vowels?

    Thanks,

    Nigellus Summanus
     
  2. Starfrown

    Starfrown Senior Member

    Columbia, SC
    English - US
    I would say that they are very important, at least in the beginning of your studies. The macron can mean the difference between ira "anger" and irā "because of [lit. from] anger." It reduces the load on the beginner somewhat by reducing the number of identical forms, and also is important for pronunciation. Of course, as time goes on, you will become less dependent on the macron--that is to say, you will often know where it should be placed without having to see it written, especially in inflectional endings. In poetry, meter will often tell you where the long vowels are. That said, in many cases, it is impossible to know whether or not a vowel has a macron without looking it up.
     
  3. effeundici Senior Member

    Italy
    Italian - Tuscany
    1. And then when you, english speakers, see those macrons pronounce the vowels in a different way,right?

    2. What's the difference between a long and short vowel? The same as in bin and bean ?
     
  4. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Yes, I try to.

    No, the macron describes the quantity, not quality, of a vowel -- i.e. vowel length.

    Like in Italian, consonant length in Latin was shown by doubling consonants, e.g. anus vs. annus. The [n] sound in the latter is held longer than in the former.

    Well, same with vowel length: long vowels were simply held longer than short vowels, but the vowels were indeed the same sound (had the same vowel quality). However, unlike consonant length, vowel length was not shown in spelling, so dictionaries, grammars, etc. will use macrons to show long vowels.
     
  5. effeundici Senior Member

    Italy
    Italian - Tuscany
    Isn't this exactly the difference between bIn and bi:n ?
     
  6. brian

    brian Senior Member

    Montréal
    AmE (New Orleans)
    No...

    bin = ['bɪn]
    bean = ['biːn]

    The two words do differ in vowel length (bean is longer), but they also differ in vowel quality: they contain two different vowels, and [ɪ]. Or maybe you were just ignoring the quality difference and were just pointing out the length difference, in which case, yes, you're right.

    A better example would be:

    bat = ['bæt]
    bad = [ˈbæːd]

    The two words contain the same vowel, but it's held longer in bad. (This may only apply to AE, though.)
     
  7. effeundici Senior Member

    Italy
    Italian - Tuscany
    Exactly!! I ignored it and I think I will ignore it for the rest of my life.

    Thank you Brian
     
  8. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    And why do you choose egō instead of ego? If we're talking about Late Latin, then the bin/bean business isn't so far off the mark…
     
  9. Stoicorum_simia Senior Member

    English (UK)


    I think both cases depend on what kind of English you are speaking. The vowels in bin/bean are very similar in British English, and correspond fairly closely to the way in which most people pronounce the short and long i in Latin; although it seems that in classical Latin, short i was quite close to short e.
     
  10. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    In some languages, among them English, German but also Vulgar Latin vowel long and short vowels also differ in quality, not only in length. In English long and short vowels underwent different sound shift during the "Great Vowel Shift". This is why they so different.

    It is generally assumed that Vulgar Latin had the same 9 vowel qualities as German (German has the "Umlauts" on top): long and short "a" have the same quality; for "e", "i", "o" and "u" the short vowels are more open than the long ones. E.g. a short "i" is like in English "live" and a long "i" as in English "leave".

    The vowel qualities of Classical Latin are less certain. The short mid-vowels, i.e. "e" and "o" probably were already in Classical Latin more open than their long counterparts. Whether this applied the close vowels "i" and "u" as well is unclear.
    I am pretty sure "bin" pronounced [bin] rather than [bɪn] sounds wrong to an BE speaker as well, namely like "been" spoken very quickly. Native speakers are often not aware of the quality difference. I remember it came as a surprise to me as well when I leaned phonetics.

    EDIT: After I wrote this, it dawned on me that you probably though of the shortened pronunciation of "been" in BE which is indeed similar to "bin" (a bit further back, I think). The difference between short open and long closed "i" is also present in the word pair live/leave.
    In classical Latin this is unclear. In Vulgar Latin certainly. When vowel lengths ceased to be phonemic, long "e" and short "i" were indeed often confused. This explains, e.g., why Latin "de" (long "e") became "di" in Italian.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2009
  11. Stoicorum_simia Senior Member

    English (UK)
    Sorry, I should have said long e, not short e; see Allen, Vox Latina p 49. But I think the i/e confusion is there already in the early imperial period, when we find Latin short i frequently rendered into Greek as epsilon.
     
  12. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    The more typical direction of this merger was /[e:] > [e]. As in dictu(m) > detto. That is the "spontaneous" change that is reflected throughout most of Romance: the long vowel [e:] kept its quality, while the short vowel was naturally pronounced more open than the corresponding long [i:].

    The many many cases of merger in the opposite direction /[e:] > at the same time in Tuscan/Florentine (and now in standard Italian) then have to be dealt with separately, and I don't think there are always convincing explanations.
     
  13. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I don't disagree with you there. Whatever the precise reasons were in each case. These mergers were facilitated by the near indistinguishability of /e:/ and /i/ once vowel lengths became non-phonemic for which the multitude of them is a clear hint.
     
  14. ciao amore

    ciao amore Junior Member

    Ankara
    Türkçe
    Hi,

    I'd like to ask something about the macrons that I come across off and on. I particulary see all the macrons in a script of a book. But, for instance, I've not seen anyone here when to write. Is it optional to write the words with their macrons ? Can it be regarded as formal or informal in terms of its usage ?

    Best Regards,

    Emre.
     
  15. Starfrown

    Starfrown Senior Member

    Columbia, SC
    English - US
    I made a post on the importance of macrons a while back.

    EDIT: In light of Flaminius' post below, I have deleted the incorrect information in mine. I was not aware of the practice of using apices to mark long vowels. The information in the linked post is still valid, however.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2009
  16. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    The Romans used the apex, which is not reflected in modern Latin anthologies. [The Wiki article opines that they are too small and thin to be noticed. I don't find it too plausible. Some Greek manuscripts write accents almost hardly legible.]
     
  17. James Bates Senior Member

    English America
    Assuming one is not interested in the scansion of poetry, does it really make a difference whether one memorizes the macrons as part of the spelling of a new word when learning Latin or ignores them? Or does the conjugation of a verb or declension of a noun occasionally hinge on the presence or absence of a macron?
     
  18. radagasty Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    Australia, Cantonese
    In short, YES.

    The conjugation of verbs and declension of nouns does occasionally hinge on the macrons, so to speak. For example, the ablative singular in the first declension is differentiated from the nominative solely by vowel length: e.g., nom. puella - abl. puellā. In the verbs, for instance, the future perfect is differentiated from the perfect subjunctive solely by vowel length in many places, e.g.:

    fut. perf. perf. subj.
    --------- ----------
    cēperō......cēperim
    cēperis......cēperīs
    cēperit......cēperit
    cēperimus cēperīmus
    cēperitis....cēperītis
    cēperint....cēperint

    Given that Latin texts are generally not printed with vowel lengths marked, however, this is probably not an important reason for learning the vowel lengths.

    I am, however, firmly in favour of learning vowel lengths as an integral part of learning the language. The most important reason for this, in my mind, is that the placement of stress in Latin words is determined by the syllable lengths. Latin cannot be read aloud without knowing where the stress occurs, so I would advise you either to learn the vowel lengths, or, failing that, to learn where each word (taking inflexions into account ) is to be stressed.
     
  19. James Bates Senior Member

    English America
    Thank you!
     
  20. radagasty Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    Australia, Cantonese
    Note that many books/dictionaries which do use the macron to indicate long vowels do not do so consistently, especially with regard to so-called hidden quantities, i.e., the length of a vowel before two consonants. Admittedly, they are often uncertain, but philological deduction has produced satisfactory conclusions in most cases, and I think it helps the learner to have them marked.

    For example, the length of the first vowel in the infinitives velle, nolle and malle are hidden, are they are therefore so printed in many books that mark long vowels. Their first person singular present forms, however, are volō, nōlo and mālō respectively. One might well wonder at the inconsistency: why has the first vowel been lengthened in the latter two, but not the first? Well... the infinitives are really velle, lle and mālle and if the hidden quantities had been indicated in the first place, there would have been no discrepancy.

    I would therefore advise you to take care, if you're going to learn where the long vowels occur, that the books you choose do indicate hidden quantities, uncertain though they may occasionally be.
     
  21. James Bates Senior Member

    English America
    Thank you!
     
  22. Starfrown

    Starfrown Senior Member

    Columbia, SC
    English - US
    I would encourage the OP to read up on the distinction between syllables "long by nature" and those "long by position."

    Your spelling "nōlle" seems to suggest that the short vowel changes its quality in this word--not merely that the syllable is long. I'm not sure exactly how certain we can be of such things, but I always thought that the first syllable of nolle was long because of the length of time it requires to pronounce the doubled consonant--that is to say, the "o" is pronounced as though short (an open "o"), but the syllable is long as a result of consonant doubling. Again, I don't think scholars are absolutely certain on this point, but it's worth noting as a point for investigation if readers of this thread are interested.
     
  23. Imber Ranae Senior Member

    English - USA
    Why would the vowel be inexplicably short in the infinitive when it is long everywhere else? Unless you're proposing some rule whereby vowels before geminate consonants must be short...
     
  24. Starfrown

    Starfrown Senior Member

    Columbia, SC
    English - US
    Actually...I'm not sure now why I posted what I did. As a contraction of nōn velle, nōlle should indeed have a long vowel.

    I suppose I responded without paying full attention to the verb being used, and I'm definitely not suggesting that vowels before geminate consonants must be short. If anything, I think I was hoping to stress to the OP rather the opposite, namely that a short vowel before a geminate consonant will not be pronounced as though long. That is, its quality will not change, but the syllable will be regarded as long because of the length of time it takes to pronounce the doubled consonant. I, however, don't know how much basis this has in reality. It might be an interesting point to discuss in this thread.
     

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