Latin Pronunciation of short i /ɪ/

Polpo_D

Senior Member
English ϟ USA
Many sources claim Classical Latin pronunciation had both a long /i/ as in teeth, and an (English/German) short /ɪ/ as in bit. What strikes me as odd is that none of the Standard Romance Languages have a short /ɪ/ sound.
Latin regional pronunciation - Wikipedia

The dialectical varieties of Romance languages that do have a short /ɪ/ seem to have acquired it from outside influences such as English & Arabic where you see it appearing in Québécois French & Andalusian Spanish.
Near-close near-front unrounded vowel - Wikipedia

So I'm wondering, did short /ɪ/ actually exist in Latin, and if so how did all the Romance languages unanimously agree to do away with it? To me it seems there's a possibility that our understanding is a Germanisation of the Latin language. Does this seem right to you, or what do you think happened to the short /ɪ/ sound in all of the Romance Languages?
 
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  • Scholiast

    Senior Member
    saluete omnes!

    This enquiry genuinely puzzles me. For a start, yes, there are most certainly distinctions between short and long -i- in Latin, witness any standard manual of Latin grammar or prosody.

    But surely there are short 'i's in Romance legacy languages too? Fr., for example, il (as opposed to ils), filou, Ιt. spaghetti, vinto...

    That said, I recall having great difficulty persuading (German-speaking) Swiss students to get the hang of the short -i- when attempting to teach them scansion of Latin verse...

    Just thinking aloud right now, 'tis late.

    Σ

     

    Polpo_D

    Senior Member
    English ϟ USA
    It's true that Italian has a stressed and unstressed -i-.

    for example: cita & città

    But both of these are still examples of the "close front unrounded" -i- as in the English "see".
    I believe this is the same for Standard French & Spanish.

    The short -i- I'm referring to is the "near-close near-front unrounded" -i- which exists in English & Standard German, and most sources claim, existed in Classical Latin. To my knowledge il, filou, spaghetti, & vinto all use the "close front unrounded" -i-, not the kind of short -i- you find in English words like: sit, bit, knit, etc.


     
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    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    It seems to me that this pronunciation of Latin short /i/ as [ɪ] is merely a conjecture based on it's development in romance languages: while Latin long /iː/ remains /i/, Latin short /i/ develops into /e/ in all Romance languages but Sardinian. The sound [ɪ] would then be a hypothetical middle stage in that development.
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    Edit: apparently, it is not merely a conjecture - there is evidence for it in the form of Greek transcriptions of Latin words, where Latin short /i/ was transcribed using the epsilon letter, which suggests an open pronunciation.
     

    Testing1234567

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    What strikes me as odd is that none of the Standard Romance Languages have a short /ɪ/ sound.
    This is because, as the user above me mentioned, that the short /ɪ/ sound merged with the long /e/ sound in Vulgar Latin, the ancestor of almost all standard romance languages. In Sardinian, it merged with the long /i/ sound (if I recall correctly).
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings everyone

    A propos Zec's remarks (#5), I haven't the tools to hand with which to illustrate this, but observe L&S on Latin (short) e:

    "Its sound varied; short e being sounded sometimes like Engl. e in men (so in pater, inter, etc.), sometimes more nearly like short i, as in Engl. pin (so in famelia, mereto, Menerva, etc.); whence, in the literary language, it passed, in a large class of words, into ĭ (familia, merito, etc.), though retained in the popular speech, and oft. in inscriptions."

    Σ
     

    Zec

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    @Zec Do you have any example?

    I'm afraid I have forgotten in which book I had found these examples - but here are new ones from Allen's Vox Graeca, this time from Greek into Latin: Gr. Ὰρτεμισία > Lat. Artimisia, Gr. Φιλουμένη > Lat. Philumina. According to Allen, these examples suggest Latin short /i/ was pronounced close to Greek short /e/.
     

    Testing1234567

    Senior Member
    Cantonese
    I'm afraid I have forgotten in which book I had found these examples - but here are new ones from Allen's Vox Graeca, this time from Greek into Latin: Gr. Ὰρτεμισία > Lat. Artimisia, Gr. Φιλουμένη > Lat. Philumina. According to Allen, these examples suggest Latin short /i/ was pronounced close to Greek short /e/.

    But Ἀρτεμισία was a Greek queen who lived in 480 BCE. Wikipedia does list Φιλουμένη > Philumina and ἐμπόριον > empurium as evidence. Wikipedia also lists trebibos/tribibus, minsis/mēnsis, sob/sub, and punere/pōnere as evidence.
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    In Sicilian and related languages Latin /iː, i, eː/ all merged into [ɪ]; the most famous example is minchia :warning: [ˈmɪŋkja, -k͜ça] from Latin mentula(m). The absence of [ɪ] in major Romance languages has caused to appear unlikely its presence in Classical Latin; minor Romance languages and dialects must be studied to have a thorough overview of the fact.
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    Modern Romance languages not having [ɪ] isn't too relevant by itself; that shouldn't prevent us from reconstructing this value in Latin any more than the fact that modern English has no distinction between between /u/ and /y/ prevents us from reconstructing that distinction in Old English. As Testing1234567 mentioned, [ɪ] is supposed to have merged with other sounds: [e] in Italic, Western and Eastern Romance, but with /i/ in Sardinian, and apparently also with /i/ in extinct African romance language varieties.

    There is some dispute about the accuracy of [ɪ] as a reconstruction of the short i sound. One argument is based on the timeline of when Romance languages split from each other. If Italic, Western and Eastern Romance all share a common ancestor that is not shared by Sardinian and the African varieties that merged short i with long i, then we can suppose that there was a single change of [ɪ] to [e] in this common ancestor that was then inherited into Italian, French, Spanish, etc., rather than the sound independently changing in each of these individual languages. In fact, it seems to be common to date the split of Sardinian earlier than the split of the other branches: so far, then, this seems consistent with the idea of a single change from [ɪ] > [e] and another change in Sardinian from [ɪ] > . However, Andrea Calabrese ("On the evolution of short high vowels of Latin into Romance") argues that there are then two separate cases of a [ɪ] > change that we are forced to postulate: one in African Romance, and one in "southern Lucanian (San Chirico Raparo)" (apparently an obscure language of Italy); making for a total of three independent occurrences of a sound change [ɪ] > —whereas supposing that short i was originally lets us avoid this coincidence. Calabrese also presents some other, worse arguments for Classical Latin short i having the same quality as long i.

    The individual examples of transcriptions into and from Greek that Allen mentions (and that have been posted in this thread) look quite convincing at first glance, but I've become a bit suspicious that they may be (quite possibly inadvertently) cherry-picked to support the conclusion: suprisingly, I haven't been able to find any corpus data that supports the idea that Latin short i was more likely than long i to be transcribed as ε. To the contrary, the two corpus analyses dealing with Greek transcriptions of Latin that I found, Rovai 2015 and Kantor 2017, show slightly higher token frequencies of the spelling epsilon for long ī, the opposite of what we would expect if Latin short ĭ was [ɪ] and long ī was [iː]: (ε is used for 9.7% of transcriptions of Latin ĭ vs 12.5% of transcriptions of Latin ī per Rovai page 179, and for 2.54% of transcriptions of ĭ vs. 4.40% transcriptions of ī per Kantor page 136). There are only a few total examples for long ī (4/32 in Rovai, 4/91 in Kantor), but the greater number of examples of ε for short i (8/83 in Rovai, 6/236 in Kantor) could just be because short i is a more common sound than long i in Latin. We also see that in both of these corpora, the most common transcription of Latin short i is clearly ι. While I'm not sure how to interpret this data, it doesn't seem like an obvious proof of Latin short i being [ɪ].
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    The absence of [ɪ] in major Romance languages has caused to appear unlikely its presence in Classical Latin
    In fact the opposite is true. Linguistic innovation famously spreads from the center of a linguistic area and affects major population centres first. The most conservative varieties are regularly the small and isolated ones (Lithuanian, Sardinian, Icelandic, Elfdalian are classic examples).

    In general, absence of a systematic linguistic feature from all daugher languages in no way means that it was absent from the parent language. It means that change took place in all these varieties which eliminated this feature. No Romance language has the ablative case – this only means that all of them restructured their nominal system to eliminate it. There are numerous Latin words that don't survive in any Romance variety, even in the most obscure dialects – this only means they were replaced with other, more distinct, trendy, well-known words everywhere.

    [ɪ] in Latin, as in many languages, was tied to vowel length. Short vowels across all languages tend to be articulated less sharply for purely physiological reasons – there's less time to put your tongue in the right position. Many languages systematise this in order enhance vowel length contrasts, and obligatorily make short vowels lax as opposed to long vowels which are obligatorily tense. This is well-known from Germanic, Lithuanian, Sanskrit-derived languages etc. Speakers of languages that make no such contrast don't hear the lax-tense difference at all, which is why half the world struggles with the English vowel system.

    When each Romance variety lost the vowel length contrast, [ɪ] in most cases disappeared together with it and was reinterpreted as one of the other vowels. No Romance variety preserves the Latin vowel length contrast, so none directly preserves the Latin [ɪ]. No basic contrast, no secondary laxness.

    There are in fact many Romance varieties that do have [ɪ], but this time either as a separate phoneme, or a result of metaphony – just not as a secondary attribute of vowel shortness. It's very widespread in the south of Italy, often in the stressed position, reflecting the merger of La /ī, ĭ, ē/ – as in the Sicilian vowel system. Cf. the Lausberg zone, which probably extended over much larger parts of Southern Italy in earlier times.

    (I'm splitting off the rest of the message, also since it replies to a different user).
     
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    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    @sumelic While I can't offer the statistical data you're looking for, I can point out that the data you present doesn't point to the opposite conclusion. In Rovai 2015, the difference between 9.7% and 12.5% is statistically insignificant. Both Kantor's data are touching the noize floor, and the seemingly two-fold difference must be disregarded.

    Most importantly, the two papers you cite are open to be weaponised to argue for two diametically opposite conclusions regarding the short /ŭ/. In Rovai's Delos data, 39 out of 39 instances of /ŭ/ are transcribed as Gr. <Ο>; in Kantor's data, 169/188 or 89.89% are transcribed as <ΟΥ>, and only 18/188 or 9.57% as <Ο>. What is an uninformed observer to make of this? Why, whatever the unscrupulous author wants them to, of course. Or, as someone who probably never said it said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”. (Among other things, a careful observer will notice that the nominative -us has been excluded from consideration by Kantor).

    The importance of the 39/39 number appears when juxtaposed to homogeneous data, i.e. to the transcription of /ĭ/ in the same corpus, and when both are looked at in light of historical-comparative evidence. This evidence tells us that no Romance variety merges /ŭ/ with /ō/ without merging /ĭ/ with /ē/; but Daco-Rumanian together with some Southern Italian varieties do the opposite (the Lausberg link). Thus, if /ŭ/ was [ʊ] on Delos as the data indicates, then /ĭ/ must have been [ɪ]. Bohemian Czech offers a cross-linguistic parallel, since in it /ĭ/ and /ī/ are clearly differentiated by laxness but /ŭ/ and /ū/ are not. No satsifying explanation of the Delos transcriptions of front vowels can be offered without first establishing the nature of the vowel system of Delian Greek, which like all Koiné Greek must have been characterised by the tendency to raise long front vowels.

    (Personally, I would suggest that <Ε> is a graphical shortening for the digraph <EI> to mean “the short vowel that has the quality of the long vowel spelled as <EI>”. Latin itself sometimes uses this spelling for both the long and the short /i/, especially after another <I>, so that the nom. pl. of personal names in <IVS> is spelled as <IE>. This probably indicates dissimilatory lack of raising of the original diphthong /ei/, which regularly merged with /ī/.)​

    As for Calabrese's paper, it's a theoretical proposal intended to be read by specialists in phonological theroy. It has been dredged up and used in the most irresponsible ways by people who falsely pretend to understand what it says. Not only do they not, the paper itself is filled with self-contradictions. On pp. 79-81, Calabrese goes to great length to state that the elimination of [-ATR] (= lax) vowels [ɪ, ʊ] can result not only in [e, o] but in [i, u] and even [ɛ, ɔ]. He postulates the operation of Negation to explain the former change, and Delinking to explain the latter. All three reflexes presuppose [ɪ, ʊ] as the starting point. Nowhere in the paper is the existence of the stage [ɪ, ʊ] denied. It's only the chronology that's at issue.

    (The “two separate identical shifts” suggestion is plainly untenable, as there are well-established linguistic links between Southern Italy, Africa and Sardinia. Southern Italy is where African innovations penetrate into Italy. These resulted in whole areas of Sardinian-type vocalism, as well as various intermediary systems. Arguably, the actual explanation is that Africa was settled by speakers of Southern Italian varieties of Latin; these and other innovations later came back to roost from Africa).​

    And there's the rub. While Allen only confidently describes this state of the vowel system for the 4-5th centuries AD, and regards earlier evidence is not conclusive enough, Calabrese instead says the following on p.76 (emphasis mine), basing this exclusively (it seems) on Pompeiian evidence:
    Given that the inscriptional records shows that that the replacement of ě with ae begins to occur around the first century AD, we must conclude that the process differentiating the [ATR] values of short and long vowels must have already occurred around this time.

    ...which places it smack-dab in the middle of Classical Latin. This is not the place to discuss all the ways in which Calabrese's is self-contradictory (in fact it's three different earlier papers glued together). What I'm trying to demonstrate is that people who cherry-pick Calabrese's paper to claim lack of differentiation in laxness (what some modern frameworks describe in terms of [AdvancedTongueRoot], not uncontroversially) in Classical Latin can be cherry-picked right back at using that same paper, especially if one actually has enough grounding in theoretical phonology to understand what it says.

    Please forgive this reply's argumentative tone, but the situation with that paper is a specimen of ideologically weaponised science used to promote an esthetically-driven language ideology, which is reactionary to what the OP calls “the Germanisation of the Latin language” and hence can be called the Italianisation of the Latin language, and I wish this misguided campaign could be stopped for good.
     
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    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    what do you think happened to the short /ɪ/ sound in all of the Romance Languages?
    There is some dispute about the accuracy of [ɪ] as a reconstruction of the short i sound. One argument is based on the timeline of when Romance languages split from each other. If Italic, Western and Eastern Romance all share a common ancestor that is not shared by Sardinian and the African varieties that merged short i with long i, then we can suppose that there was a single change of [ɪ] to [e] in this common ancestor that was then inherited into Italian, French, Spanish, etc., rather than the sound independently changing in each of these individual languages.

    That is right, or what is more commonly assumed. If in most "Italo-Western" languages long i turned into i but short i merged with close e, that points to a difference between both that probably had become more of quality than of quantity.
     

    sumelic

    Senior Member
    English - California
    Thank you @Sobakus for the detailed response. I've been concerned for a little while now about how to interpret data related to Latin vowel quality so I appreciate hearing others' thoughts on the topic.

    I certainly think it's unlikely that ĭ and ī had the respective qualities i and ɪː. The reason I mentioned the percentages from Rovai and Kantor is because I originally had looked at those articles expecting that they would provide evidence for for the values of ɪ and iː, and I was surprised by how little support they seemed to offer. Absence of expected evidence for a hypothesis can be a form of indirect evidence against it, although I think I do need to do a more careful evaluation of the statistics.

    As I said earlier, I find much of Calabrese's paper to be badly argued, but the point about multiple separate shifts from ɪ to i appeared to be the best argument (he considers it the strongest piece of evidence in the paper). I didn't know that there was a case to be made that Sardinian, African Romance, and Southern Italy might share common innovations not found in other Romance languages.
     
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