The Latin Syllabe

Latin syllables are numbered according to the separate vowels and diphthongs within a word.

a-ci-ē (3), fī-li-us (3), etc.

A consonant is generally contained within the unit of a following vowel, except where there is a double consonant, since paired consonants are always separated, or where a consonant ends a word.

pa-ter (2), in-iū-ri-a (4), mit-tō (2)

(Not that is a semi-consonantal glide pairing, where the i is sounded as the English y.)

This rule becomes trickier with double consonants: what do we do with dixit? (dix-it or di-xit?)

  • A&G prefer dix-it, but acknowledge there is no hard and fast rule. Like the corresponding Greek ξ, this word would have been sounded as dic-sit, so it’s really a matter of preference where you put the double consonant.
  • Luckily, the double consonants, sd and ps, are much rarer in Latin

Note the distinction between a

  • Any syllable founding with a vowel or diphthong is open.
  • Any syllable ending with a consonant is closed.

In compounds, the rules are modified a little to mark the separation of compounded parts.

du-plex (2) instead of dup-lex (2) [it’s not clear to me whether this is a matter of A&G convention, or broader Latin phonological patterns of pronunciation.]

The Essential AG: 7, 7a-b

The Latin ‘V’

That is, the Latin /u/, /ʊ/ and /w/ (all encased within Vv).

Latin script did not differentiate between V and U. Historically, V originally represented the sound of U, and F represented the sound of W (much like the the beloved digamma [ϝ] of Greek). All four of these sounds /u/ and /ʊ/, /f/ and /w/ existed in the Latin language over the entire historic period. The confusion arises from a change in script, not a change in speech.

So, /u/ and /ʊ/ were V and /w/ was F, but then F became /f/, so V also became /w/, resulting in V as /w/, /u/ and /ʊ/. The V was one letter with three phonetic powers: two vowels, and one consonant. To make matters more reasonable, but perhaps also more confusing, the consonant /w/ is considered a semi-vowel, glide or approximate. Must like the Latin I (where i operates as glide consonant /y/), the Latin V is always followed by a vowel, and is effective the ‘edge’ of the vowels syllabic unit.

Let’s look at some examples.

  • Greetings, Julius Caesar = AVE IVLIVS CÆSAR = avē, Iūlius Caesar ~ /awe yuliʊs kʰαιzeɹ/

This example has pretty much everything we need to see. It shows all three uses of V = as a glide, attached to the long ē in avē, as a long ū and as a short u.

Note that that proper ‘u‘ can also approach the English w /w/: aqua, anguis, cōnsuētus [cf. quart, anguish, suave]

The Essential AG: 5n

The Latin ‘I’

Semi-consonant. Glide. Approximant.

These are all terms befitting the Latin i, which operates as both a consonant (Iūlius) and a vowel (iter) within the language. The precise rule is this:

The Latin i is a vowel (pronounced long /i/ as in the English feet /fit/ or short as in the English tittle /ɪ/), yet operates as a glide as in the English yes /y/ when placed before another vowel (so with iacet, Iūlius, and Io! Io!).

Recall that Latin didn’t differentiate between these variants within its written script. They are both I.

The Essential AG: 5 and 5n1

(also, for those curious, a ‘tittle’ is the dot over an i)