Our Latin Kin

Not all relations between Latin and English counterparts may be described as derivation. There are a few genuine parallels that stem from a more distant common relation (proto-Indo-European). With these words, Latin is less a mother or grandmother, and more of a cousin.

As we can imagine, this kind of relationship features more striking variations in phonetic form than direct derivation. As Latin and (what A&G call) Primitive Germanic began to undergo separate consonantal and vowel shifts, their PIE derivations took on similar yet distinct forms, which eventually conformed to distinct phonological rules in each family of languages.

(*ph₂tḗr) —> pater / father

(*bʰer) —> ferō / bear, frater / brother

(*dwṓu) —> duo / two, (dēns) dentis / tooth

(*h₁rew) —> ruber / red

(*h₂wḗh) —> ventus / wind

(*sneygʷʰ) —> nive / snow

(*ǵʰans) —> ānser / goose

For those interested, you’ll find a larger list in A&G (19). There are some general phonological rules we see emerging: the aspirated b of PIE becomes Lain f/b and English f/b/v, the aspirated d of PIE becomes Latin f/b/d but in English only d, etc.

The Essential AG: 18, 19

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)

Ablaut in Latin

Ablaut, by my reading, is the phenomenon of vowel gradation (phonetic variation) within related words of the same language, derived from parallel variations in the parent language.

Some English ablaut variations:

  • ‘strong verbs’ : sing, sang and sung / ring, rang and rung
  • nouns : man, men / goose, geese

This same variation exists within Latin:

  • tegō, I cover; toga, robe
  • pendō, I weigh; pondus, weight
  • fidēs, faith; fīdus, faithful, foedus, treaty
  • regō, I rule; rēx, king
  • dūcō, I lead; dux, leader

Ablaut will often demonstrate grammatical demarcations between nouns and related verbs, but also between various tense-stems of the same verb:

  • cadō, I fall; cecidī, I fell

The Essential AG: 17

I knew nothing whatsoever about ablaut before designing this post, so if any visiting linguists would like to expand in the comments below, I encourage them to do so.