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

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