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Vox Latina: A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin Paperback – Dec 22 2003
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"This book is a model of clarity and succinctness. Professor Allen picks his way through a maze of converging and diverging evidence, and presents an intelligible and credible account of what classical Latin sounded like." Phonetica
"It is a reference that all Latin teachers should own." The Modern Language Journal
About the Author
Allen, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Philology in the University of Cambridge.
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VOX LATINA presupposes no knowledge of general linguistics and is accessible by any undergraduate studying Latin. It includes a ten-page introduction to phonetics to get the reader up to speed. The reconstruction pronunciation is divided into six areas, these being consonants, vowels, vowel length, vowel junction, accent, and quantity. A series of appendices contains selected quotations from Latin grammarians and a chronology of these sources, a history of Latin pronunciation in England, and the names of the letters of the alphabet in Latin.
My only real complaints are the same as those I have against VOX GRAECA, namely that Sidney Allen uses "y" to transcribe one of the semivowels instead of "j" as the IPA would have it. And though the IPA (with Allen's idiosyncracies) is used through most of the book, the quick-reference "Summary of Recommended Pronunciations" at the end gives examples with analogies to undependable Received Pronunciation English, French or German sounds ("o as German 'Bott'", "short u as in English 'put'").
If you are a Latin student interested in broader themes of historical linguistics, VOX LATINA is an essential purchase, as is its companion VOX GRAECA. A secure knowledge of the reconstructed pronunciation will be of enormous help in drawing comparisons with other Indo-European languages and memorising Proto-Indo-European roots.
Professor Allen first discusses the many ways Latin has been pronounced, including Church Latin, proto-Romance (iirc), and some of the gods-awful constructs heard in British boys' academies and similar settings. He then pieces together, as much as one can from ancient grammarians and other primary sources, just what sound elements most likely *did* make up Classical Latin. His schematic makes room for the development of Latin after its "Golden Age" (which is where Marius gets off with his Spanish V's; Cicero would've been appalled, but they were trending that direction by Quintilian's time).
There are no final answers here, only best guesses--and as with so much else in Roman civilization, the "right" thing really depends on what year it was and which neck of the woods you were in. Find it used; it's worth the search!
I do take issues with certain things though.
It seems a shame to me that the loss of distinction between T and D in word-final position was not mentioned. (c.f. Quintilian "ut 'ad' cum esset præpositio, 'd' litteram, cum autem coniuctio, 't' acciperet.")
On the issue of short I after QV, Allen leaves the reader with a somewhat confusing impression. On the one hand, he relies on grammarians such as Priscian to show that the I in such words as "quis" and "vir" had a more rounded quality. On the other, he quotes Priscian to the effect that the QV before front vowels (like "I") had a fronted secondary articulation. One is left wondering whether to front the labial consonant, round the front vowel, or both in words like "quis." Some commentary on this point would have been in order.
On two points, Allen makes some assumptions which, to me, seem unjustified:
In a section on the voiceless plosives P, T, K on pages 12-13, Allen is quite correct in advising that English-speakers not attempt to replace their aspirated stops with unaspirated ones. But to assume that Latin voiceless stops may have had aspirated allophones is quite another matter. It is, naturally, impossible to deny that they did, but all available evidence indicates that they did not (at least, not in the mouth of a native speaker) until the second century (where they were marked with the familiar digraphs ch, th, ph already known from greek borrowings.) Allen's historical evidence (based largely on the voicing of early borrowings such as "Burrus" for greek "Pyrrhus") is not sufficient to indicate otherwise. Most of the borrowings mentioned are not in fact Greek borrowings but non-indo-european words borrowed independently into Greek and Latin from a third source. This third source may have had voiced and voiceless stops in different dialects, which is a much more plausible explanation.
In the section on word-final M on pages 30-31, Allen mentions the assumed phenomenon of nasalization. However, the fact that word-final M is not counted in scansion does have *other* plausible explanations, most notably the theory that it represented a voiceless bilabial approximant. The lack of word-final F coupled with the metrical behavior of H makes this theory, at the very least, worth mentioning.
Other than the above shortcomings, it is a beautifully researched book written in a kind of lucid prose which, ironically enough, is rare among modern linguists.