Interesting Textkit thread

05/15/08

Permalink 10:50:07 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 278 words, 3502 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

Interesting Textkit thread

There’s an interesting debate going on over at the Textkit Latin forum regarding the pronunciation of final -m in classical Latin; if you have some time, it’s worth reading thru the analysis.

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While I hadn’t thought too much about it before, the analysis pretty much convinces me that final -m simply indicated a nasalization of the preceding vowel. Although “m” was pronounced normally when it appeared in the middle of a word like amor, the final “-m” itself wasn’t pronounced but rather affected the sound of the preceding vowel; the comparison of final -m with the “silent e” in English words like “late” and “robe” is a good one, and the theory explains quite a few Latin odds and ends, such as inscriptions that omit final m, echthlipsis and aphraesis, and the n/m substitution found in compound words like numquam/nunquam.

Regarding the nasalization of final -m, the thread cites an anecdote from Cicero’s Orator (XLV.154) detailing the otherwise curious practice of appending cum to certain pronouns:

Quid, illud non olet unde sit, quod dicitur “cum illis", “cum” autem “nobis” non dicitur, sed “nobiscum"? Quia si ita diceretur, obscaenius concurrerent litterae, ut etiam modo, nisi “autem” interposuissem, concurrissent. Ex eo est “mecum” et “tecum", non “cum me” et “cum te", ut esset simile illis “nobiscum” atque “vobiscum".

Nobiscum is preferred to cum nobis because the latter would produce obscaenius concurrerent litterae; Cicero avoided this in his text by placing autem between the words. This can only be explained if the final -m of cum is nasalized, i.e. cum nobis is really pronounced like cunno bis, and that first word is a Latin profanity for the vagina.

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