(Inspired by this question)

Latin definitely had contact with Semitic languages over the course of its existence, most notably Punic. When words and names from these languages were transcribed into Latin, were there consistent conventions for handling the non-Latin sounds?

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The vast majority of Semitic words transcribed in Latin come directly from Punic; Krahmalkov provides a summary of the conventions in his Phoenician-Punic Grammar.

  • g, d, l, m, n, r were transcribed as g, d, l, m, n, r
  • 'Aleph and `ayin were completely ignored in transcription, and went silent at some point in Punic history
  • b was transcribed as b; later, as f before a consonant and b otherwise
  • p was earlier transcribed as p, later as f
  • w, y were transcribed as u, i (later normalized to v, j)
  • h, ħ () were transcribed as h; later, they disappeared entirely (because either Latin, or Punic, or both, lost their /h/)
  • s, š were transcribed as s (having merged rather early on)
  • z was earlier transcribed as ss or sd, with an epenthetic e before it if it came at the start of a word; later, it merged with s, and was written the same way
  • is variously transcribed ts, st, tz, s, z, and $ (the last being a ligature of s and t that isn't in Unicode), with no strong consensus; later, it merged withs, and was written the same way
  • t, k were transcribed th, ch
  • , q were transcribed t, c

Vowels are written as one might expect (with quantity not represented), with one curious exception: i and ī are transcribed variously as y, i, and e, for no clear reason. Y in particular is unexpected, and might imply a rounded vowel, but there's not enough evidence to be sure.

Finally, an epenthetic e is added before any word-initial consonant clusters; at some point this vowel was pronounced in Punic as well, though it's not clear when that development happened.


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