Latin orthography seems to have been relatively phonemic. In other words, if long vowels are marked somehow (macrons or apices), there seems to be a straightforward mapping between letters and phonemes in the language.

Are there any real exceptions to this: Classical-era phonemic distinctions that aren't represented in spelling?

(I know long vowels are often left unmarked, so that alium and ālium look the same. But for the purposes of this question, assume vowel length is marked consistently and reliably.)

  • 1
    Should we also ignore /j/ /w/ vs. /i/ /u/ for the purposes of this question? – Asteroides Aug 3 at 2:22
  • @Asteroides Given that there are near-minimal pairs like iambus vs jam, that one would count! I'm not sure if there are any similar cases for u/v. – Draconis Aug 3 at 3:13
  • 1
    Would something like abicere spelt with I but pronounced as JI count? You can't deduce pronunciation from spelling, but I don't know of a minimal pair for this. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 3 at 9:01
  • 2
    The answer may differ for different dialects. Do you mean the classic pronunciation? For medieval ones it might a lot more complex. – Pavel V. Aug 3 at 9:17
  • 1
    @CMonsour I don't know of any minimal pairs for final c versus cc, but consonant length is definitely phonemic in general; likewise, for Joonas's suggestion, there are near-minimal pairs like abit with /i/ versus abicit with /ji/. – Draconis Aug 3 at 17:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.