I have a question about pronunciation of long/heavy syllables:

Should we lengthen the syllable that is long by position (e. g. septem)

Also, should we lengthen the syllable which contains diphtong (long by nature) (Caecilius)

I'm interested only about pronunciation, not so much about terms (heavy/long).

Thanks in advance

  • 2
    What do you mean by lengthening a syllable? I would say that the syllables called long are the ones that have naturally longer duration due to containing more than single consonant and a short vowel. What is the difference, to you, between a short vowel and a long one?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 24, 2021 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


If syllables that are long by position also always had long vowels, there would be no reason to distinguish "long by position" from "long by nature". If a syllable is only long by position, the vowel is short. Septem is /ˈseptem/ [ˈsɛptɛ̃], not /ˈseːptem/ [ˈseːptɛ̃].
This potential confusion in students surrounding the term "long by position" is actually exactly why most modern textbooks use "heavy" and "light" for syllables instead. The fact that some older dictionaries sometimes used macrons to mark vowels in syllables that were merely long by position surely won't have helped.

(It's obviously possible for syllables to be long by position and by nature both. A well-known example is that in the sequence -Vns(-) or -Vnf- (where V is any vowel), the vowel is always long (and probably nasalised), and while the -n- was not generally pronounced except perhaps in a few cases where it was restored from the spelling, in cases where it was (such as consul, for probably most speakers), the syllables containing these vowels were long both by position and by nature.)

Diphthongs are inherently long, i.e. two morae in length: the vowel part is effectively one mora and the glide is another (if that's how you choose to analyse them). Combined, they're the length of a normal long vowel and no longer; e.g. aes is [ae̯s], not [aːe̯s]. Some languages have overlong (trimoraic) diphthongs, but Latin is not one of those.

  • Thanks a lot, this was very helpful! Sep 24, 2021 at 20:56
  • What's your evidence that the 'n' was rarely pronounced?
    – bobsmith76
    Sep 28, 2021 at 18:04
  • @bobsmith76 Epigraphic evidence (in the Old Latin period the n was often not written, with cosol and cesor being common for Classical consul, censor; in the Classical period spelling was less variable, but the n was still optional in e.g. totie(n)s, vicie(n)s), occasional non-etymological hypercorrections (thensaurus), the lack of reflexes in Romance languages (Vulgar Latin lost the nasalisation of vowels), and, for consul specifically, the explicit claim of Quintillian that the n was not pronounced (et 'columna' et 'consules' exempta n littera legimus).
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 28, 2021 at 18:27
  • @bobsmith76 Some educated speakers restored the pronunciation of the ns and some of those restorations possibly made their way to the general public, but Velius Longus claimed even Cicero said foresia, Megalesia, and Hortesia rather than forensia, Megalensia, and Hortensia.
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 28, 2021 at 18:28
  • Cool, thanks for the answers.
    – bobsmith76
    Sep 28, 2021 at 18:29

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