Listening to Classical Latin literature I have noticed that Thomas Bervoets launches into the same intonation pattern that Dora Marquez of Dora the Explorer does when she is speaking English at times!

For example, the ‘Īnachiā languēs minus, ac mē :Īnachiam ter nocte potes ; part of Quid tibi vis https://www.stilus.nl/horatius/HorEpod-12 and others on the page https://www.stilus.nl/horatius/index.htm!

and the quī causam dīcimus and the huīc autem patrōnōs propter Chrȳsogonī grātiam dēfutūrōs parts of Cicero 9-29, https://www.stilus.nl/ce-geluid/CicRosc9-29.htm and others on the page https://www.stilus.nl/ce-geluid/index.htm!

Dora Marquez is a Latina girl that is doing the same intonation pattern that Thomas Bervoets is doing in the examples above at times when she is speaking English except she is speaking with an American accent instead of a Spanish accent!

Is there a name for the intonation pattern that Thomas Bervoets and Dora Marquez is doing?

Do we know if the intonation pattern that Thomas Bervoets and Dora Marquez is doing was present in Proto-Italic, non Latin Italic languages, Old Latin, Vulgar Latin, the extinct Romance languages Old Spanish, and the various Vulgar Latin dialects besides Old Spanish?

Is the intonation pattern that Thomas Bervoets and Dora Marquez is doing present in modern Peninsular Spanish, the Dialects, varieties, and Variants of Peninsular Spanish, other modern Romance languages, and the Dialects, varieties, and Variants of other modern Romance languages?

I presume that the intonation pattern that Thomas Bervoets and Dora Marquez is doing is present in one or more if not all of the Spanish Dialects, varieties, and Variants that native speakers of American Spanish speak as Dora Marquez is Latina herself!


2 Answers 2


Despite my respect for Bervoets' efforts and his commitment to recreating an authentic Latin pronunciation (see this video) which I also share, his intonation sounds histrionic and highly unnatural to me based on my familiarity with numerous Romance languages (i.e. subjectively), and based on a good amount of reading about intonational phonology of various languages (i.e. objectively), I would judge it as plain wrong. I'm aware of the difficulties in judging about the intonational phonology of the parent language from its modern descendants, but there is no question to me that scholarship is not helpless here. It's also clear to me, like it is to any linguist, that some "tastes" are more reliable than others and that subjective perceptions of human language can be scientifically analysed and explained (this in essence is what linguistics does).

First of all, a good intro to intonational phonology is Taalportaal's article on Dutch; for Romance, see Frota S. & Prieto P. (2015), Intonation in Romance and their Interactive Atlas of Romance Intonation - you will find most of the book's chapters complete with sound recordings on that website's Resources page.

The most wide-spread intonational contour in unmarked (broad-focus) statements in Romance is H+L - a High tone immediately followed by a Low one, which means an intonation drop in the same syllable. This comes in two varieties - H+L* (low tone is main) and H*+L (high tone is main).

  • For example, most of the Italian recordings here show H+L*, which is the default contour in broad-focus statements in most varieties. The high tone often sounds like it's rather located on the pre-stressed syllable. Italoardito, DeldiC and Ciapino have H*+L, which is the contour normally found in narrow-focus statements such as answers. The latter is known as the "high falling intonation" in descriptions of English.
  • The Romance language that I believe to be the most conservative as regards intonation is Sardinian, and in this example you can hear the same H+L* (initial high + main low) contour on istade and mare, with the difference that the last syllable of istade has a slightly higher boundary tone (on the e) which signals that the speaker hasn't finished the sentence yet.

What especially characterises Bervoets' intonation is a mechanically unchanging alternation of flat high and flat intermediate pitch - all primary stressed syllables receive the flat high tone, all other syllables the flat intermediate tone. The only exception is the last stressed syllable in an Intonational Phrase, which receives a H+L tone followed by a low boundary tone (his non-final boundary tones are rather high and uptalkish).

What this recalls are the many (what I consider to be) unsuccessful attempts at Classical Greek intonation, where the speaker is so focussed on unnaturaly and mechanistically overemphasising word pitch accents (and on preserving correct syllable length) that they throw sentence intonation completely out the window. They're trying to consciously override the intonation of their own native language and end up with no intonation at all. This I think is precisely what's going on with Bervoets' recitations, which lack any discernible sentence intonation and are locked into this jarring mechanistic up-and-down alternating pattern that sounds like two-tone Chinese. Similar results can be heard on SORGLL's website.

It would already sound bad if he had a high-falling tone on every stressed syllable, but the biggest problem with it is perhaps those flat high tones, which are plainly absent from the intonational inventory of almost all Romance languages - in Frota & Prieto's book I only see it described for Sardinian with the following description: "It is very marked in Sardinian and only appears in the initial plateau of long wh-questions."

  • If Taalportaal's article is any indication, the predominant intonational contour in Dutch is H*+L (main high then falling), and the default edge tone is low (L&) (to hear the recordings click on the speaker icon to the right of the images in Table 2). Therefore it has neither the flat high contour nor the uptalk.

Therefore it appears that Bervoets's intonation is a carefully studied, scholarly construction. It's likely that he subscribes to the scientifically untenable notion that Latin accent was a "pitch" or "melodic" accent, where the term lacks any sound definition and is instead simply a stereotype that the speaker holds for some sort of sing-songy, exotic, pleasantly unexpected intonation/accent that they associate with southern Europe and especially Romance languages, and which they oppose to the "forceful, dynamic" accent of Germanic. This approach was considered scholarly for much of the 20th century, but is in reality the same type of thinking as when the Poles say that Russian sounds like singing because unlike Polish, its stress isn't fixed. Again, this is complete bogus scientifically speaking; it's bad enough when this results in cringy Italian imitations, and it's likewise unfortunate when adopted as a forced, mechanistic recitation technique by scholars who want to be so scientific about it that they lapse into the same thing but worse.

As for Dora the Explorer, the only similarity I can hear is the uptalk, as already mentioned by Vegawatcher. Bervoets is a teacher, so this might have something to do with child-directed speech, but is more likely just an artifact of his mechanistic recitation technique - I wouldn't read too much into it. If you want a comparison and explanation for specific excerpts, you can use an mp3 cutting software on Bervoets's recordings and YouTube's timestamp feature on Dora the Explorer's videos.


FYI, some of your links don't work (e.g., the first one).

To my ear, Dora Marquez speaks in a variety of standard American English with no obvious trace of a Spanish-influenced accent as you have said. She seems to speak in a higher register than normal and with more exaggerated intonation in a way that seems calculated to interest young kids. She also includes what I think is called "uptalk" that can convey a sense of interest and engagement among some groups of particularly younger American English speakers.

Thomas Bervoets seems to be paying very close attention to various aspects of what we believe about Latin pronunciation, diction, and word segmentation, especially for poetry. There is little known about the actual delivery and intonational aspects of such poems, so I would not accept his interpretation of the intonation as any more reliable than anyone else's. Whether you like his overall pronunciation is a matter of taste, not scholarship.

I am a native AmE speaker, but also speak a fair amount of "American" Spanish, standard French, and some Sao Paulo-accented Portuguese and definitely use many intonational patterns that are foreign to English. I don't hear Mr. Bervoets use any of these patterns particularly consistently, particularly in his phrasing. He doesn't sound like a native speaker of any Romance language I am familiar with. I presume his delivery is a mixture of his native language and his attempt to keep a very strict poetic rhythm or maintain a distinction between short and long vowels, while giving some value to the word accents. He also seems to keep a sustained high pitch at the end of some phrases that resembles the English "uptalk," but sounds different. Perhaps this later habit is what made you think of Dora.

  • What little do we know about the delivery and intonational aspects of such poems? Before asking this question I presumed that the poems had the same delivery and intonational aspects that native Classical Latin speakers used! Wouldn't that make sense? Unless the delivery and intonational aspects that native Classical Latin speakers was different from the delivery and intonational aspects of such poems!
    – Ana Maria
    Jan 30 at 18:04
  • 3
    We don't know if speakers paused at the end of all or any verse lines, and if so, how long was the pause? Did they pause for caesuras? In most varieties of Spanish, stressed syllables are said on a higher pitch; however, the last stressed syllable in a sentence is usually said with a drop in pitch from the previous level. We don't know if such things applied to Latin. Latin versification primarily takes into account syllable quantity, but also seems to care about word accents toward the ends of verse lines. Did they mark the rhythm somehow in their speech, or did they just speak normally? Jan 30 at 18:55
  • 4
    For an English comparison, read Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day") . The scansion suggests that each line contains five stressed syllables equally timed to the syllable-timed rhythm of the Italian that inspired Shakespeare's sonnet form. Would you actually recite it that way for each line? That rhythm feels artificial in modern English, and most people don't recite it that way. Similarly, how can we know what Latin speakers did for Latin poetry based on Greek models? Jan 30 at 19:06

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