I have heard different pronunciations of 'gn': [ŋn], [gn], [ɲ:].

Given a fixed era and dialect, is 'gn' always pronounced the same way or does the pronunciation depend on the environment? My impression is that there is no such dependence, and I should pronounce every instance of 'gn' the same within the context of a single text. (The only thing I would be tempted to vary is to change [gn-] > [n-] word-initially.)

For a concrete example, is there a type of Latin pronunciation where agnus, Gnaeus, and signi don't have the same realization of 'gn'?

If this is too broad, let me know and I can specify the question further to a single era. I think it is possible to give an answer covering at least classical and ecclesiastic pronunciations, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Related reading:

1 Answer 1


Word-initial is the only environment that makes a difference in that the G is not pronounced there at all already by Plautus' times just like it isn't in (g)nātus or (g)nōscere. The spelling is etymological like with the English kn-, and like with the English acknowledge the consonant is preserved only after a prefix. The difference from English is that etymological (and just fancy) spelling was much more tenacious in names than elsewhere - the name Gnaeus is a good illustration, since it's very likely the same word as naevus "birthmark", just spelt differently to look more dignified and say "I'm a name".

To the best of my knowledge there are no indications for any other positional differences in the pronunciation of GN in Latin, nor are there any in its outcomes in Romance, whether it be /mn/ (Rumanian), /wn/ (South Italian), /n:/ (Sardinian) or /ɲ(:)/ (Western Romance).

In all the so-called "traditional" pronunciations the combination is pronounced invariably in all positions.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.