I've come across a fairly frequent claim that gn was pronounced as ɲn in vulgar Latin. However, I haven't been able to find any kind of academic sources to back that up. I've found a few sources (and questions answered here) specific to Classical Latin, but none for Vulgar Latin.

I hate to put forth something as a known fact without having any kind of evidence to back me up, so I'd like to know more. Are there any good sources for this claim? How do we know that gn was pronounced as ɲn in vulgar latin?

1 Answer 1


The main evidence is the evolution in Romance languages. Latin GN generally becomes /ɲ/, like Spanish maño; in languages that preserve contrastive consonant length, it becomes a geminate /ɲɲ/, as in Italian magno.

We know it was originally something like /gn/, due to etymology: the first half of magnus also appears in magis, for example. And the most plausible path for /gn/ to become /ɲɲ/ involves the first half assimilating in manner, then both halves assimilating in place.

  • Thank you! Some places I've read that /gn/ might have first evolved into /ŋn/, then /ɲn/, and finally /ɲɲ/. Do you believe this is supported?
    – Lind
    Jun 22, 2023 at 18:04
  • 1
    @Lind That seems very reasonable; I'm not sure if there's any direct evidence for how the path went, though.
    – Draconis
    Jun 22, 2023 at 19:39
  • I find this latin digraph weird, because in Portuguese it became "nh" (it sounds exactly like the Spanish "ñ") in some words like "lenha/lignum, but ligneo/ligneus, it kept the "gn".
    – user11898
    Jun 22, 2023 at 23:05
  • 3
    @Lind: Hmm I'm having trouble pronouncing /ɲn/, is that really a thing?
    – Cerberus
    Jun 23, 2023 at 0:04
  • @ManuelCauãRebouças: Perhaps some words were later borrowings from Latin?
    – Cerberus
    Jun 23, 2023 at 0:05

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