In later Latin, /b/ between vowels merged with /w/, eventually leading to forms like modern Italian avere from Latin habēre. This only happened within a word: illa bucca became Italian la bocca, not *la vocca.

When these sorts of sound changes are in progress, though, they tend to ignore boundaries. For example, in modern Castilian Spanish, /b/ becomes [v] between vowels, and they will indeed say [b]oca but la [v]oca. It's usually only once the actual phonemes change that word boundaries are respected: in Judeo-Spanish, this change became phonemicized and thus no longer applies in cases like la boka.

So, do we ever see any evidence of B and V being confused word-initially, when the previous word ends in a vowel? For example, do we ever see la via spelled with a B or la bucca spelled with a V, before this change had become fully phonemic?

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    There are a few relevant examples from the Appendix Probi, though they don't have full context, e.g. "baculus non uaclus," "uapulo non baplo."
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


There are Latin inscriptions that show confusion between initial B and V. This is not limited to cases where the preceding word ends in a vowel, actually.

One notable example that I remember reading about appears to show assimilation of ad v- to [abb] in ad voce:


(Commodilla catacomb inscription)

This is supposed to date to around the 6th century.

In Romance, a merger of word-initial B and V is found in Spanish (as is pretty well known) and also in many central and southern Italian varieties.

Spanish, Catalan, Occitan (including Gascon), Southern Italian dialects and Sardinian neutralized the contrast between Latin <v> and <b> word-initially. [...] In Central and Southern Italian dialects, the initial position hosts either [v] (but also [β] see below) or [bː] depending on the phonological environment.

(Russo and Ulfsbjorninn; pages 5-6; the inscription cited above is then discussed as an example.)

(Note: it appears that some varieties of Catalan actually do distinguish /b/ from /v/, but most don't.)

Other examples of word-initial B spellings for V, such as "BIXIT" for "vixit" and "BALERIAE" for "Valeriae", are mentioned by Adamik 2017.

Works cited

  • Russo, Michela and Shanti Ulfsbjorninn. 2020. Initial lenition and strength alternations (v/b) in Neapolitan: A laryngeal Branchingness condition. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 5(1): 11. 1–27. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.534

  • Béla Adamik, "On the Vulgar Latin merger of /b/ and /w/ and its correlation with the loss of intervocalic /w/: Dialectological evidence from inscriptions", Pallas 103 | 2017, 25-36. Published online 30 May 2018. DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/pallas.4030

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    Now I wonder if the shift from ουαλεριος to βαλεριος in Greek transliteration is recording a Greek phenomenon or a Latin one.
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 18:10
  • @cmw Probably a Greek phenomenon according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betacism#Greek
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 6:52

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