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In the past, I'd vaguely assumed that the word for "seventh" was septīmus, because we see an i instead of an e in the Romance languages (Italian settimo, French septime, etc).

However, Lewis and Short say it was septĭmus—and that it actually alternated with septŭmus, giving us even more confirmation of the short vowel.

If it was a short vowel, though, how did we end up with i in Romance? And if it was long, how did it alternate with u in Latin?

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    Vergil uses the word four times, unambiguously with a short vowel. I can write an answer collecting metric evidence for the quantity if you want, but I feel that your main focus is elsewhere.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 14 at 22:49
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Much appreciated, but indeed, my question is less "how do we know" and more "how do we square the Romance evidence with the Classical evidence".
    – Draconis
    Commented Jan 14 at 23:40

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French septime is clearly marked as a learned form by the use of -pt-. As a learned word, it provides no evidence to the length of the Latin vowel. The TLFi mentions an old form sedme, setme inherited from septĭmus.

The stress pattern of Italian sèttimo indicates that the second syllable did not originally have long ī. I'm not sure whether this word is a regular descendant from Latin or a learned borrowing, like French septime. In Italian, the vowel *[e] was raised to /i/ in unstressed syllables in a number of contexts: it seems this was regular at least in pretonic position. I don't know whether raising of *[e] could also be found in posttonic syllables, but I think it could, based on forms like uomini < hominēs and gomito < cubitum that show Romance sound changes in other parts of the word.

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