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In a previous question of mine, What diphthongs are available are Unicode ligatures?, Joonas Ilmavirta commented:

If you want to indicate a diphthong, there are other means than using ligatures. We might already have a question on that, and I'd welcome one if we don't. But do bear in mind that the best solution depends on your goal.

What are those other ways? I can also think of two:

  • æ and ꜷ (diphthong) versus ae and au (no diphthong),
  • ae and au (diphthong) versus aë and aü (no diphthong).

My goal is to be unambiguous and to be able to derive pronunciation from spelling alone.

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  • Does aü ever appear in native Latin words? I guess you could use it for Greek but that's more often written aÿ.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 31 at 21:15
  • @Draconis: the main case where aü occurs is adaptations of Greek names ending in -aos such as Menelaus Μενέλαος.
    – Asteroides
    Commented Mar 31 at 21:17
  • @Draconis Ēsāus in the Bible
    – richardIII
    Commented Mar 31 at 21:17

3 Answers 3

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It isn’t traditionally used in normal writing, but the inverted double-wide breve has been a common way of unambiguously indicating diphthongs when discussing pronunciation (e.g. in discussions of scansion in poetry). Most often, it is used on pairs of letters that are not regularly pronounced as diphthongs in Latin, e.g. de͡inde, Orphe͡us. But you could use it on ae and au if you want to be especially explicit and are OK with using unconventional orthography for this purpose.

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Most of them don't need to be marked, since they're completely predictable. For example, ui is only a diphthong in a small number of grammatical words; everywhere else, it's two separate syllables.

You can also write the second element of a diphthong as a consonant instead of a vowel (cujus instead of cuius), but this is rare. I had one instructor who would write avt and qve, with the principle being that u is then always a syllable nucleus and v never is, but I'm not aware of anyone else doing this.

The solution I would recommend is the diaeresis, but you already mentioned that in your question.

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If you want to create an unambiguous pronunciation guide to a text, you need a preface where you explain your conventions. A reasonable convention might include, for example, that ae and au are diphthongs unless otherwise indicated through a diaeresis or a breve or a macron. Or you might prefer to indicate the length of every vowel with a breve or a macron, and take the presence of neither to stand for a diphthong. My point is that is it possible to also indicate every lack of a diphthong instead of indicating diphthongs directly.

As I said in the comment you quote, a lot depends on your goal. Are you trying to teach yourself to pronounce Latin? Then add as much markings as needed to help you, but not more. Too much clutter slows you down, especially with words you already master. Are you trying to teach a choir to sing in Latin? Then instead of adding notes around the Latin you might want to respell some words so that the singers' native pronunciation leads them in the right direction. And you will have to communicate with them anyway. Are you planning to publish something in Latin? Then don't indicate vowel lengths or diphthongs or any such thing at all, except in rare cases where it matters. Fluent readers expect to see no such things, and can indeed be irritated by excessive markers. Do you want to compare Latin pronunciation to another language? Then you should go with IPA and use its conventions. The goal you state isn't specific at all, and therefore our answers can't be tailored to your actual need.

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