I understand that in Classical Latin, when someone asks a question, the -ne causes stress patterns for some words to be modified, so that both the -ne and the new stress pattern indicates that the sentence is a question.

However, are those the only commonly used indicators of a question? Do scholars know if a final rise in intonation was also used to indicate a question, as is the case in many modern languages?

  • Do you know what words Romans used to describe intonation? It would be easy (in principle at least) to search a digital corpus for an ancient text on the topic if one just has some keywords (if the keywords are not too common otherwise).
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:50
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Unfortunately I don't. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:51
  • 2
    I don't have time at the moment to do a full search, but I think vox can be used this way (Lewis and Short gives one example from Cicero, it seems to me from first glance).
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


There is no clear evidence - we simply don't know.

Harm Pinkster (Pinkster 2015) writes that even though there may have been something comparable to the falling or rising tone known from many languages, including English,

we are not able to recover much information about Latin intonation (p. 15).

Pinkster mentions (in a footnote) that ancient grammarians and rhetoricians were interested in intonation (vox) but, as Hannah Rosen observes, "it it scarcely possible to describe them lucidly" (Rosen 2009: 337). Here are some examples she cites:

"Vocis mutationes totidem sunt quot animorum" (Cicero, Orator, 55)

"Quare, et quia nemo de ea re diligenter scripsit—nam omnes vix posse putarunt de voce et vultu et gestu dilucide scribi, cum eae res ad sensus nostros pertinerent—et quia magnopere ea pars a nobis ad dicendum conparanda est, non neglegenter videtur tota res consideranda." (Rhetorica ad Herennium, 3,19)

Here's a very revealing passage (Rhetorica ad Herennium, 4,54) illustrating their attitude towards serious study of intonation:

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Pinkster, Harm. 2015. The Oxford Latin syntax. Volume 1: The simple clause. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (highly recommend - the best Latin grammar!)

Rosen, Hannah. 2009. Coherence, sentence modification, and sentence-part modification - the contribution of particles. In Baldi, Philip, and Pierluigi Cuzzolin, eds., New perspectives on historical Latin syntax. Volume 1. Syntax of the sentence, pp. 317-442. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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