Suppose a person born and educated in Greece comes to ancient Rome. They have learned Latin and can converse fluently but not at a native level. What kinds of wrong pronunciation, vocabulary, or structures would the Romans be likely to hear?

Are there any ancient accounts of Greek idiosyncrasies in Latin? I am not asking about anything borrowed from Greek to Latin, but the kinds of mistakes the Greeks made when speaking Latin. I often speak English with people of various origins, and there are almost always good hints about the native language of the speaker. Similar hints must have existed and been observed in the antiquity. I am mostly interested in (written accounts of) spoken language, but observations about written Latin are also welcome.

The same thing from a different point of view: If I were to write a story in Latin featuring a Greek character, what kinds of quirks should I add to their Latin to make them feel authentically Greek?

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    Total speculation: perhaps a tyro would sometimes use the dative instead of the ablative (which doesn't exist in Greek) or substitute an ablative absolute with a genitive absolute
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 0:21
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    Or overuse demonstrative adjective pronouns...
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 1:58
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    You could show that he is Greek by having him swear his oaths in Greek. I think we have a question on here about Greek and Latin oaths. Or he could utter his oaths in Latin but using the Greek names for the gods. He could also use Greek swear words.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 14:30
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    See: J. N. Adams, Mark Janse, and Simon Swain, eds. Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 & Bilingualism and the Latin Language James Noel Adams, Cambridge University Press, 2003 . You can find the 2nd one on Google books and do a search . Interesting stuff - mostly about upper class speakers with references to Quintilian et al. about Latin pronounication mistakes by Greeks inter alia.
    – user1466
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 1:49
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    I'll bet mispronouncing a Latin F as Φ would be a common giveaway.
    – varro
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


Well, here's one example I found:

nam contra Graeci adspirare ei solent, ut pro Fundanio Cicero testem qui primam eius litteram dicere non possit inridet.

the Greeks on the other hand habitually aspirate this letter [f], so that Cicero, in his defence of Fundanius, mocked a witness who couldn't pronounce the first letter of that name.

Quintilian, The Orator’s Education, 1.4

  • So, this is like when Koreans speak English and can't pronounce 'f'? Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 13:24

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