4

I just searched for Christmas questions on our site, and ended up reading this question and its answer. There was a mention of the Lewis and Short entry on the verb subicere, and I was puzzled by the very beginning of the entry:

sūb-ĭcĭo (less correctly subjĭcĭo ; post-Aug. sometimes sŭb- ), jēci, jectum, 3, v. a. sub-jacio.

Why is sūbĭcĭo more correct than subjĭcĭo? Does this mean just that it should be spelled with a single i instead of ii or ji? Or does it mean that the u should be pronounced long? Or does the macron imply that the first syllable is long (heavy) even though the vowel is short?

My understanding has been that it comes from sub and iacio, with the a weakened into an i after the prefix as usual and the /ji/ spelled as a single i, and is pronounced more or less as /subjikio:/. But the L&S entry leads me to think that it should be /su:bikio:/ instead, and that sounds wrong.

It seems that my confusion boils down to these two questions:

  1. What is the classical pronunciation of subicio?
  2. What is L&S trying to say with "less correctly subjĭcĭo"?
5

The best quick reference for such questions is Allen's Vox Latina (2nd ed., 1978). Here's what he says:

"One further peculiarity of spelling concerns compounds of iacio, such as conicio (also in-, ad-, ab-, sub-, ob-, dis). With the exception of a few examples in early and late Latin, the first syllable is always heavy, which indicates that the i here stands for i-consonant plus i-vowel, i.e. *coniicio, etc., not simply i-vowel (p. 40; emphasis mine - Alex B.).

For further details, we'll need to look it up in e.g. Lateinische Grammatik. Manu Leumann (1977) devotes the whole page to this issue (loss and restoration of before i in iacio compounds). Below is my summary of section 138.2.b (pp. 128-129).

The metrical data (of Classical Latin) suggest -i̯icio in the present stem, e.g.:

coni̯icit, proi̯icit, subi̯icit.

cf. "Im Praesentsstamm dieser Komposita steht, wenn man von der traditionellen Orthographie zunächst absieht, normal und erwartungsgemäß nach klassicher Metrik -i̯icio (wie -ficio neben facio), so als Daktylus einerseits, mit positionsbildenem Kons. i̯."

However, "the manuscripts and our editions", Leumann mentions, use the spelling variant with one i, cf. "Die Handschriften freilich und ihnen folgend unsere Ausgaben schreiben durchweg gegen die metrisch postulierte Aussprache nur ein i."

Weiss adds some more details (I assume it is partly based on Leumann 1977 and also drawing on Mather 1895). He writes that in Archaic and Classical Latin "the much more common scansion of the first syllable of the compounds of iacio with a consonant-final preverb is heavy (p. 154), whereas in Latin of the Imperial period "light scansion of the initial syllable again becomes possible" (p. 154, footnote 32). How does that affect the pronunciation of subicio?

Archaic and Classical Latin: /sub.ji.ki.o:/

Imperial Latin: /su.bi.ki.o:/

5

My impression, based on experience, is that older dictionaries like L&S sometimes use macrons to mark vowel letters in "heavy" syllables that are not followed by two consonant letters, even if the vowel doesn't actually represent a long vowel phoneme. I would guess this is based on a desire to indicate how the syllable scans in verse. But perhaps it represents an actual misimpression, or uncertainty, or desire to be noncommittal about how vowel length was realized in this position in Latin. (Consider the old tradition of referring to a vowel in a heavy syllable as "long by position"; I have seen things written by people who seem to have had the impression based on this wording that Latin speakers pronounced all vowels in heavy syllables as phonetic long vowels, even though I don't know of any modern scholar who finds that plausible.) Whatever the reason, when you use a dictionary like this, you can't count on a vowel written with a macron actually corresponding to a long vowel in pronunciation. So if you care about pronunciation, it's good to check other dictionaries and to use your knowledge of etymology and morphology, as you did here.

Misleading macrons are mentioned in the article "Vowel Quantity: Where your Dictionary is Wrong", by Johan Winge:

Latin dictionaries, at least good ones, do their best to mark which vowels are long by means of macrons: āēīōū. However this is an area where many dictionaries (even such as L&S and OLD) not seldom are misleading, if not outright wrong.

Other examples:

  • "major" (or "maior") is marked as "mājor" in L&S; Allen tells us that it was likely pronounced /maj.jor/.

  • "far" is marked as "fār" in Lewis; Bennett says it was likely /farr/.

  • "Amazon" is marked as "Ămāzon" in L&S (actually also in Wiktionary too, currently, with the dubious phonological transcription "/aˈmaː.zon/": I would guess that that is an error derived from some older dictionary source like L&S). Sources like Allen tell us that intervocalic "z" in loanwords from Greek was likely pronounced in Latin as a geminate consonant like /z.z/, making the previous syllable heavy even if it didn't have a long vowel.

So I would say it is not safe to assume that "sūb-ĭcĭo" in L&S is meant to represent /su:bikio:/. Rather, it seems to represents merely that the word is spelled "subicio" and pronounced with a heavy first syllable, and a light second syllable. The "less correctly" seems to mean only that the spelling "subjicio" (or "subiicio") is considered less correct than the spelling "subicio" by L&S.

The entry seems to be consistent with a pronunciation /sub.jikio:/, which I would assume is correct for Classical Latin for the reasons you stated.

The note "sometimes sŭb-" should I guess be read as saying "sometimes pronounced with a light initial syllable". Perhaps /su.bikio:/ was used sometimes: I'm not very sure about this, but see Alex B.'s answer for an explanation of relevant sources.

  • Huh, that's funny about "Amazōn"; I'd always thought it had a short "ă" because of the folk etymology connecting it to "mă[z|st]os". – Draconis Dec 25 '17 at 21:41
  • @Draconis: As far as I know, it does have a short a. I think Wiktionary’s transcription is incorrect – Asteroides Dec 25 '17 at 22:58
  • This answer still contains useful insight not included in the other answer, especially examples and discussion on the macron indicating syllable length instead of vowel length. But of course deletion or undeletion is up to you. – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 27 '17 at 7:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.