Early Latin and late Latin

Michèle FRUYT

University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4)



5. Graphic and phonetic data

The archaic Latin inscriptions documented after the 4th century BC and before the first texts show that the final consonants -s, -m were usually dropped (CIL I2,8,9: CORNELIO for Cornelios nominative sg.; OINO, OPTVMO, VIRO for oinom, optumom, uirom accusatives sg.), sometimes along with –t and -d. In writing, –s was restored and it was probably restored in the pronunciation. But –m in the accusative sg. was probably restored only in some higher diastratic levels of the language. In any case, its pronunciation was weakened and it underwent an elision in the external saṃdhi before a word beginning with a vowel. In the Pompei inscriptions (79 AD), the –m of the accusative singular is usually missing. Very late texts such as Gregory of Tours (in the 6th century AD) show that, in prepositional syntagms, the scribes did not know if they should write an accusative sg. with an –m or an ablative sg. form without an -m. This hesitation and inconsistency is a clue for the non-pronunciation of the final accusative sg. –m. So we could conclude that the pronunciation of –m was weak or non-existent during the whole Latin period in the lowest levels of the colloquial spoken language of illiterate speakers.

Just as in the very early inscriptions in documents of a low diastratic level and in the very late texts, the final –t is missing in the 3rd person sg. (Goullet coord. (2014): 28, 178r, 13: adrianus iussi (= iussit) deferre lectum; 28, 178v, 8). Thus, in the lego type, the imperfect subjunctive legeret may be written without a –t, and thus homographic with the present active infinitive legere, and, conversely, this infinitive may be written with a –t in some documents. This graphic confusion reveals a morphosyntactic convergence in the consciousness of the speech community between an infinitive clause and a finite verb subordinate clause.

In contrast with the early inscriptions and the late texts, final consonants are always written in the archaic and classical texts. This graphic distribution may display a discontinuity only in the spelling and notation in the classical period, while in the spoken low level language, ‘under the surface’, existed a continuous phonetic development in the pronunciation during the classical period.

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