A Conversation for Latin Pronunciation - A Beginner's Guide
V and W
SeedNotHerd Posted Jun 15, 2002
What is the evidence from Latin poetry about the W pronunciation? What evidence could there be - except whether the line works better as poetry (or come to that, as prose) with one pronunciation or another? For example, Waney, Weedy, Weaky is unlikely precisely because it sounds less butch. Or take the case of the hard and the soft c. Could you possibly assume a hard c in the case of 'Eheu, fugaces, Posthume, Posthume/ labuntur anni'?
Scansion can tell us in the case of the French language that a final -e on a word - silent in spoken French, or at least in modern spoken French - counts as a syllable, and should be so pronounced in the classic 12-syllable Alexendrine. But scansion's no help on the Latin v/w issue and 'what works', esthetically speaking, is our only guide assuming, always assuming we take the w proposition seriously.
A distinction between poetry and the speech of the 'working classes' (whoever they may be in a Roman context)is tendentious and woolly. You might - might! - make out a case for different speech patterns between upper and lower classes (as fops in England at one time affected a lisp, for example) but where's the evidence? Was poetry often spoken then? In what kind of context, to a private or a public audience?
If Italians have never come across the w pronuniciation it's very likely for the same reasons that the v pronunciation alone is found in modern Romance languages, and has little to do with a preference for 'Church' Latin. All the signs are that the w pronunciation is a historically recent invention of British litterateurs and/or schoolmasters for reasons we can only guess at.
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