What Latin Sounded Like and How We Know
August 19, 2016 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Awaits arrival of languagehat.
posted by y2karl at 6:45 AM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Chinese stroke-order video should be subtitled "Why I draw squares the way I do." I'll never now be able to draw a square that isn't just 口. Three strokes. No exceptions.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:59 AM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thanks ever so much, BWA! A gold mine for the Language Aficionado!
posted by rdone at 7:17 AM on August 19, 2016

You vascavy vabbit! -- Elmerius Fudd
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:22 AM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

> Awaits arrival of languagehat.

*pant pant pant*

....Here I am! What'd I miss?

Actually, this is pretty funny, because I had an e-mail in my inbox with the subject line "NativLang" and I was resisting opening it because I thought it might be yet another solicitation from a commercial website wanting publicity ("We think our synergy would synergize well together!"). The site looks interesting, and I can't believe I've never run into it before, seeing as how it's apparently been going since 1998. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on August 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

This channel has been appearing *a lot* in my YouTube recommended videos lately, so I subscribed the other day.
posted by sukeban at 8:51 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

So I have to ask Mefi's linguists and language nerds: if you had to design a new language that's super easy to speak, read and write, what would the key features of that language look like? What would you call it?

Just curious to know. And maybe planning for my future army. But mostly curious.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:39 AM on August 19, 2016

This channel has been appearing *a lot* in my YouTube recommended videos lately

That's funny, the Latin one showed up in mine yesterday. I have previously looked at some Latin pronunciation videos so I thought that was why. But maybe it's rigged.
posted by thelonius at 9:39 AM on August 19, 2016

I assumed it was because I subscribe to a bunch of educational channels like Crash Course and view random language videos once in a while, but it was very noticeable.
posted by sukeban at 9:48 AM on August 19, 2016

What would you call it?

Toki Pona.
posted by maxsparber at 10:02 AM on August 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've considered making a language where no two words or phrases sound similar. Motivation: prevent puns.
posted by kurumi at 10:14 AM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

I once had a dream that I was in a world without puns. It was a dreary place, devoid of light and pleasure, and the people there were uniformly gray and without mirth. I met a man there who work at the country's main newspaper, the Times, and he told me that his job was to comb the paper, looking for combinations of words, or even combinations of sound, to make sure nobody was even inspired to pun. He sometimes even goes through and looks for these sorts of word combinations once the paper has been typeset, and he will actually wedge a ruler under these cold-type combinations of letters and pull them out, leaving a gap in the newspaper, rather than create the opportunity for punning.

I held up the newspaper and looked at it. Oh, I said, so this is the Times that pry them holes?

He was still stabbing me when I woke up.
posted by maxsparber at 10:46 AM on August 19, 2016 [26 favorites]

The Chinese stroke-order video should be subtitled "Why I draw squares the way I do." I'll never now be able to draw a square that isn't just 口. Three strokes. No exceptions.

Similarly: drawing a grid made of four squares. I had a mini panic attack when he drew 田 with the middle vertical stroke before the horizontal stroke. Had I been doing it wrong this whole time? It was such a relief when he then pointed out that China and Japan use different orders.
posted by hyperbolic at 11:16 AM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

What would you call it?

posted by y2karl at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2016

Oooooo...can't wait to unpack this when i get some time. thanks for posting!
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:58 PM on August 19, 2016

For a broader and deeper look at how we know what Latin sounded like, I *HIGHLY* recommend Latin Alive: The Survival of Latin in English and the Romance Languages* by Joseph Solodow, a former Latin professor of mine at UCLA.

As touched on in the video, many sources help us reconstruct the correct pronunciation of Latin at various points in time.

We have a vast collection (100,000’s) of inscriptions on tombstones, milestones, laws, decrees, legionary discharges, dedications, etc. all made on durable material like stone and metal. Unlike manuscripts that may be corrected and/or corrupted when copied, inscriptions provide a direct example of the colloquial pronunciation at the time they were written.

We have several major manuscripts on pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, cf. Quintilian, as referenced in the video.

We have transcriptions of Latin into other languages, e.g. Cicero was transcribed as Kikero in Greek, i.e. with the ‘c’ written as a Greek kappa with a hard ‘k’ sound, not a sigma or chi with an ’s’ or ‘ch’ sound.

Written works also touch on pronunciation through meter (in classical latin), rhyme (later Christian era writings), puns, and other wordplay.

A poem by Catullus pokes fun at a man who, in a vain attempt to sound educated, pronounces h’s on words where they should be silent.

Here’s an example from the book on elision:
The general Crassus, about to set forth on a military expedition to Parthia, happened to hear a figseller crying Cauneas (“Cauneans” were a type of fig).

When the expedition had ended in utter disaster, it was recognized that Crassus should have heeded the omen, for Cauneas could have been understood as

cave ne eas
“take care not to go.”

This example teaches us several things: that consonantal u (written here with a v) could become a vowel (thus, /kau-e/ instead of /ka-we/); that e at the end of a word was sometimes not pronounced (/kau/ rather than /kau-e/); and that elision took place between the e at the end of ne and the one at the beginning of eas. (“Elision” means that the first of the two vowels in contact was not pronounced, thus n’ eas, two syllables instead of three.)

Were all three conclusions not valid, the story would be pointless; in fact, they are confirmed by other evidence.
Here’s another example:
Catullus (73.6) illustrates dramatically what may be learned about pronunciation from meter. The verse appears written thus:

quam modo qui me unum atque unicum amicum habuit,
… as he who recently had me as his one and only friend.

The line seems to contain eighteen syllables, which is impossibly long for the meter. In fact, the number of syllables is thirteen – once account is taken of the five elisions, which are not prevented when the first word ends in -m or the second begins with h-: these sounds were weak, and the evidence of meter confirms it.

Here is the verse rewritten so as to convey the way it was pronounced:

quam modo qui m’ un’ atqu’ unic’ amic’ 'abuit.

* The book is a linguistic history of Latin. Its evolution into various Romance languages follows the political decline and cultural fragmentation of the Roman empire. It also examines various individual linguistic regions in their own right. If you love etymologies, are interested in linguistics, and/or have studied Latin and/or any of the Romance languages, it’s well worth your consideration.

** cave from caveo, cavere - beware, avoid, take care, from which we get English "caution." Also cf. "cave canem" (beware of dog) or "caveat emptor" (may the buyer beware).

posted by Davenhill at 7:18 PM on August 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

On the one hand, the videos are generally pretty interesting! On the other, the illustrations make my skin crawl for some ineffable reason!
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:59 PM on August 22, 2016

It'd be great to see some contextualising (in terms of the presumed English speaking target audience) videos. Historic glyphs that don't get pronounced but still affect pronunciation, for example, probably isn't as exotic and bizarre as they're made to seem.
posted by lucidium at 5:40 PM on August 23, 2016

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