Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-747cfc64b6-zmlw7 Total loading time: 0.497 Render date: 2021-06-16T07:14:31.693Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true }

Reconstructing phonological change: duration and syllable structure in Latin vowel reduction*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2012

Ranjan Sen
University of Sheffield


During the fixed initial-stress period of Latin (sixth to fifth centuries BC), internal open syllable vowels were totally neutralised, usually raising to /i/ (*ː>perficiō ‘I complete’), whereas in closed syllables /a/ was raised to /e/, but the other vowels remained distinct (*per.fak.tos>perfectus ‘completed’). Miller (1972) explains closed syllable resistance by positing internal secondary stress on closed syllables. However, evidence from vowel reduction and syncope suggest that internal syllables never bore stress in early archaic times. A typologically unusual alternative is proposed: contrary to the pattern normally found (Maddieson 1985), vowels had longer duration in closed syllables than in open syllables, as in Turkish and Finnish, thus permitting speakers to attain the targets for non-high vowels in closed syllables. This durational pattern is manifested not only in vowel reduction, but also in the quantitative changes seen in ‘classical’ and ‘inverse’ compensatory lengthenings, the development CVːCV > CVC and ‘superheavy’ degemination (VːCCV > VːCV).

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.



I should like to thank John Coleman, John Penney, Aditi Lahiri and John Harris for their advice in preparing this paper. Three anonymous reviewers and an associate editor also provided many valuable insights and guidance over the course of its evolution. All errors are of course my own.


Allen, W. Sidney (1973). Accent and rhythm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Allen, W. Sidney (1978). Vox Latina. 2nd edn.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barnes, Jonathan (2006). Strength and weakness at the interface: positional neutralization in phonetics and phonology. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Bergem, Dick van (1995). Acoustic and lexical vowel reduction. Amsterdam: Institute for Functional Research into Language and Language Use.Google Scholar
Blevins, Juliette (2004). Evolutionary Phonology: the emergence of sound patterns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burzio, Luigi (2007). Phonology and phonetics of English stress and vowel reduction. Language Sciences 29. 154176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Campbell, Nick (1999). A study of Japanese speech timing from the syllable perspective. Journal of the Phonetic Society of Japan 3:2. 2939.Google Scholar
CIL (1862). Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. 17 vols. Berlin: Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften apud G. Reimerum.Google Scholar
Cohn, Abigail C., Ham, William H. & Podesva, Robert J. (1999). The phonetic realization of singleton-geminate contrasts in three languages of Indonesia. InOhala et al. (1999). 587590.Google Scholar
Corssen, Wilhelm P. (1858–59). Über Aussprache, Vokalismus und Betonung der lateinischen Sprache. 2 vols. Leipzig: Teubner.Google Scholar
Crosswhite, Katherine M. (2001). Vowel reduction in Optimality Theory. New York & London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Crosswhite, Katherine M. (2004). Vowel reduction. In Hayes et al. (2004). 191231.Google Scholar
Cser, András (1999). Diphthongs in the syllable structure of Latin. Glotta 75. 172193.Google Scholar
de Chene, Brent & Anderson, Stephen R. (1979). Compensatory lengthening. Lg 55. 505535.Google Scholar
Ernout, Alfred, Meillet, Antoine & André, Jacques (1985). Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine: histoire des mots. 4th edn.Paris: Klincksieck. (1st edn 1932 by Alfred Ernout & Antoine Meillet.)Google Scholar
Esposito, Anna & Benedetto, Maria Gabriella Di (1999). Acoustical and perceptual study of gemination in Italian stops. JASA 106. 20512062.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fant, Gunnar (1960). Acoustic theory of speech production with calculations based on X-ray studies of Russian articulations. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
Flemming, Edward S. (2002). Auditory representations in phonology. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Flemming, Edward S. (2004). Contrast and perceptual distinctiveness. In Hayes et al. (2004). 232276.Google Scholar
Fourakis, Marios (1991). Tempo, stress, and vowel reduction in American English. JASA 90. 18161827.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fromkin, Victoria A. (ed.) (1985). Phonetic linguistics: essays in honor of Peter Ladefoged. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Gordon, Matthew (2004). Syllable weight. In Hayes et al. (2004). 277312.Google Scholar
Gordon, Matthew (2006). Syllable weight: phonetics, phonology, typology. New York & London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Hahn, Reinhard F. (1991). Spoken Uyghur. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
Halle, Morris & Idsardi, William (1995). General properties of stress and metrical structure. In Goldsmith, John A. (ed.) The handbook of phonological theory. Oxford: Blackwell. 403443.Google Scholar
Ham, William H. (2001). Phonetic and phonological aspects of geminate timing. New York & London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Han, Mieko S. (1994)Acoustic manifestations of mora timing in Japanese. JASA 96. 7382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hankamer, Jorge, Lahiri, Aditi & Koreman, Jacques (1989). Perception of consonant length: voiceless stops in Turkish and Bengali. JPh 17. 283298.Google Scholar
Hansen, Benjamin B. (2004). Production of Persian geminate stops: effects of varying speaking rate. In Agwuele, Augustine, Warren, Willis & Park, Sang-Hoon (eds.) Proceedings of the 2003 Texas linguistics society conference. Somerville, Mass.: Cascadilla. 8695.Google Scholar
Hayes, Bruce (1989). Compensatory lengthening in moraic phonology. LI 20. 253306.Google Scholar
Hayes, Bruce (1995). Metrical stress theory: principles and case studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Hayes, Bruce, Kirchner, Robert & Steriade, Donca (eds.) (2004). Phonetically based phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Idemaru, Kaori & Guion, Susan G. (2008). Acoustic covariants of length contrast in Japanese stops. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 38. 167186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobs, Haike (2003a). The emergence of quantity-sensitivity in Latin: secondary stress, Iambic Shortening, and theoretical implications for ‘mixed’ stress systems. In Holt, D. Eric (ed.) Optimality Theory and language change. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 229247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobs, Haike (2003b). Why preantepenultimate stress in Latin requires an OT-account. In Fikkert, Paula & Jacobs, Haike (eds.) Development in prosodic systems. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 395418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobs, Haike (2004). Rhythmic vowel deletion in OT: syncope in Latin. Probus 16. 6389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jannedy, Stefanie (1995). Gestural phasing as an explanation for vowel devoicing in Turkish. Ohio State University Working Papers in Linguistics 45. 5684.Google Scholar
Kavitskaya, Darya (2002). Compensatory lengthening: phonetics, phonology, diachrony. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Kawahara, Shigeto (2006). A faithfulness ranking projected from a perceptibility scale: the case of [+voice] in Japanese. Lg 82. 536574.Google Scholar
Keane, Elinor (2001). Echo words in Tamil. PhD dissertation, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Keating, Patricia A. (1985). Universal phonetics and the organization of grammars. In Fromkin (1985). 115132.Google Scholar
Kingston, John & Diehl, Randy L. (1994). Phonetic knowledge. Lg 70. 419454.Google Scholar
Kingston, John, Kawahara, Shigeto, Chambless, Della, Mash, Daniel & Brenner-Alsop, Eve (2009). Contextual effects on the perception of duration. JPh 37. 297320.Google ScholarPubMed
Kluender, Keith R., Diehl, Randy L. & Wright, Beverly A. (1988). Vowel-length differences before voiced and voiceless consonants: an auditory explanation. JPh 16. 153169.Google Scholar
Kopkallı-Yavuz, Handan (2003). Interaction between syllable structure and vowel length: example from Turkish /a/. In Sumru Özsoy, A., Akar, Didar, Nakipoğlu-Demiralp, Mine, Erguvanlı-Taylan, E. Eser & Aksu-Koç, Ayhan (eds.) Studies in Turkish linguistics: proceedings of the 10th International Conference in Turkish Linguistics. Istanbul: Boğaziçi University Press.Google Scholar
Kuehn, David P. & Moll, Kenneth L. (1976). A cineradiographic study of VC and CV articulatory velocities. JPh 4. 303320.Google Scholar
Lahiri, Aditi & Hankamer, Jorge (1988). The timing of geminate consonants. JPh 16. 327338.Google Scholar
Lehiste, Ilse (1970). Suprasegmentals. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Lehtonen, Jaakko (1970). Aspects of quantity in Standard Finnish. Jyväskylä: Jyväskylä University Press.Google Scholar
Leumann, Manu (1977). Lateinische Laut- und Formenlehre. Munich: Beck.Google Scholar
Lindau, Mona (1985). The story of /r/. In Fromkin (1985). 157168.Google Scholar
Lindblom, Björn (1963). Spectrographic study of vowel reduction. JASA 35. 17731781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lindblom, Björn (1990). Explaining phonetic variation: a sketch of the H&H theory. In Hardcastle, William J. & Marchal, Alain (eds.) Speech production and speech modelling. Dordrecht: Kluwer. 403439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lindsay, W. M. (1894). The Latin language: an historical account of Latin sounds, stems, and flexions. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
Local, John & Simpson, Adrian P. (1999). Phonetic implementation of geminates in Malayalam nouns. In Ohala et al. (1999). 595598.Google Scholar
McCarthy, John J. & Prince, Alan (1993). Generalized alignment. Yearbook of Morphology 1993. 79153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maddieson, Ian (1985). Phonetic cues to syllabification. In Fromkin (1985). 203221.Google Scholar
Meiser, Gerhard (1998). Historische Laut- und Formenlehre der lateinischen Sprache. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar
Mester, Armin (1994). The quantitative trochee in Latin. NLLT 12. 161.Google Scholar
Miller, Patricia Donegan (1972). Vowel neutralization and vowel reduction. CLS 8. 482489.Google Scholar
Moon, Seung-Jae & Lindblom, Björn (1994). Interaction between duration, context, and speaking style in English stressed vowels. JASA 96. 4055.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Niedermann, Max (1997). Précis de phonétique historique du latin. 5th edn.Paris: Klincksieck. (1st edn 1906.)Google Scholar
Ohala, John J. (1981). The listener as a source of sound change. In Masek, C. S., Hendrick, R. A. & Miller, M. F. (eds.) Papers from the parasession on language and behavior. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society. 178203.Google Scholar
Ohala, John J., Hasegawa, Yoko, Ohala, Manjari, Granville, Daniel & Bailey, Ashlee C. (eds.) (1999). Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Berkeley: Department of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
Ohala, Manjari (2007). Experimental methods in the study of Hindi geminate consonants. In Solé, Maria-Josep, Beddor, Patrice Speeter & Ohala, Manjari (eds.) Experimental approaches to phonology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 351368.Google Scholar
Padgett, Jaye & Tabain, Marija (2005). Adaptive Dispersion Theory and phonological vowel reduction in Russian. Phonetica 62. 1454.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pickett, Emily R., Blumstein, Sheila E. & Burton, Martha W. (1999). Effects of speaking rate on the singleton/geminate consonant contrast in Italian. Phonetica 56. 135157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pind, Jörgen (1995). Speaking rate, voice-onset time, and quantity: the search for higher-order invariants for two Icelandic speech cues. Perception and Psychophysics 57. 291304.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Prince, Alan & Smolensky, Paul (2004). Optimality Theory: constraint interaction in generative grammar. Malden, Mass. & Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ramus, Franck, Nespor, Marina & Mehler, Jacques (1999). Correlates of linguistic rhythm in the speech signal. Cognition 73. 265292.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Recasens, Daniel, Pallarès, Maria Dolors & Fontdevila, Jordi (1997). A model of lingual coarticulation based on articulatory constraints. JASA 102. 544561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Savithri, S. R. (2009). Speech rhythm in Indian languages. Dr N. Rathna Oration, presented at the 41st Indian Speech and Hearing Association Conference, Pune.Google Scholar
Sen, Ranjan (2011a). Diachronic phonotactic development in Latin: the work of syllable structure or linear sequence? In Cairns, Charles E. & Raimy, Eric (eds.) Handbook of the syllable. Leiden & Boston: Brill. 417441.Google Scholar
Sen, Ranjan (2011b). Feet and phonological levels in early Latin. Paper presented at the 8th Old World Conference in Phonology, Marrakech.Google Scholar
Sen, Ranjan (2012). Exon's Law and the Latin syncopes. In Probert, Philomen & Willi, Andreas (eds.) Laws and rules in Indo-European. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 205226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sen, Ranjan (forthcoming). Syllable and segment in Latin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sihler, Andrew L. (1995). New comparative grammar of Greek and Latin. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Caroline L. (1991). The timing of vowel and consonant gestures in Italian and Japanese. InProceedings of the 12th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Vol. 4. Aix-en-Provence: Université de Provence. 234237.Google Scholar
Smith, Caroline L. (1995). Prosodic patterns in the coordination of vowel and consonant gestures. In Connell, Bruce & Arvaniti, Amalia (eds.) Phonology and phonetic evidence: papers in laboratory phonology IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 205222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sommer, Ferdinand & Pfister, Raimund (1977). Handbuch der lateinischen Laut- und Formenlehre: eine Einführung in das sprachwissenschaftliche Studium des Lateins. 4th edn.Heidelberg: Winter. (1st edn 1902 by Ferdinand Sommer.)Google Scholar
Steriade, Donca (1999). Phonetics in phonology: the case of laryngeal neutralization. UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics 2: Papers in Phonology 3. 25145.Google Scholar
Stevens, Kenneth N. & House, Arthur S. (1963). Perturbation of vowel articulations by consonantal context: an acoustical study. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 6. 111128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stuart-Smith, Jane (2004). Phonetics and philology: sound change in Italic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vaan, Michiel A. C. de (2008). Etymological dictionary of Latin and the other Italic languages. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
Walde, Alois & Hofmann, J. B. (1938–56). Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 3 vols. 3rd edn. Heidelberg: Winter. (1st edn 1906.)Google Scholar
Wright, Richard (2004). A review of perceptual cues and cue robustness. In Hayes et al. (2004). 3457.Google Scholar
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Reconstructing phonological change: duration and syllable structure in Latin vowel reduction*
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Reconstructing phonological change: duration and syllable structure in Latin vowel reduction*
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Reconstructing phonological change: duration and syllable structure in Latin vowel reduction*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *