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The Latin 'g'

The received pronunciation of the Roman ‘g’ is always hard, as in gag, not as in George. But I have a feeling it may not always have been quite as solid a sound as we think.

My hunch is that the ‘g’ in some contexts was not as hard as prescribed now, but fainter, with less closure, tending towards German ich though more voiced. Here are some points in favour:

  • mugire (to moo) : cows don’t say ‘moog’;
  • ego (I) : where is the ‘g’ in Spanish yo and Italian io (cf. German ich)?
  • magister, fragilis, reges, frigidus, rigidus, regula : where is the ‘g’ in Romance languages? (magistrate, fragile, regal, frigid and rigid, regulate were all later creations; these Latin words had earlier evolved as maître and maestro, frail, royal and réal, froid/frío/freddo, etc);
  • magister : passed into Old High German as meister.

 

I suspect a number of ‘g’ sounds were more faded than we realize. Here are a few speculative suggestions:

  • fugere (to flee)
  • vagitus (wailing—from vae)
  • paganus (rustic)
  • euge! (hurrah!)
  • negare (to deny)

 

© George Sharpley March 2012

     
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