Mar. 5th, 2017

I was at the Patent Office, Saturday evening, as was another examiner; as I was arriving, I turned on the lights for our section of the fifth floor, while he was apparently on his way to do so. (On weekends, the lights go off, unless someone turns them on every two hours.) He said, "Fiat lux, et lux erat." I didn't catch the last word, so he repeated it, and I replied, "Intellego."

He asked me, in Latin, whether I could speak Latin, and I replied, "Linguam vetam Romanorum novi, sed nunc, multos post annos, eam non loquor." (I have studied the old language of the Romans, but now, after many years, I don't speak it.)

We got to chatting, and he commented that the standard view among classicists is that the v was pronounced like w in classic Latin. He doubted this for two reasons: first, that v isn't pronounced that way in any Romance language today; and secondly, that there was a fourth century German named Wolfgar, or something, who wrote in Latin, and used the letter w for one thing, his own name, implying that the Romans didn't have a sound for our w, or Wulfgar could have simply used the Latin letter for that. (W was not part of the original Roman alphabet.)

He suggested that instead, the Roman v may have been pronounced as a bilabial fricative, something like the Spanish v or b. That seems to make sense, although I can't be sure, and we don't have a recording of Caesar saying, "Veni, vidi, vici."

What do other people think?



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