15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 9 August 2002
The topic may be somewhat obscure, but for those with an interest in how Caesar spoke, this is an excellent and thorough introduction to Classical pronunciation that assumes no prior knowledge of phonetics. Moreover, the text is clear and easy to follow, although the modern reader might have preferred translations of the Latin quotations.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2003
An intellectual tour de force for lovers of the Latin language. This study deduces the pronunciation of ancient Latin by comparing how Latin-derived words are pronounced in the successor languages such as French, Italian and Spanish; by analyzing how loanwords from other languages, particularly Greek, were rendered into Latin; and by drawing inferences from puns and other forms of wordplay found in the works of Roman authors. I was taught at school that g in Latin was always hard. Not so: Plautus makes a joke which depends for its effect on the similarity of sound between 'ignem magnam' (a large fire) and 'inhumanam' (inhuman). Clearly medial gn was pronounced roughly the same as in modern Italian 'signora', and 'ignem magnam' would have sounded something like 'inyem manyam'. Try reading one of Cicero's denunciations of Catiline aloud, using the correct pronunciation established in this important book. It sounds more like a harangue of Mussolini than a weighty sententia delivered by the grave Roman statesman of popular imagination. The experiment reminds us that the Romans were the ancestors of the modern Italians, something we tend to forget. Other joys in this book include the establishment of the correct pronunciation of v and c in Latin. Now we know how Caesar really pronounced Veni, Vidi, Vici.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This is a great piece of scholarship, clear and concise, endlessly fascinating, throwing up many unexpected surprises. For example, the combination "qu", rather than like an English biconsonantal "kw" sound, almost certainly still represented the same sound as the original Indo-European single labio-velar consonant from whence it came, that is to say, a "k" sound pronounced with rounded lips as for a "w"; the pairing "gn" was most likely pronounced as velar nasal + dental nasal, much like the "ngn" combination of English "hangnail".
There are no real linguistic prerequisites required of the reader, everything being explained in plain language, so in this sense it is quite accessible. The evidence presented is thorough, and Allen is never dogmatic, supplying evidence to the contrary where it exists. There are plenty of quotes from Latin grammarians in support of certain pronunciations - these are by nature only accessible to people with excellent Latin (not me, it has to be said), but doesn't detract much from the usability of this book even for beginners.
This is an essential book for every student of Latin; even if we are never going to take on board every suggestion herein for our modern day pronunciation, at least we have a much deeper knowledge of the language as a result. As Allen notes, for many of us it may be a case of "video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor" - I see a better way and I approve, but I follow the worse.