Tag Archives: consonant

The Style Book of Alcuin

Alcuin’s style book is probably waiting to be discovered in a church basement somewhere

Something that’s intrigued me for many years: besides standardizing written Latin, did Alcuin standardize its pronunciation, too? I’ve been told that Alcuin instituted a policy of one consonant = one sound only, or one vowel = one sound only. I don’t know if a style guide by Alcuin exists. It’s hard to believe he didn’t write one. It would be such an Alcuin thing to do.

I suspect we have ecclesiastical (church) Latin because that’s the pronunciation Alcuin made official. Ecclesiastical Latin is why around Christmastime we sing “in eks SEL sees Dayo” and not “in eks KEL sees Dayo.” We use a soft palatal s or ch sound instead of the hard gutteral k sound the old Romans would have used. My own personal theory is that Alcuin was English, that’s the way they pronounced Latin in England, so that’s the pronunciation that got his stamp of approval. Who knows?

Angels We Have Heard on High:

From a few years back. I idiotically informed everyone that Alcuin was Irish: https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/western-civ/

This guy gets into the weeds a bit but he’s well worth the listen:

Embrace your inner Latin nerd! This is what the internet was built for. When I was a kid you’d have to go to college to hear a great lecture like this:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/cambridge-classical-journal/article/abs/english-pronunciation-of-latin-its-rise-and-fall/A0860C6625BE5A0E45FD58A18797E6FB
https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/roman-catholic-and-orthodox-churches-general-biographies/alcuin
https://latin.stackexchange.com/questions/13984/how-old-is-ecclesiastical-latin-pronunciation
https://www.fisheaters.com/latin.html

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Homer starts the Vowel Movement


We speak by letting air flow from our lungs and through our vocal cords, located deep in our throats.

The Phoenician abjad was all consonants. A consonant is a hard sound you make in your mouth by closing off the air flow from your lungs. You make ‘D’ or ‘T’ by pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth then releasing air. You make ‘K’ by closing the back of your mouth, then releasing air. Close your lips then pop ‘em open to make ‘P.’ Every consonant is made by closing the air flow in your mouth, then releasing it. To make ‘H, R, W & Y’ you don’t cut off air flow completely, but you do restrict it by a lot. You push a sudden gust of air out to say ‘hey.’ You lips and mouth tighten up to say ‘roo woo yay.’

On the other hand, vowel sounds are made by keeping your mouth open and letting the air flow freely. You adjust the shape of your open mouth to make ‘A, E, I, O & U.’

‘Y’ can be a vowel or a consonant.

Homer needed vowels to compose and recite poetry because a vowel can be extended over more than one beat. Try singing this without vowels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbrnXl2gO_k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuQ63QlJIMY

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Abjad

I’m going to pull a ‘Well, akshually’ and tell you the Phoenician alphabet isn’t quite an alphabet. It’s an abjad. An abjad has consonants but no vowels—no A, E, I, O, U or sometimes Y. You were expected to know how words are pronounced and supply the vowels yourself when you read something written in the Phoenician system.

The word ‘abjad’ comes from smooshing together the first four letters of the Arabic alphabet: alif, bā’, jīm, and dāl.

Pointless rambling for today: There’s a tv show from the 1970s set in the 1950s called Laverne & Shirley. They’re 2 working-class girls from Brooklyn, New York City and speak like Brooklyners. I saw a bit (I can’t find a clip, sorry) where one of the girls is talking about her friend ‘Sheldn’—she pronounces it just that way. It fits with her accent; that’s the way they tawk in Brookln. The punchline: his name really is Sheldn; the ‘o’ was accidentally left out on his birth certificate.

https://linguisticator.com/blog/19729/the-arabic-alphabet-what-is-an-abjad
https://www.lexico.com/definition/abjad
https://www.metmuseum.org/learn/educators/curriculum-resources/art-of-the-islamic-world/unit-two/origins-and-characteristics-of-the-arabic-alphabet
Wikipedia says the Arabic alphabet is the result of the Phoenician alphabet evolving in the Near East, where it took a few different turns from ours in the West. Scroll down to look at the chart.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Arabic_alphabet

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