THREAD: Latin vowels are interesting.

One of the first rules students of Latin learn is its simple accentuation system. The default stress is penultimate:

for-tū́-na, Rō-mā́-nī, a-mā́-mus

...unless the syllable is short, in which case stress the antepenult:

cá-pi-o
As an Indo-European language, Latin inherited a rather different accentual system, which was based on pitch and was mobile, as far as we can tell.

But in between the two systems, Latin went through a different intermediate phase: everything was stressed on the first syllable.
That's right. Archaic Latin had the stress system of the Germanic languages, Finnish, and Latvian (!).

How do we know this?

When we compare the vowel system in other archaic IE languages with that of classical Latin, we notice vowel changes in all but the initial syllable.
The first thing to note is that the vowels of archaic Latin look rather different and unfamiliar to us.

For example, the famous Duenos inscription (5–7 cent. BC) looks quite strange, even though it is genuinely Latin:

• DVENOS, cf. bonus 'good'
• FECED, cf. fēcit 'made'
Vowel changes in all but the initial syllable is a strong indication of vowel weakening due to initial stress (similar things happen in Germanic, Baltic-Finnic, and Latvian).

The actual rules are rather complex, but they give interesting insight into many Latin etymologies.
Fortson (2010) catalogues some of these:

Short vowels in open syllables weaken to i (likely [ɪ] or [ɨ]):
• amīcus 'friend' vs. in-imīcus 'enemy'
• legō 'choose' vs. colligō 'collect' (< *con-legō)
In closed syllables, *a weakens to e (at least as written):
• factus 'done' vs. affectus 'affected' (< *ad-factus)
• aptus 'apt' vs. in-eptus 'inept'
• artifex 'craftsman' < arti-fak-s 'skillful maker')
Meanwhile, *o weakens to u in closed syllables:
• onustus 'burdensome' < *onos-to-

This is the source of the classical distinction between Greek and Latin 2nd declensions:

θεός vs. deus (note, incidentally, that these two words are otherwise etymologically unrelated!)
Some of the distinctive flavour of Latin is also seen in the *e > i change before -s and -t:

legis 'you lead' < *leg-e-s(i)
legit 'he leads' < *leg-e-t(i)
Some other significant vowel changes occur, not necessarily related to stress.

Several diphthongs undergo monophthongisation:
• DVENOI (dat.sg.) /-ōi/ > bonō (cf. Gk. ἀνθρώπῳ)
• CASTOREI (dat.sg.) 'for Castor' > Castorī
Vowel raising occurs before nasals:
• *en > in (cf. Gk. ἐν)

Vowel lowering occurs before rhotacised s:
• *kinises > *kinizes > cineris 'of ash'

I hope this thread has convinced you that Latin vowels are interesting.

/ END

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