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Open Access Osthoff’s Law in Latin

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Osthoff’s Law in Latin

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The sound change known as Osthoff’s Law, shortening a long vowel before a resonant-consonant cluster, was first explicitly described to have applied in the prehistory of Greek by Osthoff (1884). Since then, the existence of a similar sound change in Latin has been controversial in the literature, with claimed examples such as *vēntus > ventus ‘wind’. At one end, Simkin (2004) argues that Osthoff’s Law never took place in Latin; at the other, Weiss (2009) claims at least three independent rounds of Osthoff’s Law in the history of the Italic branch. I summarize the synchronic facts about pre-cluster vowel length in classical Latin using a comprehensive survey of the Latin lexicon, with a historical explanation for the vowel length in every form containing a cluster. I argue that Osthoff’s Law happened in Latin (contra Simkin), but only once (contra Weiss), around the 2nd century BCE.

Affiliations: 1: University of Pennsylvania sayeedo@sas.upenn.edu

10.1163/22125892-00501005
/content/journals/10.1163/22125892-00501005
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The sound change known as Osthoff’s Law, shortening a long vowel before a resonant-consonant cluster, was first explicitly described to have applied in the prehistory of Greek by Osthoff (1884). Since then, the existence of a similar sound change in Latin has been controversial in the literature, with claimed examples such as *vēntus > ventus ‘wind’. At one end, Simkin (2004) argues that Osthoff’s Law never took place in Latin; at the other, Weiss (2009) claims at least three independent rounds of Osthoff’s Law in the history of the Italic branch. I summarize the synchronic facts about pre-cluster vowel length in classical Latin using a comprehensive survey of the Latin lexicon, with a historical explanation for the vowel length in every form containing a cluster. I argue that Osthoff’s Law happened in Latin (contra Simkin), but only once (contra Weiss), around the 2nd century BCE.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22125892-00501005
2017-01-01
2018-09-22

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