V. 53 N. 2 (2015)

Ricerche sulla prosodia del latino d’Africa

Parole chiave

  • Vulgar Latin,
  • syllabic prosody,
  • grammarians,
  • funerary inscriptions,
  • metrics


The paper aims at commenting and closely inspecting two types of sources, which concern the debated issue of the Quantitätskollaps in the so-called Vulgar Latin. The first group consists in the metalinguistic testimonia of Roman grammarians between the 3rd and the 5th century AD, with special reference to Augustine’s treatise De musica, where many crucial judgments occur upon the speakers’ insensitivity for the old syllabic length oppositions. These passages, together with a handful of texts coming from the metricists, convincingly confirm the progressive spread of the vocalic isochronism in stressed syllables along a wide range of spoken varieties. The second group of testimonies, namely the metrical funerary inscriptions discovered in North African Provinces (Africa Proconsularis, Numidia, Mauretania Caesariensis, and Mauretania Tingitana) and the two poems of Commodian, is the object of a meticulous analysis. The study of the verse structures argues (pace Herman and his followers) for the development of a new prosodic opposition between stressed (also under metrical ictus) and unstressed syllables (regardless of the old syllabic structure). This opposition was clearly based, from an acoustic point of view, on a segmental length perceptibly different in the two syntagmatic positions. To summarize, the two groups of testimonies converge toward the same point: ‘Vulgar Latin’ in its early phase was characterised by the collapse of vowel quantity, whose outcome was a sheer neutralization. As a matter of fact, this neutralization surfaced as a general lengthening of stressed vowels, both in heavy and light syllables, and, conversely, as a general shortening of unstressed syllables, regardless of the syllabic structure.