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"Help With Pronouncing Gallic Names" Topic


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488 hits since 13 Oct 2017
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Gone Fishing Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 7:43 a.m. PST

…and a few German.

I'm currently getting the blood up for my next great project, Caesar's Gallic campaign (in 54mm!), feasting on roast boar and drinking large quantities of undiluted wine; but a challenge has arisen that I hope you can help me with.

As I've only read – and never heard – most of these names the pronunciation of Gaulish names has proved something of a poser. For example, all my life I've said 'versing-GET-orix' but now learn it is actually 'VER-sing-GET-orix. It is such revelations as these that try the nerdic soul. So, with that in mind, I'm hoping some of you might step forward to help.

The main problems seem to revolve around stress and the sound of 'ae', 'er' and 'ii' in Gallic names. I'm also confused on how to pronounce 'i' in Gallic and German: is it prounouced 'eye' or 'ee'? With that said, help would be greatly appreciated with the following (and if you could sound them out as you would for a half-witted schoolboy it would help immensely):

1.) Aedui – AY-doo-ee (?)

2.) Nervii – NURV-ee-ee; NAYRV-eye-eye (?); also Boii, etc.

3.) Arverni – arr-VUR-nee (?)

4.) Allobroges – ahlo-BRO-jees (?)

5.) Ariovistus – AH-rio-VIS-tus (?)

6.) Suebi – SWAY-bee; SWAY-bai (?); also Chatti

Help with any or all of these would help me be the pedant I've always desired to be. Thank you for any help!

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 8:19 a.m. PST

Bad Latin.
Since we get almost all of the names through Latin, go with that.
If you play 40K, you have a head start on Bad Latin. But then, I've heard 40L players butcher even Bad Latin.

I had a cute French girl break up laughing at my pronunciation of Vercingetorix. She thought it was so "fonny"!
Bitch. I used Church Latin, as taught by the nuns.
My girlfriend thought it would be nice to show her my painted Gauls.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 8:21 a.m. PST

I go along with most of yours, except "Suebi". U in Latin was a vowel. So. "sue WAY bee".

Gone Fishing Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 9:22 a.m. PST

Thank you, Winston. The Latin clue helps – I wasn't sure.

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 3:12 p.m. PST

Do you know who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? He who lingers long over the unmixed wine, that's who!

Gone Fishing Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 4:23 p.m. PST

Honestly it's one area I think the barbarians had it right. So come woe, come sorrow and all those other maladies, but give me good true wine!

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 9:46 p.m. PST

In vulgate (church) Latin and our anglicized Latin, a "g" followed by "i" or "e" would be "soft" just as in modern Italian or most French usages. And "v" would be said as we know a "v", not a "w". So, "Ver-sin-JET-o-ricks". But if you wanted to be a strict classicist, like Cicero (calls himself, "Kick-eh-roh") you can say "Wer-sin-GET-o-ricks" and be just as correct. It's really a matter of preference as much as correctness.

The Last Conformist15 Oct 2017 12:14 a.m. PST

U in Latin was a vowel

Actually, ancient Latin didn't distinguish between U and V in writing. The same, generally V-shaped, letter was used for both a vowel sound (roughly like English "oo") and a semi-vowel (like English "w"). Sometimes you get both in the same word, as in VARVS "Varus", pronounced roughly "WAH-roos", or even both in a row, as in VVLT "(he) wills", roughly "woolt".

In the case of SVEBI, it's a semivowel, and the word was pronounced roughly "SWAY-bee".

I'm not sure what Ecclesiastical Latin makes of the SVE combination it may be they'd say "SVAY-bee" with a 'proper' consonant.

Gone Fishing Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2017 6:32 a.m. PST

Piper and Conformist, I can't thank you enough for your help. If there is one thing I've been reminded of both here and on the other forum where I posted this question, it is that this is an area where even fluent speakers can disagree. I've received many different answers, some of them quite different from each other.

I remember from my university days how our professors (all Englishmen) used to complain, in a good humoured way, over American pronunciations of Classical Greek; "they sound so American," they would smile. And the French professors in speaking Greek sounded French, the Germans Germans, and so on and so on…we even had one fellow from the Lone Star State who read Iliad XXIV – Priam beseeching Achilles – in fluid Greek but with a distinct Texan twang! It's not surprising, really; we follow the sound patterns we are used to. One professor even went on to wonder if an actual Greek from 5th century Athens could have understood a single one of us; it's quite possible they wouldn't be able to.

Getting back to Latin I must admit to an indefensible bias: I struggle mightily with the classical 'w' sound instead of 'v'. It just sounds silly to my modern American ears. For example, I was told elsewhere Nervii should be pronounced "NER-wee" (several have pointed out the use of the glottal stop is almost certainly incorrect); to me this sounds like the name of a songbird, or something small and fluffy. Indefensible, I know, but there you are.

So Piper, I might stick to your excellent advice: admit we are guessing with a good deal of this, pick the pronunciation I like best (generally Vulgate in my case) and stick to it, though hopefully not in a foolishly consistent way.

Again, thank you all for chipping in. This has been extremely helpful!

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP15 Oct 2017 7:46 a.m. PST

Oops, I missed up above that the classical Latin "c" was always hard. So, "Wer-kin-GET-eh-ricks" And Last Conformist has caught the differences between "v" and "u" that I missed.

It's church Latin and modern Italian that softens both "g" and "c" when followed by "e" or "i" Common English pronunciation of Latin tends to follow those norms, altho' we don't usually use the "ch" sound that church Latin or Italian insert in these.


I'm not a linguistic know-it-all by any stretch, but I am fascinated by these things and have tried to learn about them in an amateur way. I did take some school courses in Latin, Italian, and French and get some awareness through that.

Ecclesiastically, in the Latin mass, I hear the "ue"combination pronounced as a "wah" sound, so most likely, "SWAY-bee" above.

We twist everything in English usage anyway. Nobody outside a Latin class or academic symposium routinely says "KYE-sar" for "SEE-zer". Look how we treat Sicily, or Macedonia. Universal soft c's.

I was recently searching YouTube for some clips on ancient language pronunciations and some of the stuff posted there is helpful (and some is hopelessly dense for a non-specialist like me).

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2017 11:38 a.m. PST

Getting back to that cute annoying French girl, she had a giggle and tee hee fit over my pronunciation of "Vercingetorix". Hers was nowhere close to mine, and since she was French, and I was American, I was of course ignorant, yet comical. grin
Strangely enough, since were both assuming that the Latinized name of the Gaulic chieftain was correct, I might have been closer. Now, I make no bets on how the original Gaulic was pronounced. I doubt that the original was anywhere close to how sexy she sounded.

WillieB Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2017 1:36 p.m. PST

The only one I can help out is Nervii Nehr-vee

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP16 Oct 2017 7:45 p.m. PST

French women do make almost anything sound sultry….

The French have their own pronunciation hang ups, too. Depending on where you live, you might pronounce those "----ix" endings on French names as "eeks" or "ee". (E.g., Aix; Chamonix; or… Vercingetorix)

If I remember it right, "proper" (i.e., Parisian) French drops the final consonant but the regional hicks and locals (in the eyes of Parisians) put that "x" sound in there.

Unless it's the other way around.

Gone Fishing Supporting Member of TMP17 Oct 2017 6:07 a.m. PST

Yes, there is something about French. Not from the lips of a girl, but the Merovingian in The Matrix had a rather good comment about the language.

Really interesting discussion, gentlemen. Thank you!

KniazSuvorov19 Oct 2017 4:02 a.m. PST

2.) Nervii NURV-ee-ee; NAYRV-eye-eye (?); also Boii, etc.

Can someone with better Bad Latin than me shed some light on this question?

I'm reasonably sure the second 'i' denotes plural--1 Nervius versus 2 Nervii.

But someone also told me that the pronunciation is NURV-ee-eye, i.e. that each 'i' has a different pronunciation. Anyone know if this is true?

p.s. as an English-as-a-foreign-language teacher, I always thought English had the poorest letter-to-sound ratio for vowels (5.5 letters to produce 20+ distinct vowel sounds). It looks like maybe Latin developed similar problems over the centuries…

Mars Ultor19 Oct 2017 11:34 a.m. PST

I can't help with bad Latin because otherwise I'd lose my job teaching the subject. The second -i (long) , and you're right is the plural (subject only, not object or possessive). The first i is part of the root.

The first (short) "ih" is pronounced as in "sit", whereas long i is pronounced "ee" like in "machine". The only sound that makes "eye" are the letters -ae.

so the pronunciation should be NURV-ih-ee. Very annoying to modern English speakers to pronounce, and that's probably why people would rather do something easier, like NURV-ee, which I think is acceptable.

Gone Fishing Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2017 3:03 p.m. PST

NURV-ee is by far the easiest and the one I'll likely stick with. Thank you, MU!

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