It's very uncommon for Italian nouns and verbs to end in consonants, but vast number of Latin nouns and verbs do. Why?

Linguistics Asked by user29247 on December 12, 2021

Edit: I asked this question on the Italian Stack Exchange and got some rubbish comments, so I’m trying here instead.

The vast, vast majority of native Italian (i.e. not imported from another language) nouns and verbs end in vowels. It’s very uncommon for native Italian nouns and verbs to stop at a consonant. Yet, when we look at Latin vocabulary, huge number of words end in hard consonants, e.g. diem, emptor, nauseam, rigor, nos, id, meus, and so on and so forth.

Italian is derived from Latin and is arguably closest to Latin among all the romance languages, but what happened to the consonant endings? How did the same population who a few centuries ago used to speak Latin with all its consonant-endings manage to lose not one or two but all of them in the derived language? It’s as if such sounds never existed in this population, like the sound ZI doesn’t naturally occur in Japanese, or the sound æ (as in English man or stand) doesn’t naturally occur in German.

It’s stranger in this case because Latin after all originated in Italy, not in a foreign country. It’s intimately associated with Italy’s history and culture. So what happened?

2 Answers

All living languages change continuously, and native speakers often react to changes by re-analyzing existing word forms on the basis of a recent change. In addition, there are changes resulting from government standardization, as well as movements to "purify" a language by restoring the forms from some classical period (e.g katharevousa vs demotic in shaping modern Greek). Because - thanks to Dante - the Tuscan dialect became the basis for standard Italian, terminal vowels are much more common than if some other dialect had been used as the basis. The Venetian dialect, for example, likes chopping off terminal vowels.

In short, where a language is now is partly determined by where it started, subject to government rules, popular influences, and random changes.

Answered by yutu on December 12, 2021

The current result that you are referring to is the product of 2 millenia of language change, which in also resulted in the distinct properties of French, Romanian, Catalan, Spanish, Sardinian and so on. One really would have to study the entirety of phonological history through vulgar Latin to Proto-Romance on down to the particular language state that you are interested in. A focus on changes in morphology is especially called for, because the vast majority of words in Classical Latin have inflectional suffixes, most of which are gone or have changed in form in the modern languages. Many of the changes got started in Latin, for instance there is a graffitum at Pompei quisque ama valia, corresponding to Classical quisquis amat valeat. Although this exhibits loss of final t, final t loss is not a pan-Romance universal.

A large part of the answer is "there were these specific changes", followed by a long list. There has always been a major imbalance in the distribution of final consonants in Indo-European favoring t,s,m so that a phonetic change weakening and eventually deleting m or s would have a major impact on the surface possibilities for final consonants.

Answered by user6726 on December 12, 2021

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