The metaphonic diphthongisation phenomenon is said to have occurred between the 6th and 8th century. But it must have happened before the loss of intervocalic "v", though I have only one example to support my claim and i'm not sure if it's indeed proof of it. nivem/*nivis -> *neave(s) -> nea. I can't find any info on this now, but I remember reading of a vulgar latin place name in the Balkan peninsula mentioned in a 6th or 7th century greek document that presented the loss of intervocalic "v". this is my attempt to recall the word: "ketate" ( <- civitatis ). This shows that "v" was already disappearing in Balkan proto-romance. Would this imply that the so called "umlaut" ( diphthongisation ) phenomenon happened even earlier? Well, there is also the famous "Torna, torna, fratre" episode dated to 587 that doesn't show any sign of diphthongisation in the word "torna" ( expected: toarna ).

the alternative form "neauă" could also be explained from the accusative "nivem". According to wikipedia there was an intermediary stage before the loss of intervocalic "v" where v -> w. Could this stage have been preserved in "neauă" but not in "nea" ( that could be a shortened form )?

I know that all of this is a gross oversimplification, misuse of linguistic tools, and possibly misinterpretation of historical linguistics.I am just an amateur with an interest in Romance languages. So my bad for that.

1 Answer 1


No, it's not. Rumanian didn't have metaphonic diphthongisation like that of South Italian; what it had was the reverse: all mid vowels (Latin ē, ĭ, ae, ĕ and the back ō, ŏ) diphthongised unless a [+high] vowel followed, e.g. nigrum, nigram > negru, neagră. Or the rule may have been the converse: diphthongise if followed by a [-high] vowel.

Theoretically, a way to decide this would be to look at words that were stressed and monosyllabic; however I can't seem to find any that ended in a mid vowel in the parent language. Probably the ones that existed in Latin were remodelled or discarded due to a general aversion to lexical-word-final stress, similar to many other Romance varieties.

nea is already explained from neauă < nivem in the same way as stea < steauă < stēllam (both forms currently exist). Therefore there's no need to postulate any unusual monosyllabic forms.

As for cetate 'castle, citadel', the deletion of /w/ in various environments and of various regularity started affecting Latin already during the middle Republic. We're looking at a sound change that's been going on for two and a half millenia and is still incomplete - this is also seen in the continued coexistence of /w/ and /w/-less forms.

  • Romanian had a reverse metaphonic diphthongisation like German. Can you elaborate on how "stea" being explained from "steauă" helps your point in any way? Steauă is a new form made most likely by analogy with "neauă", as the archaic attested form is "steală" and "steauă" cant come directly from "stellam".
    – SarruKen
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 22:13
  • @SarruKen I'm not aware of German undergoing a reverse metaphonic diphthongisation - could you elaborate? Do you agree with my description of metaphony in Romanian?—I don't see any analogy between steală and neauă - the loss of singleton /l/ in Romanian is known from elsewhere, while a parallel Latin form *st(r)ēla is found in Fr. Pt. Occ. and even Dalmatian.—Anyway this is irrelevant because I was talking about a further step from steauă to stea parallel to neauă > nea. It doesn't matter if steauă is original or analogical as long as both exemplify the same process of u-loss. Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 15:57
  • Anyway, it doesn't even have to be steauă - this was simply the closest-looking word I could find. It could be anything like neagră or albeală - all of these show that the diphthongisation happened in a penultimate syllable followed by La. /a/. Whether the consonant is /u/, /l/, /gr/ doesn't matter. To be completely honest I don't understand at all why you think the form nea points to any early loss of /v/ in that word, why you say the diphthongisation must have happened before the loss of /v/. Indeed, the suffix -eală seems to be Slavic and it happened even there. Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 16:05
  • My bad, I meant just reverse metaphony like that found in the history of the germanic languages, while the aspect of diphtongisation is particular to Romanian. I took the word "nea" as evidence for /v/ falling before the diphthongisation of /e/ in that word because that phenomenon could only happen if an open or mid vowel followed in the next syllable. My assumption was that in the absence of /v/ the word would become monosyllabic. But like I found later and included in OP, it is theorised that there was an intermediary stage in the process of losing the intervocalic /v/ where /v/ > /w/
    – SarruKen
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 19:51
  • @SarruKen But if it was monosyllabic, it shouldn't have diphthongised because no vowel follows in the next syllable; moreover even open syllable diphtongisation doesn't affect final vowels in Romance. Therefore even if you had only the form nea you would have to postulate that it comes from the 2-syllable *neauă!*—/v/ > /w/ requires postulating /w/ > /v/ first, on no good evidence, because there are still dialects in the south of Italy with /w/. This is a great example where the Occam's razor should be applied. Or are there inherited, non-compound Rumanian words with intervocalic /v/? Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 20:01

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