[LEO] Explana, quaeso, crassius, quo sono discernatur natura longa vocalis a brevi.
[VRS.] id ne putes rem novam, dilucide patet in linguis vulgaribus, quae et sono et scriptura discernunt longam a brevi, longam aut geminata vocali scribentes aut addita vocali vertentes in diphthongum. dic Batavice album, sentis unicum i; dic latum, sentis geminum, cum tamen dictio sit monosyllaba. audis apud machinas quibus onera tolluntur e navibus, quoties iubent volvi rotam, simplex i; quoties vinum postulant, geminum. rursum dic Batavice lagenam, audis unicum e; dic Flandrice carnem, audis geminum. idem discrimen in optimo et bestia, ultimo et forma calcearia. dic Batavice pellem, audis unicum e; dic multum Brabantice, audis duo. item Batavice puteum, audis v simplex; dic extra, audis geminum, nisi mavis hic esse peculiarem diphthongum. item dic Anglice panem, audis e breve; dic Batavice latum, audis ee geminum. dic obesum Batavice, audis e breve; dic simultatem, audis porrectum. dic Batavice rotam, audis a breve; dic consilium, audis diphthongum ae. idem fit in foramine et vadite, in balneo et lucro.
[LEO] iam mihi succurrunt istius generis exempla innumera.
[VRS.] quo magis mirum est nos haec omnia confundere, seu Graece seu Latine loquentes. θὴρ vox natura longa excepta prima littera quid aliud sonat hodie quam apud Latinos vir? quae natura brevis est. item πῦρ nos secuti Graecos male pronuntiamus, cum Germani vocem eam a Graecis sumptam recte sonent, nisi quod tenuem vertunt in aspiratam, Batavi in v consonans. πᾶς nos male sonamus, Galli recte, cum humile dicunt aut passum.
[LEO] sic est profecto.
[VRS.] iam in θήρ, quod ipsum ad nos fluxit a Graecis, Batavica lingua, dum sonat dier, θ mutato in δ declarat quid sonuerit apud Graecos θήρ. ad haec quid aliud sonat syllaba mus in animante longa quam in dictione mimus brevis?
[LEO] nihil prorsus.
[VRS.] atqui discrimen docet Batavus sonans animantis vocabulum, in quo audis geminum v; si sones simplex, nullus quid velis intelliget Latine nesciens. tantum est discriminis in mora syllabae, quod nos, perinde ac si nullius sit momenti, plane negligimus.
(Erasmus, De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione 946-947 LB)
[LION] Can you give me an elementary explanation of the difference in pronunciation between a long vowel and a short one?
[BEAR] There is nothing strange about it. The difference exists clearly enough in the vernacular languages that distinguish long from short syllables in both speech and script, writing the long vowel either by duplicating the character or by adding another vowel to form a diphthong. If you say the Dutch word for ‘white’ (wit), you perceive a single i, if you say ‘broad’ the i is duplicated, but the word remains monosyllabic (wijt). The order for turning a ship’s capstan to unload cargo, ‘wind’ (win) has one i; the word you say if you want a drink, ‘wine’ (wijn), has two. Say the dutch for ‘bottle’ (vles), and you hear a single e, whereas the Flemish word for ‘meat’ (vlees) has a double e. There is the same distinction in ‘best’ and ‘beast’ (best, beest), in ‘last’ and ‘a cobbler’s last’ (lest, leest). Say ‘pelt’ (vel) in Dutch, you hear one e, ‘much’ in Flemish (veel) and you hear two. Again, ‘well’ in Dutch (put) has one u, say ‘outside’ (uut) and you hear two, unless you like to call it a special kind of diphthong. Say the English word for ‘bread’ (bret) and you have a short e, but say the Dutch word for ‘broad’ (breet) and you have a double one. You hear a short e in the Dutch for ‘fat’ (vet), but a long one in ‘strife’ (veet). ‘Wheel’ in Dutch has a short a (rat), ‘counsel’ has a diphthongal ae (raet). The same with the words for ‘hole’ and ‘go’ (gat, gaet), ‘bath’ and ‘profit’ (bat, baet).
[LION] Endless examples of the kind you are describing now occur to me.
[BEAR] All the more surprising then is our total refusal to make the requisite distinctions when speaking Latin or Greek. The vowel in θήρ [thḗr] ‘animal’ is naturally long: yet except for the first letter it is today pronounced exactly like that Latin vir ‘man’ where the i is short by nature. πῦρ [pȳr] ‘fire’ is another word which in the fashion of the modern Greeks we pronounce wrong. The Germans, who have borrowed the word from Greek, pronounce it right except for changing the original smooth consonant for an aspirate [feuer]. The Dutch change it to a v [vuur]. πᾶς [pās] ‘all’ is another word we vocalize wrong, but the French have it right in their words for ‘low’ [bas] and ‘step’ [pas].
[BEAR] To come back to θήρ [thḗr] ‘animal.’ The word has been taken over into Dutch from Greek, and our form of it, dier—the initial θ having been changed to d—shows what the ancient Greek pronunciation must have been like. Again consider how we pronounce the long syllable in mus, ‘a mouse,’ in exactly the same way as we do the short syllable at the end of the word mimus ‘actor.’
[LION] We do, in exactly the same way.
[BEAR] Yet any Dutchman saying the animal’s name with its doubled u [muus] can teach us the distinction we ought to make. If you were to pronounce the Dutch word with a single u, nobody, unless he knew Latin, would have any idea what you meant. That is the measure of importance of syllabic lenght. Yet we neglect it altogether as quite immaterial.
(tr. Maurice Pope)