Bill Long 10/05/04
Synaloepha and its Friends; Ecthlipsis
When William Weld, former Governor of and US Attorney for Massachusetts, was interviewed about his past when running for office, he mentioned that he majored in Classics at Harvard. One of his memories was the Latin Prose Composition class (still required in some universities for a Classics major). He recalls that learning how to write compositions in Latin was hard work and was not very practical, but the professors sure took it seriously. So it is with this last day on metaplasms. The work is hard and not very practical, but I take it quite seriously.
Beginning with an Overview
In this mini-essay I consider Donatus' 13th and 14th examples of metaplasm (ecthlipsis and synaloepha). First, however, a few words on how these or related words are taught in Greek grammars (The "related words" to synaloepha are crasis, synizesis, synaeresis, elision, syncrisis and synecphonesis). Medieval and early modern Greek grammars talked about "three modes of contraction" and these three "modes" were crasis, synaeresis and syncope. The most popular Greek Grammar of the twentieth century (Smyth) talked about three categories of contraction: elision, synizesis and crasis (almost sounds like the 1st Triumvirate). Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1993) speaks of four forms of synaloepha: crasis, synaeresis, elision and synizesis. That is, synaloepha seems to be the inclusive or umbrella term with the others being ways that "blending" can happen within a word and between words. I'd say that confusion is reigning now. So as not to get your hopes up, I think we will still be confused at the end of the essay, but a few things can be sorted out.
Getting Rid of a Few Terms
First, let's explain Donatus' next metaplasm: ecthlipsis. According to Donatus it is a "difficult or harsh coming together" of a consonant and a vowel, leading to the dropping of the consonant. It literally means "to rub out." In fact, ecthlipsis has a very specific signification. It is the dropping, in pronunciation, of the final "m" or "um" in a Latin word before a word beginning with a vowel. The classic example is from Book I of the Aeneid: multum ille et terris iactatus. Drop the "um" when you say the phrase.
Then, we can discard syncrisis for now, too. It really has little to do with specific orthographic or positional changes of words in a sentence, but is a word meaning comparison or combination. Its most famous ancient usage is in Plutarch's Lives where, after relating the biography of a noble Greek and Roman he "compares" the two (sunkrinein).
Finally, let's lay aside synecphonesis. Literally meaning "to speak out," synecphonesis simply does not appear that frequently. It is defined as the "contraction of two syllables into one." Ok. But then comes the killer--the words synizesis and synaeresis. Yikes.
Back to Synaloepha
So, we are left with about five words all suggesting some kind of mixture or, as I called it in a previous essay, "smushing together." If it is hard to see the difference sometimes between "rubbing out" a letter and "smushing" them together, it is harder even to distinguish the following five terms. They are crasis and elision and synaloepha and synizesis and synaeresis. Well, I think we can handle crasis. Crasis is the dropping of a final vowel in a word when followed by another word beginning with a vowel (in Greek, of course), such ask "kago" for "kaigo" (hard to communicate in English). Crasis comes from the Greek word for mixing (kerannumai); hence the meaning. Let's confine it, therefore, to the smushing of vowels between words.
I think we also might be able to get rid of synizesis (literally "collapse"). Smyth gives examples of synizesis where a long syllable is pronounced as a short syallable when read for metrical purposes. So, "Achileos" (long "o") is shorted to "Achileos" (short "o") in pronunciation early in the Iliad. I don't know if this definition really holds up, but at least it is a start.
Well, why not try also to get rid of elision? Elision has both a narrow and wide meaning in English. Its narrow signification is the elimination of a final proclitic vowel for metrical purposes in poetry. In "th'other" the final "e" of "the" is elided. It is like crasis, then, only that it stresses the dropping of the vowel while crasis emphasizes the "mixing" that results. Maybe that is too "Ramian" (after the 16th century logician and grammarian Petrus Ramus) an explanation, but at least it makes me happy now. The second signification of elision is simply an omission. Thus, one can say that certain sections of the symphony were elided by the orchestra because of time constraints.
Which leaves me with only two: synaloepha and synaeresis. Burton tries to distinguish the two by stressing that synaloepha has to do with omitting a vowel at the end of one word or beginning of the next when two vowels come together. But this is what we have said was crasis or elision. Then he defines synaeresis as simply when two syllables are contracted into one. Rather than trying to posit a distinction between the two, though Webster's attempt to do so is attractive (see above), I will just leave the two as synonyms.
Thus, I don't believe I have yet "sorted out" all the "mixed up" terms. Maybe that is why they have to do with mixture! In any case, perhaps the best thing to do for now is to be aware of all five or six terms, feeling free to use them all when it has to do with some form of "smushing" of words, but knowing deep in our souls that each term has its own story and that this story probably has, like our own lives, interesting and dull dimensions to it.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long