Latin Pronunciation Guide
With the great number of differences in pronunciation between Classical Latin and English, a troper may be confused as to how to transcribe Ominous Latin Chanting
or how to read a Pretentious Latin Motto
. This page will help.
It should be noted that until very recently, Latin has commonly been pronounced according to the phonetic rules of the native language of the speaker.
Thus a name like "Cicero
", pronounced "Keekayro" by the man himself, would have been pronounced "Sissuhro" by an Englishman or American, "Seesayro" by a Frenchman, "Tseetsayro" by a German, "Cheechayro" by an Italian, "Theethayro" by a Spaniard, "Tsitserohn" by a Russian, and so on. "Classical
Latin" was a formal, somewhat artificial language - the common people definitely didn't speak it (Greek was the lingua franca
of Ancient Rome in most of the Empire), it already had its regional dialects, and thus was confined to the educated elite. Its pronunciation is a reconstruction, based on philological principles, of how scholars think the language was probably pronounced in the age of Augustus (around the 1st century BC/AD).
Note, however, that in the Christian religious context, there is an similar different pronunciation guide for it, based largely on the standard modern pronunciation in Rome. This is known as Ecclesiastical Latin
or Church Latin, and is the pronunciation you'll typically hear in Ominous Latin Chanting
(e.g. Mozart's Requiem
or Beethoven's Missa Solemnis
). Even there, though, regional variations exist; a recording of, say, the current (German) Emeritus Pope will sound somewhat different than that of one of the modern Italian popes. The pronunciation guide below details only Classical
Latin, not the more familiar Ecclesiastical variant.
First off, the biggest difference between Classical Latin and English/Ecclesiastical Latin, the letter "V" in Latin is pronounced like the letter "U" or "W" in English.
The ancient Romans didn't have separate letters for U and V, and didn't pronounce the letter V, despite what Ecclesiastical Ominous Latin Chanting that do pronounce V would have made you believe.
It has become the convention in modern printing of Latin works to print "v" where a consonant is indicated, and "u" where is a vowel. Classical orthography and pronunciation made no such distinction, but used "V" in both cases — thus "VIDEO, AVDIO" (all in caps, by the way, small letters being a mediaeval or perhaps very late-Imperial invention). Julius Caesar's famous Pretentious Latin Motto
"Veni Vidi Vici" would have been pronounced originally as "Weni Widi Wiki", and his name would have been like IVLIVS CAESAR (pronounced like "Kaisar", hence the basis for the German Emperor's title of Kaiser).
Inconsistently, modern printing prefers "i" for both consonant and vowel, where older printings substituted a "j" for the former — thus where Augustus would have written "IVVAVIT", Mr. Chipping
would have written "juvavit", and a modern Latinist "iuvavit". It all gets very confusing.
With that out of the way, let's begin explaining the lesser differences.
| || A || E || I || O || U || Y |
| Long || as in father || like a in plate || as in machine || as in home || as in rule || Like German long ü or Latin long i |
| Short || as in about || as in pet || as in pit || as in nought || as in put || Like German short ü or Latin short i |
| IPA || a(ː) || e(ː) || i(ː) || o(ː) || u(ː) || y(ː) |
- Note 1: In the most recent editions of dictionaries and books, the long-short distinction is indicated by a macron. For older texts, you were supposed to knownote . A double vowel such as ii is pronounced as /i.i/ and not as one long i. And vowel length was very important: compare and contrast anus (old woman) and ānus (ring... and yes, that other roundish thing).
- Note 2: Y was a sound borrowed from Greek. Educated speakers probably tried to emulate the original pronunciation, but most other people used either u or i. It is pronounced like the ee in beet, but with rounded lips like the oo in foot.
| || AE || OE || EI || UI || AU || EU |
| || like ai in aisle || like oy in toy || like ay in pray || like ooey in gooey || like ou in about || like ay-oo run together |
| IPA || aj || oy || ej || u.i || aw || ew |
- Note: The diphthongs ae and oe started to collapse into /ɛː/ and /eː/ pretty early into the Classical period, but it took a while to stick.
| b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, qu, t, x, z || c || g || i (j) || r || s || ch || ph || th |
| as in English || like k || as in gone, never as in gene || like y in yet || as in Spanish; also, never blended with preceding vowel || as in super, never as in rose || like k, more emphatic || like p, more emphatic || like t, more emphatic |
| IPA || k || g || j || r || s || kʰ || pʰ || tʰ |
- Note 1: The distinction between c and ch, p and ph and t and th is that the former lack aspiration (like the p in spin), whereas the latter have it (like in pin) note . This wasn't native to Latin, however, and only entered the language via an import from Ancient Greek. Educated speakers made the difference, most didn't.
- Note 2: m and n at the end of syllables probably only indicated nasalization of the preceding vowel, or were only weakly pronounced.
- Note 3: Latin has doubled consonants which were geminated (that is, held longer than simple consonants). This usually gets disregarded today, or is pronounced as two consonants. In this case, compare and contrast anus (old woman) and annus (year).
- This distinction also reveals the importance of pronouncing long vowels properly, as ānus means...well...what it means in English.
- Note 4: "gn" as in agnus (lamb) was probably pronounced "ngn" as in hangnail (IPA /ŋn/). Pronouncing it as "ni" (/ɲ/) as in onion is a borrowing from Church Latin (that is, Latin pronounced as though it were Italian).
The stress of a two syllable word is always the first syllable, for example, sérvus
. For words with three or more syllables, the stress is on the second-to-last syllable, or penult, if it is long by nature (a diphthong or a long vowel) or long by position (followed by two or more consonants or by an x or z), for example, Augústus
; if the penult is short, then the stress is put on the third-to-last or antepenult.
- Note: An exception to the long by nature rule is when is when a stop (b, p, d, t, g, c) are followed by a liquid consant (l or r), in which case, they are pronounced as one consonant (with the exception of d or t and l).
Wikipedia goes into much more detail here