Resources for Latin


The Alphabet

The pronunciation of Latin has changed through the centuries.
At the time of Julius Caesar it is probable that the pronunciation was similar to that given below as "Classical"
As the Roman Empire declined, and individual regions of Europe became autonomous, the pronunciation of the language changed, and the language itself changed, producing the "Romance" family of European languages which include Italian, French, Spanish, and Romansch which we have today.
During the Middle Ages the Church and the Universities used Latin to communicate across national boundaries, but the pronunciation had changed from the Classical.
"Church Latin" refers to the pronunciation used for liturgical texts. This is the pronunciation used when singing Latin texts such as the Ave Maria.
NOTE - Music students should be guided by their vocal coaches as to the pronunciation of Latin texts set to music. Pronunciation when singing is sometimes different to that used when speaking.

In this course it is more important that you learn to read and understand Latin, and be able to translate Latin into English, rather than worry about some particular system of pronunciation.
As we will be dealing with classical Latin texts, and a story set at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, my advice is to use a Classical pronunciation for most of your work, and then remember to make appropriate changes when reading or singing liturgical texts.

Pronunciation

Most of the Latin consonants are pronounced exactly like English ones.
Latin vowels have two "lengths" - long and short. Long vowels are held for a longer time when they are spoken, and this also alters to sound of the vowel.
This happens in English too, but we do not often think about it - we just speak as we have heard others speak. For example, think how you would pronounce car, care, cat, crate, bet, Bert, cede, pin, pine, fir, emir, on, one, gone, done, up, upon, Rupert.
Latin texts did not show whether a vowel was long or short - people just learned the correct pronunciation from their parents and teachers. Modern textbooks help us by indicating long vowels, usually by printing a line above a long vowel. The line is called a macron. Because macrons are more difficult to print, some books and websites will indicate the long vowels in bold type or use an accent.

Consonants
Letter Pronunciation
Classical Church
B, bb as in batb as in bat
C, cc as in catc as in cat
unless followed by e, i, ae, or oe
then ch as in church
D, dd as in dogd as in dog
F, ff as in fillf as in fill
G, gg as in getg as in get
unless followed by e, i, or y
then j as in job or g as in angel
H, hh as in hoph as in hop
I, i, J, jJ and I were regarded as different forms of the same letter up until the 17th century AD
J is merely an I with an elongated tail.
J is used before vowels, I before consonants or as part of diphthongs
The dot on i and j was not used until the 11th century AD
y as in yety as in yet
K, kk as in kissk as in kiss
L, ll as in letl as in let
M, mm as in manm as in man
N, nn as in notn as in not
P, pp as in pitp as in pit
Q, qQ is always follwed by a U
qu as in quickqu as in quick
R, rR is slightly rolled or trilled, and aspirated - "hrr"
rr as in terriblerr as in terrible
S, ss as in sits as in sit
T, tt as in tipt as in tip
U, u, V, vU and V were regarded as different forms of the same letter up until the Middle Ages
The letter was sounded as a vowel ("oo") if it was followed by a consonant, and as a consonant if it was followed by a vowel
w as in wayv as in vet
X, xx as in taxix as in taxi
Z, zdz as in adzedz as in adze

Vowels

Vowels have approximately the same sounds in both Classical and Church Latin
Long vowels are held for about twice as long as short ones, and the sound is broadened

Letter Pronunciation
Short Long
A, aa as in catā as in father
E, ee as in getē as in hey
I, ii as in itī as in machine
Before other vowels i sounds as y in yes
O, oo as in notō as in no
U, uu as in putū as in tuba
Y, yy as in hymn or
ü as in über
no long form

Diphthongs

CombinationPronunciation
ClassicalChurch
aeai as in aisleey as in they
auau as in Faustau as in Faust
eiei as in reignei as in reign
oeoy as in boyey as in they
uiui as in quickui as in quick

Other combinations of letters

When consonants occur in pairs, try to pronounce each consonant individually

ch is pronounced as ch in Scottish loch, German Ach
gn is pronounced as ng in singing
bs is pronounced as ps in oops
th is pronounced as "t" with a puff of air following. t as in Ptui
i or j between two vowels acts as a vowel to the first one, forming a diphthong with it, and as a consonant to the second one, taking the sound of y as in yes

Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved

Dr. Rollinson

Department of Religion
ENMU Station 19
Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: January 8, 2010

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