Chapter 1: Introduction

§7. Latin Pronunciation

If this were a course in the Latin language, we could hardly proceed without devoting a great deal of time to the question of pronunciation. Since we are studying Latin word roots only, that concern is far less important. The best advice is to listen to Latin words as they are spoken aloud in class, so as to learn by imitation. Still, you will likely want to have a little theoretical information, in case your curiosity is later aroused. Please treat the next page as an elementary reference guide, and merely read it through quickly for now.

As a rule, we will be using the CLASSICAL PRONUNCIATION OF LATIN, insofar as it can be reconstructed some 2,000 years later. Surprising though it may seem, we do have a very good idea of how Cicero and Caesar expressed the sounds of Latin, in the first century BC; there is a wealth of evidence, both practical and theoretical. Here are a few general guidelines, with rough and ready English approximations:

A like E father hiātus like E sofa antenna
E they rēgīna them error
I machine cactī holiest senior
O holy ōmen holly honor
U rude acūmen full fulcrum
AE like ai … in E aisle caelum, algai, praemium
AU ow
now pauper, fauna, aurōra
OE oy
boy foetus, proelium
1. Similar to English: B, D, F, H, [K], L, M, N, P, Q, S, X, Z.
2. C, G, T were hard, as in E campus, gratis, torpor, never soft as in E census, genius, nation.
3. S was always unvoiced, as in E similie (never as in rose); R was always trilled.
4. The English sounds /j/ and /v/ did not exist; the Latin letters J (consonant I) and V (consonant U) represent the English sounds /y/ and /w/: jūnior, victōria.

As you may know, the pronunciation of Latin changed significantly from the classical to the medieval period; and we may sometimes use the MEDIEVAL PRONUNCIATION to explain the form of an English word. The most notable changes affected the consonants C, G, and T(I), which were palatalized (softened) in some phonetic environments; and V, which was later pronounced as in modern English. In late antiquity, the diphthongs AE and OE both came to resemble long E (“ay”), with the result that caelum (“heaven”), previously pronounced “ky-loom,” was now “chay-loom” in spoken Latin. This change played havoc with spelling, and caelum was often spelled coelum.

  1. The pronunciation of the Latin examples may be very different from that of their English derivatives.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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