Latin regional pronunciation

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Latin pronunciation, both in the classical and post-classical age, has varied across different regions and different eras. As the respective languages have undergone sound changes, the changes have often applied to the pronunciation of Latin as well.

Latin still in use today is more often pronounced according to context, rather than geography. For a century, Italianate (perhaps more properly, modern Roman) Latin has been the official pronunciation of the Catholic Church due to the centrality of Italy and Italian, and this is the default of many singers and choirs. In the interest of historically informed performance, some singers of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music adopt the pronunciation of the composer's period and region. While in Western university classics departments the reconstructed classical pronunciation has been general since around 1945,[citation needed] in the Anglo-American legal professions the older style of academic Latin still survives.

The following table shows the main differences between different regions with the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is far from a complete listing and lacks the local variations exhibited through centuries, but is intended to give an outline of main characteristics of different regions.

Sign Example Classical Italian Romanian[1] Spanish Portuguese[2] French Catalan Slavic German/Uralic Danish English[3] Greek[4]
a canis /a/ /a/ /a(ː)/ /æ(ː)/ (/a(ː)/) /æ/ or /eɪ/ /a/
ā cāsus /aː/
ae (æ) saepe, bonae /aɪ, ae/, later /ɛː/ /ɛ/ /e/ /ɛ/ /ɛ/ (pronounced /e/ when not stressed) /ɛ/ /ɛː/ /ɛ/ or /iː/ /e/
ce,i,ae,oe benedīcimus /k/ /tʃ/[5] /θ/ or /s/ /s/ /ts/ /s/ /k/
ch pulcher /kʰ/ /k/ /x/ /x/ or /ç/ /k(ʰ)/ /k/ /x/ or /ç/
e venī ("come", imperative singular) /ɛ/ /e/ /ɛ/ /ɛ/ (pronounced /e/ when not stressed) /ɛ/ /ɛ/ or /eː/ /ɛ/ /ɛ/ or /iː/ /e/
ē vēnī ("I came", "I have come") /eː/ /e/ /eː/
ge,i,ae,oe agimus /ɡ/ /dʒ/ /d͡ʒ/ /x/ /ʒ/ /ʒ/ or /dʒ/ /ɡ/ /dʒ/ /g/
gn magnum /ŋn/ or /gn/ /ɲɲ/ /ɡn/ /ɣn/ /ɲ/ or /ɡn/ /ɡn/ /ŋn/ /ɡn/ /ɡn/ or /ŋn/ /ŋn/ /ɡn/
h hominibus /h, -/ /-/ /h/ /-/ /x/ (Polish, the usual current value) or /ɦ/ or /ɣ/ /h/
i fides /ɪ/ /i/ /i/ (Russian also /ɨ/ after "c") /ɪ/ or /iː/ /i/ /ɪ/ or /aɪ/ /i/
ī fīlius /iː/
j Jesus /j/ /j/ /ʒ/ /x/ /ʒ/ /j/ (but it can also be pronounced /ʒ/ or /dʒ/) /j/ /dʒ/ /j/
o solum /ɔ/ /o/ /ɔ/ /o(ː)/ /ɔ/ (pronounced /o/ when not stressed) /ɔ/ or /o/ or /ʷo/ (Russian) /ɔ/ or /oː/ /ɔ/ /ɒ/ or /oʊ/ /o/
ō sōlus /oː/ /o/ /o/ /o/ /oː/
oe (œ) poena /ɔɪ, oe/, later /eː/ /e/ /ɛ/ or /ʲo/ (Russian) /øː/, /e:/ /øː/ /ɛ/ or /iː/ /øː/
qu quis /kʷ/ /kw/ /kv/ or /kw/ /kw/ or /k/ /kʷ/ /kw/a /kɥ/æ,e,i /k/o,u /kw/ /kv/ (Polish: /kf/) /kv/ /kʰv/ /kw/ /kv/
sungeminated between vowels rosa /s/ /s/ or /z/ /z/ /s/ /z/ /s/ /s/ or /z/ /z/
sce,i,ae,oe ascendit /sk/ /ʃː/ /st͡ʃ/ /sθ/ or /s/ /s/ or /ʃ/ /s/ /sts/ /s/ /sk/
tiV nātiō /tɪ/ /tsj/ /t͡si/ /θj/ or /sj/ /sj/ /si/ /tsi/ or /tsɨ/ or /ti/ (Polish academic for both traditional and reconstructed pronunciations) /tsi/ or /tsj/ /ʃ/ /ʃi/ /tɪ/
u ut, sumus /ʊ/ /u/ /y(ː)/ /u/ /ʊ/ or /uː/ /u(ː)/ (/o/) /ʌ/ or /juː/ /u/
ū lūna /uː/
um curriculum /ʊ̃/ /um/ /ũ/ /ɔm/ /um/ /um/ or /ʊm/ /ʊm/ /om/ /əm/ /um/
v veritās /w/, later /v/ /v/ /b/ or /β/ /v/ /ʋ/ /v/
xce,i,ae,oe excelsis /ksk/ /kʃ/[6][7][8] /kst͡ʃ/ /sθ/ or /s/ /ks/, /s/ or /ʃ/ /ɡz/ or /ks/ /ks/ /ksts/ /ksts/ /ks/ /ksk/
z zodiacus /dz/ /z/ /θ/ or /s/ /z/ /z/ or /dz/ /z/ /ts/ /s/ /z/

In many countries, these regional varieties are still in general use in schools and churches. The Italian model is increasingly advocated in ecclesiastical contexts and now widely followed in such contexts by speakers of English, sometimes with slight variations. The Liber Usualis prescribes a silent "h", except in the two words "mihi" and "nihil", which are pronounced /miki/ and /nikil/ (this is not universally followed). Some Anglophone singers choose to pronounce "h" as /h/ for extra clarity.

See also[edit]

Specific languages[edit]

Other languages[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Benedictines Of Solesmes, ed. Liber Usualis with introduction and rubrics in English. Great Falls, Montana: St. Bonaventure Publ., 1997.
  • Copeman, Harold. Singing in Latin. Oxford, UK: Harold Copeman (publisher), revised edition 1992.
  • McGee, Timothy J. with A G. Rigg and David N. Klausner, eds. Singing Early Music. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1996.


  1. ^ Romanian Academy (2005). Dicționarul ortografic, ortoepic și morfologic al limbii române (Otrhographic, orthoepic, and morphologic dictionary of the Romanian language) (2 ed.). Univers Enciclopedic. ISBN 978-973-637-087-8.
  2. ^ Faraco, Carlos Emílio (2012). Gramática nova. Francisco Marto de Moura, José Hamilton Maruxo. São Paulo: Editora Ática. ISBN 978-85-08-11311-8. OCLC 783775360.
  3. ^ Vowel length in the traditional English pronunciation of Latin is not determined from classical vowel length, but from syllabification and stress.
  5. ^ In 17c Venice soft c was /ts/: cf. Monteverdi's motet Venite sicientes (for the usual spelling sitientes)
  6. ^ Benedictines Of Solesmes, ed. Liber Usualis with introduction and rubrics in English. Great Falls, Montana: St. Bonaventure Publ., 1997., p. xxxviij.
  7. ^ The unaspirated k is commonly explained to anglophones as "egg shells"
  8. ^ Due to XC's appearance as two separate consonants, some people eschew the standard pronunciation in favor of /kstʃ/, citation is needed for this pronunciation's authoritativeness