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The Merriam Webster definition gives the following pronunciation: \ˈlā-sh(ē-)əm\.

But this doesn't sound right to me. I have never heard the consonant 't' pronounced this way in Latin. Which leads me to a few questions.

  1. How did the Romans pronounce Latium?
  2. How is Latium pronounced in the ecclesiastical and English pronunciation systems?
  3. Is there a difference in pronunciation of this word between these three systems?
  • 5
    That pronunciation is for the English word "Latium," not the Latin word "Latium." Hence the difference in the T. – jwodder Jun 10 '16 at 21:41
  • English pronunciation of anything foreign is so messed up it's hardly believable anymore. – blagae Jun 7 '17 at 7:21
10

Forgive me if I use IPA notation. As a non-native speaker of English, I still have some difficulty with English vowels and don't really feel comfortable using English-based systems as Webster's

  • In Classical reconstructed pronuntiation, it would be ['la.ti.ũ:]. Germans and clasicists prefer this one. Note that this is how Romans most likely pronounced it, since there is only indirect (yet quite convincing) evidence. If you are not familiar with IPA, ũ means oo as in goose, but nasalized.
  • In Ecclesiastical pronunciation, it is ['la.tsi.um]: ti+vowel not preceded by s becomes tsi. This one was settled down in the 19th century and is well-documented. Although it is most likely not the original way to pronounce Classical Latin, it has ancient roots and enjoys some official status. It is mostly based in how italian latinists and churchmen pronounced Latin at the time, and is consistent with what it likely sounded in medieval times.

In both cases: 1) unlike English, t is not aspirated (think of the sound of t in Spanish or Italian). 2) i and u do not form a diphthong, hence they are in separate syllables. 3) since the i is short, the stress goes in the third-to-last syllable (i.e., the first one in this case) 4) a as in father, i as ee in bee, u as oo in boot, but all shorter.

Regarding English pronunciation, there is an intricate set of rules to pronounce Latin in an academic context. It is basically the effect of the same sound changes that affected English plus some academic corrections along history. As a consequence, the very set of rules also changed with time. Following it, you apparently get (thanks Sumelic):

  • (Trad. English pronounciation:) ['leɪ.ʃəm], admiting some variants, it seems, like ['leɪ.ʃɨəm], which is pretty close to (if not the same as) what MW says. As Nathaniel suggests, this is how most English-speaking Latin scholars pronounced Latin before the time when Reconstructed and Ecclesiastical pronunciations took force and pushed most local variants close to extinction.

The fact that MW offers a different pronunciation may obey the fact that English evolves with use (rather than what academics say), and the current pronunciation of original Latin words may have departed from what scholars say. For what it's worth, Dictionary.com offers the following one: [ley-shee-uh m], which -correct me if I am wrong- is (almost) consistent with MW's

  • 1
    Your blurb on the Ecclesiastical gives the impression that 'tsi' dates to the 1800s. Actually the sequence is [t + i + vowel] and it dates back to Medieval Latin, as evidenced in the frequent interchange of -cia and -tia spellings in Early and High Medieval literature (c + i was "tsee" in Medieval Latin since perhaps around the 6th century), as well as in their being rhymed in contemporary poetry such as Thomas Aquinas' hymn "Adore Te Devote". – Coemgenus Jan 23 '18 at 18:17
  • 1
    @Coemgenus better now? See also: this question about the timing of palatalization – Rafael Jan 23 '18 at 18:43
  • Yes, much better. Good link too. – Coemgenus Jan 27 '18 at 3:37
  • I am surprised you say that Germans prefer the classical way as the traditional German regional pronunciation uses /tsi/ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_regional_pronunciation – Vladimir F Sep 24 at 13:16
  • 1
    @VladimirF: I think that the traditional German pronunciation of Latin, like the traditional English pronunciation of Latin, has become unpopular among German scholars and students of Latin (despite having a continued influence on the pronunciation of Latin-derived terms in German). – Asteroides Sep 24 at 16:07
6

Apparently this pronunciation of Latium is similar to the one that the French use.

I had the same question when I visited Rome and realized that the modern name of Lazio is the Italian pronunciation of Latium. Since -tion in English corresponds to -zione in Italian, I concluded that the -ti- in Latium should probably be pronounced like the -ti- in e.g. initiation (just like how, in Italian, the -zi- in Lazio is pronounced like the -zi- in iniziazione and, in Spanish, the -ci- in Lacio is pronounced like the -ci- in iniciación).

Since English adopted many of the French sound changes to the Latin language (well, at least as best they could given the phonology of the English language), the fact that -ti- is pronounced like -sh- should not be surprising.

In linguistics, I believe this phenomenon is known as palatalization. It's the same reason that diurnal became giorno in Italian.

Disclaimer: I am in no sense a linguist and do not speak any of the languages I mentioned above (except for English, of course). I'm just someone with an untrained ear who is sharing an observation I made while traveling abroad.

  • Random fun fact: palatalization is the reason we have soft c and soft g. In the case of soft c, the "k sound" became a "ch sound" which simplified to an "s sound." Italian is more conservative than Spanish, English, and French in this regard when it comes to the soft c. In the case of the soft g, this is why Mandarin speakers pronounced "Beijing" more like "Peking" before the early 20th century (it remains unpalatalized in the more conservative Chinese dialects as well as in Japanese and Korean since the word was borrowed much earlier in time). – Kevin Jin Jun 11 '17 at 15:07
  • It also appears that another round of palatalization in English called "yod-coalescence" was the reason for the final sound change to -shion after the -sion pronunciation for -tion was borrowed from French. – Kevin Jin Jun 11 '17 at 15:37

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