In his book, Hans Ørberg uses macrons to show longer vowel sounds, but it's not clear to me if this is reconstructed, ecclesiastical, something else, or if there are even differences between those vowels in each style of pronunciation. An example from chapter two is the name Iulia: Iūlia / Iūliī.


Strictly speaking, LLPSI doesn't require any particular pronunciation style: you're free to read the text in Reconstructed Classical, Ecclesiastical, Traditional English, or whichever you prefer!

However, the vowel length markings are generally associated with Reconstructed Classical pronunciation. In Classical times, the long vowels (ā ē ī ō ū ȳ) were literally pronounced for longer than the short ones (a e i o u y); there was probably also a difference in sound (though whether this was acceptable in high-class oratory or considered a Vulgar trait it unknown). In the Romance languages, the length difference eventually disappeared entirely, and the set of twelve monophthongs was reduced to seven.

So when mediaeval writers went back and tried to imitate the Classical style, they didn't really bother with the vowel lengths (since they weren't a familiar part of everyday speech). For the most part, a and ā were pronounced exactly the same, and the difference was only marked in writing when absolutely necessary (like to separate Rōma from Rōmā; the latter was often written "Româ", with a circumflex).

Later, linguists and classicists looked back at the evidence, and came to the conclusion that vowel length was important and deserved to be studied. To the Romans, it was an important distinction, and it separated various near-homophones (like alium "another", ālium "garlic", or anus "ring", ānus "old woman"). So vowel length has had a resurgence of popularity.

But the Ecclesiastical pronunciation, and most of the regional pronunciations like Traditional English, were codified long before that. They're less concerned with how the ancient Romans spoke and more concerned with how people have been speaking in more recent years. So (except for a few exceptions involving e and o) those pronunciations don't care about vowel lengths. If you're using one of those, you can safely ignore the long marks when reading.

P.S. For an extremely brief and simplified summary of vowels in Reconstructed Classical pronunciation, ī i ē e ā a o ō u ū y ȳ were something like /iː ɪ eː ɛ aː a ɔ oː ʊ uː ʏ yː/. If you're interested in digging into this further, feel free to ask another question!

  • Ahh, I see what you mean - it's independent of the actual vowel sound itself. I'm in the very early stages of teaching myself, so I really want to try and get it "right" for myself now so I learn it from the start. I'm not very familiar at all with IPA phonemes, which adds another layer of challenge. Google helps, though. :) Your quick summary will help, though! For example, am I correct in understanding that the Reconstructed Classical pronunciation of i when not using a macron (at least for Øsberg) is like the i in kit. I'm thinking of the name from my original post Iūlia.
    – Adam
    Sep 9 '19 at 1:05
  • @Adam Basically! i without a macron is as in "kit", ī with a macron as in "machine". Annoyingly, Øsberg also writes /j/ (the first sound in "yes") with an i instead of a j — in this case, the first i is actually a /j/, which is why it's more commonly spelled Jūlia.
    – Draconis
    Sep 9 '19 at 1:15
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    @Adam Wikibooks is right in suggesting you forget English vowels altogether - the only Latin vowel that coincides with any English vowel in the majority of pronunciations is the short /e/ in pet. Everything else you need to repeat by ear without reference to English. I'm not sure if there's a good reply with pronunciation resources around here, but you can start here - using "open in new tab" is necessary on most pages due to them being from another millennium. The quality differences existed but you won't get them right if you try using English vowels. Sep 9 '19 at 19:10
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    @Adam Yes, Latin has no uh sound. oos might be fine - or might not be, depending on your accent - for the quality but not for the length, which needs to be as in book. What this also means that English has no sound for the long /u:/. The final /m/ is not pronounced as the English [m] but as nasalisation of the previous vowel. The Wikibooks recordings vary in quality from all right to less so, and always have an English accent. If there's more than one speaker, the other speaker from wiktionary is always wrong. Sep 11 '19 at 0:00
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    @Adam The general consensus, or at least what I learned, is that short ŭ is somewhat like English "book" while long ū is like English "moon" (except longer). I'm not sure that's still up-to-date, though, this was years ago.
    – Draconis
    Sep 11 '19 at 3:38

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