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I've never studied Latin, but I have this understanding of its pronunciation:

  • In classical Latin the "soft c" and the "soft g" do not exist.
  • In modern Vatican Latin, words are pronounced the way they would be if the were standard modern Italian words spelled the same way. That means there is a "soft c" pronounced like "ch" in "potato chips" and a soft "g" pronounced like the "j" in "blue jeans".

The pronunciations in this rendition of the anthem of the European Union differ from both of those conventions. In the phrase "pacem mundi augeat", the "g" is "hard" and the "c" is a voiceless "s". Similarly in "Cives floreat Europa" the "c" is an "s". And in "stellae signa sunt in caelo" the "c" is an "s".

And some of the vowels seem rather odd.

Is there some standard system of pronunciation to which this conforms, or are they just pronouncing it wrong, or what?

2 Answers 2

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It sounds like the traditional German pronunciation:

  1. c before i, e, ae is not a voiceless s but rather /ts/
  2. ae is a monophthong, often pronounced /ɛː/ (sometimes /eː/ depending on local accent)
  3. t before i + a vowel is pronounced as /ts/ (iustitia)
  4. initial s is voiced (semper, diversitate).

I am not sure about (1) in the recording, it is difficult to tell. In the other cases I believe I hear these pronunciations.

Note that the European Hymn is a private project mostly driven by one Peter Roland from Austria. It would therefore not be surprising to find the German pronunciation.

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  • I forgot to mention: The pronunciation of "Europa", in particular that of the initail diphthong, does seem like the way it's pronounced in German. May 11, 2020 at 5:39
  • I seem to hear two different c's: one /s/ (cives), the other /tʃ/ (caelo). But I'm not 100% sure either. The /s/ pronunciation matches Dutch pronunciation of Latinby those who learned it more than at least forty years ago. The /tʃ/ in caelo might be influenced by Church pronunciation. I really do not hear /z/ in semper, but rather /s/. But s internal might be voiced. All of this and the /g/ sound fairly Dutch. But the u as /u/* doesn't sound Dutch except by those who learned Latin more recently. And the pronunciation of Eu- sounds very German indeed.
    – Cerberus
    May 15, 2020 at 0:36
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Q: "Is there some standard system of pronunciation to which this [rendition of the anthem of the European Union] conforms, or are they just pronouncing it wrong, or what?"

I agree with the previous answer and comments which suggest that the particular rendition linked in the question is mostly influenced by German tradition.

Relevant to a EU-wide context, I believe that the shortest answer would be that there is no standard. This is because Latin pronunciations -- especially in music -- developed separate traditions in different European countries, all different and all changing over time, and maybe in some places also more or less influenced to different degrees by attempted modernizations of Church Latin. So it might be quite hard, if not impossible, to find agreement Europe-wide let alone worldwide on any standard.

Probably the most comprehensive book published on traditions of Latin pronunciation in music is "Singing in Latin", by Harold Copeman (1918-2003), (published by the author, in Oxford, 1990, with revised versions in 1992 and 1996, and a pocket edition). It has chapters on 'How Latin pronunciations multiplied', about documentary evidence from several national traditions in Europe, music examples, recommendations for singing Latin music while respecting national styles from different historical periods, and a bibliography partly classified by historical period.

Copies can be hard to obtain now, probably because the author acted as his own publisher. At the time of writing this (Aug 2023), a brief pdf extract of the book (with front matter, table of contents, and an example section) could be found online. 'Singing in Latin' also received an extensive review in Performance Practice Review (1992), 5(1), article 3, pp.103-108, written by the late Douglas Leedy.

There is also a short but useful study of "National Pronunciations of Latin ca.1490-1600" by Ross Duffin, in Journal of Musicology 4(2) (1985-6), 217-226.

Likewise, there is a wikipedia page on Latin regional pronunciation, with a summary table of pronunciation points, but it does not discuss changes and developments that have happened over time.

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