I have trying to research how old the Ecclesiastical Pronunciation of Latin is. To be more precise, I mean the Italianate pronunciation, called 'La Pronuncia Scolastica' in Italian. Many sources I have read state that the Pronuncia Scolastica is derived from the pronunciation of Latin from the IV and V centuries A.D.

However, others state that the pronunciation of Latin in the V century A.D. was quite removed from the spelling, and in the Carolingian era Alcuin tried to instigate a 'one letter = one pronunciation' policy, and rather than change the spelling to match the pronunciation, changed the pronunciation to be in accordance with the spelling. I am interested in finding out how much these reforms affected the Italian pronunciation of Latin. So far I have not found much definitive information. Many people state that Ecclesiastical Latin is just Latin pronounced as if it were Modern Italian, but that doesn't make much sense because Italians were pronouncing Latin before Italian was a written language, and I am interested in finding out how they did so.

From reading as many books on the subject as I can, it seems to me that the main changes from about the 1st to the 7th century A.D. (edit. With some points dating from even earlier times) from the restored 'classical pronunciation' are roughly as follows:

1) Loss of 'h'.

2) Difference between long and short vowels becomes less marked.

3) Palatalisation of c before e,i,oe,ae,y to [tʃ]

4) Palatalisation of g before e,i,oe,ae,y to [dʒ], or loss of medially.

5) Consonantal 'u' > [β],[v]

6) Diphthongs ae, oe > [ɛ], [e].

7) ti + vowel > [tsi], [tʃ]

8) Greek aspirated digraphs ch, ph, th, > c, f/p, t.

9) y > i.

10) 'b' between vowels becomes [β],[v].

11) Vowel changes: short 'i' becomes [e], short 'u' becomes [o].

12) di + vowel > [dzi], [dʒ].

13) Final m disappears.

14) Initial consonantal 'i' becomes [dʒ].

15) qu in some cases becomes [k].

16) gn > [ɲ]. (edit: possibly only Ecclesiastical, ngn seems to be another pronunciation but I can't remember any examples or sources off hand)

17) ns > s.

However, Italian Ecclesiastical Latin only seems to have inherited points 1-9 from the Late Latin pronunciation, so were the changes 10-17 'corrected' due to influence of Alcuin's reforms?, or due to the influence of the spelling and were 'corrected' later when people no longer spoke Latin natively, and viewed their Romance dialect as a separate language.

I am interested if anyone knows of any articles, books or papers that discuss this in more detail.

Gratias vobis ago.


  • 1
    16) gn = ɲ applies to Ecclesiastical pronunciation of Latin – Asteroides Jun 3 at 21:50
  • 13) started at least a little even before the first century, as final -m is dropped in verse to allow an elision. – C Monsour Jun 4 at 0:55
  • Good point about gn. And final m yes, some of the other changes probably started before the first century too which I should have mentioned, for example Polybius c.  200 – c.  118 BC wrote Livius in Greek as Λιβιος which would suggest a bilabial fricative and the diphthong ae was e in Cicero's time I think. – Paulus Filius Rogeri Jun 4 at 8:33
  • @PaulusFiliusRogeri I'm not an expert, but that doesn't seem right to me. β could have been a transcription of /w/; if he wrote Λιυιος or Λιουιος, it would have to have been pronounced with four vowels in a row or pronounced with υι diphthong, in either case far from the Latin pronunciation. Centuries later Marcus Aurelius (beginning of Meditations) transcribes Verus as Οὐήρος. – b a Jun 4 at 12:06
  • I agree it could have been the nearest thing the Greeks had to a 'w' so may not have necessarily represented the Latin sound, but maybe Latin speaking Greeks pronounced it like that in some words? The article "The Greek Transliteration and Pronunciation of the Latin Consonant U" by Bradley Buzsard is a very interesting analysis and mentions various instances of Λιβιος and also Λιουιος from the 1st and 2nd Cent. B.C. – Paulus Filius Rogeri Jun 4 at 17:04

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