I know that Ecclesiastical Latin uses Italianate pronunciation. My question is if there are any significant differences between pronunciation of modern Italian sounds vs. pronunciation of Ecclesiastical Latin sounds.

Latin is not a supported language for Google Cloud's Text-to-Speech API, but Italian is, of course. I'm wondering if I used Latin text with Italian language settings if I would get, more or less, Ecclesiastical Latin? Or would the computer-generated Latin speech not sound like Ecclesiastical Latin but rather a funny Italian/Latin mashup?

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    Thank you to Asteroides, Agnes, and Batavulus for your answers. – Humile Vivarium Mar 5 at 3:31
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    Thanks for your question! The best way to thank those who helped you is to vote up the good answers (there's a little arrow up next to the numbers at the top left of each answer) and check one of them as the accepted answer (the check mark under the voting arrows). – Joonas Ilmavirta Mar 5 at 17:37

As far as I can tell, "Ecclesiastical Latin" does not in fact seem to exist as a single defined standard. (I don't know whether it ever did.) There seems to be vagueness or uncertainty about a number of distinctions that are not present in a consistent form across varieties of Italian, such as the use of mid-open vowels [ɛ ɔ] versus mid-close vowels [e o] or the use of voiced [z] or voiceless [s] as a pronunciation of the consonant spelled s.

Pronunciations using the sounds of Modern Italian appear to be likely candidates for being labeled "Ecclesiastical Latin". There are a few differences in spelling conventions, however, so it wouldn't quite work to just pronounce written Latin words exactly as if they were unknown Italian words. I don't know how Google Cloud's Text-to-Speech API works.

For example, the current usual written form of Latin uses some digraphs that do not appear in the regular Italian spelling system, such as ae and oe (both pronounced like the letter e) and ph and th (pronounced like f and t respectively). It would be incorrect to pronounce the ae in Latin aes the same way as the ae in Italian maestro, or the oe in Latin poena the same way as the oe in Italian coeditare.

Ecclesiastical Latin uses the affricate sound [ts] in words spelled with ti followed by a vowel letter (except for in certain contexts; more exact conditions in my post here); Italian instead spells words pronounced with [ts] with the letter z, and uses the spelling ti only in words pronounced with non-affricate [t]. So, for example, Latin ratio, rationem in Ecclesiastical Latin need to be pronounced with [ts] (like Italian razione), not with [t].


I might be a little late, but I think I still have something to add, based on what I see in the other answers.

  1. Before the XX century, there was no single Ecclesiastical pronunciation of Latin, but rather a bunch of local traditions, some of which still survive (cf. Batavulus' answer).

  2. When we talk about Ecclesiastical pronunciation, we usually refer to the rules derived from early XX century Roman pronunciation of Latin. Its establishment as 'the' Ecclesiastical pronunciation is considered to have had a tipping point in a July 1912 letter from Pope St. Pius X to the then-Archbishop of Bourges, Louis-Ernest Dubois (see this pdf, page 577). The letter itself goes with the subtitle "de Latino sermone iuxta Romanum usum pronuntiando."

    In the letter, the Pope recalls the reestablishment of Gregorian chant in a 1903 Motu Proprio (Tra le sollicitudini), and how it had been jealously applied in France, thus contributing to a long desired liturgical unity. He expresses his desire that the Roman accent and pronunciation continues to be taught and adopted, as it was apparently done by the initiative of some part of the French Episcopate. It is reported that St. Pius X later expressed his desire that this pronunciation was adopted in every nation.

  3. Unfortunately, this didn't set in stone every phonetic detail (by current standards), and you can find diverging opinions on some finer nuances (cf. Asteroides' answer). However, most of the phonology has been pretty much agreed upon and documented. By the mid XX century, ecclesiastical Latin had more or less a standard phonology in the whole Latin church.

  4. In this context, the Liber Usualis was written in France with the specific purpose of teaching Gregorian chant and ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation rules according to the Roman Chant (a liturgical manual) and the wishes of St. Pius X and his successors. There you can see the usually known rules: <ci> → /tʃi/; <ae>, <oe>, <e> → /e/, etc. The Liber enjoys official recognition, but as far as I'm concerned, is not Church law. To the best of my knowledge (which is quite far from complete) there is no more official source, but in this forum one or two of the most specific rules it sets have been challenged.

  5. All that said, let's go to your question:

    I'm wondering if I used Latin text with Italian language settings if I would get, more or less, Ecclesiastical Latin? Or would the computer-generated Latin speech not sound like Ecclesiastical Latin but rather a funny Italian/Latin mashup?

    Well, some of the pronunciation rules match Italian, while some others don't, and yet you'll find letter combinations not present in Italian (cf. Asteroides' and Agnes' answers). You can see all the rules in the English preface in the linked version of the Liber Usualis, from page xxxvi/36 onward.

    In my opinion, the most important rules conflicting with Italian would be:

    • Diphthongs: especially <ae>, <oe> that are pronounced /e/. This applies at a lower level of importance to some vowel pairs that are diphthongs in one language and not in the other, like <ia> (a single syllable in Italian but two in Latin). You also need to be careful of derived rules like that Latin <cae>, <coe> are to be treated as Italian <ce>, i.e., /tʃe/.
    • <ti>+vowel → /tsi/, nonexistent in Italian. Again, there are some derived rules for the rare occurrences of <xti>, <sti> and <tti>

The rule that h is pronounced as /k/ in the words mihi and nihil also deserves mention, but IMHO is not that important since nowadays many people disregard it, so no one will care if the Text-to-Speech API disregards it too.

I'd also test how the API treats Greek transliterations uncommon in Italian (<ch>, <kh> → /k/, <th> → /t/, <y> → /i/, etc.)

Unless I'm missing something important, I think the Italian API will do an acceptable job for the remaining rules. After all, there is a range of acceptable pronunciations due to the reasons given by Asteroides, among others.

  • I like your answer, but I think the part about a standard pronunciation in the whole of the Latin church is very far from being true. Even now the strongest churches, like the Polish and Hungarian one, don't seem to have any intention of abandoning their traditional pronunciations, and in the middle of the century I imagine this was true in more countries. And to get an idea how "Roman" the pronunciation was in France, you only have listen to the first recording of Desessard's Assimil book xD (yes, they're having a go at something like Restored) – Unbrutal_Russian Apr 27 at 7:08
  • @Unbrutal_Russian, thanks for your comment. You are probably right: I don't really know what happened in eastern Europe, (though I have listened to St. John Paul II's Latin.) But I can say for sure that 1) the movement was universal enough to call it ecclesiastical Latin, 2) priests from every continent traveled to study in Rome in eL, 3) this allowed ecclesiastical pronunciation to reach places as far from Rome as the southern tip of South America – Rafael Apr 27 at 13:39

In my mind, the term “Ecclesiastical Latin“ (which as far as I can tell is especially widespread in the US) is highly problematic. It's not a dialect, as Latin texts traditionally used in the liturgy come from a wide variety of sources and periods. It is often used (apparently) to refer to the ”Italianate“ pronunciation of Latin, but to call that “Ecclesiastical” is odd, because traditional pronunciation in Catholic Germany, for example, differs in a number of not so insignificant ways. Finally, pronouncing Latin (roughly) in that manner is by no means exclusive to the (Catholic) church and obviously not limited to sacred viz. liturgical texts. I realize it won't happen, but I really wish we could do away with the term altogether.


To answer one half of your question, I believe that the modern Italian pronounciation of words that are consciously Latin words is almost identical to the Ecclesiastical Latin.

To answer the other, more practical half of your question, no, I do not think that Google Cloud's Italian voice synthesis accurately matches this pronounciation. This is most notable in vowel clusters and diphtongs, especially starting with "i", where the Google Cloud voice tends to reduce down to a vowel sound permissible in Standard Italian. Words starting in "qu-" have similar issues. Whether this is an acceptable loss is up to you, though -- Google uses the Italian voice synthesis without any changes for Google Translate's Latin voice synthesis functionality, but we've had many answers on here talking about why Google Translate is not necessarily an authoritative source for anything relating to Latin.

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