what I mean is that are there people today who learnt the language personally from people who learnt the language personally etc all the way back to whenever we first detect latin in history?

the rest of this post is to contextualise and disambiguate the question in many ways.

by pronunciation lineage I mean the way a child learns from the parents, or with migrants where the parents may speak a language incorrectly, but the child can learn correct usage from immersion from the native speaking children at school.

Things excluded:

but to exclude learning from say a book at the outermost level of exclusion, and learning from say audio CDs and books at an inner level of exclusion. To even exclude electronic communication at an even more inner level. learning at school also is EXCLUDED, as there are too many teachers who totally mispronounce and are unaware of subtleties. learning at uni also excluded, native german speakers dont learn german by going to a british university german department!

but where the lineage is that of being regularly physically immersed in the language, especially when younger, and not necessarily just now. Because language isnt just about some image and sound on a video, but will encompass all kinds of other things, eg a lot of things are learnt interactively where you run into a problem and someone makes a comment, but of course electronic media can augment immersion.

disclaimer: students do need to learn from books, CDs, school lessons, uni courses, and I evidently endorse electronic communication by using this forum! forums and emails are immersive at the textual level.

Examples of immersive things not taught in classroom for german:

example 1. with german, one thing I noticed not taught at school in England, is in Berlin the people informally will drop the first vowel of diphthongs, eg to say lufen instead of laufen, kiser instead of kaiser. I first discovered this when I asked about getting somewhere via the metro. And the person said "kannst du lufen", and I had no idea what he meant, and eventually established he meant I could walk there, which would be the verb laufen. I then started to notice this phenomenon everywhere even in adverts. Its equivalent to saying huse instead of house, which does happen in the north of Britain. Furthermore at school we were taught to always say Sie instead of du, but with this and other examples I found you needed in fact to say du. Messaging on german ebay once, one german in fact told me I should say du and not Sie.

example 2. something we were never taught at school in England, is that germans have their own form of handwriting, which is incomprehensible to someone from Britain. I thought it was just really atrocious handwriting, until a german explained it, and I taught myself the system from written info they gave me, where it looks like some incoherent script from the 1700s. If I write things in the system, and show it to an english person they will have no idea at all what I have written! What I usually do is write their name, and they dont know its their name! This is an example of something I learnt from some limited immersion in german society and which isnt in german courses in Britain. Everywhere in Germany you will see handwritten notes on buildings using this system.

example 3. Something else I learnt from immersion in Germany is that say 1.000 euros means 1000 euros, whereas 1,000 euros means 1 euro! Which means you can get into jeopardy doing money transfers from Germany to the UK! Also not taught at our school!

migration included

someone might have emigrated aged 15, where although no longer immersed, they carry the pronunciation lineage in their brain. You could also have a partial immersion, but that would be a constricted lineage. I am asking here about an unconstricted lineage.

so its not a birth lineage, but a lineage of prolonged social immersion amongst native speakers, where also the prolonged immersion might have occurred in the past.

also learning from native speaking parents isnt necessarily best, as they might speak a degenerated dialect but it would count as proper pronunciation lineage. Once you have the prolonged direct immersion, you can then refine further eg from electronic communication, eg watching television, reading books.

Excluding languages overrunning another country

when a country is overrun by another language, I would regard that as a disjuncture, but the elite overrun people might learn via immersion from the overrunning nation. When the way the country talks is blatantly different from the overrunning country, eg applying their own pronunciation and grammar variously, I would regard that as a disjuncture. proper lineage needs to have a core where the usage was seamless when the core was formed. eg russian was imposed on the soviet union, and most of that I would regard as a disjuncture. But the child of someone posted in Moscow, attending a russian school could count as pronunciation lineage. A russian teaching russian in another country will not be immersion for the students. immersion isnt something taught, but is to genuinely interact.

Artificial reforms included if a tampering

languages can get artificially reformed eg where people say are forced to say things a particular way. But I regard that as valid lineage provided the artificial reforms were done by people of the lineage. rather than by some academics in a university department seminar room outside the lineage, even if they are the world's leading experts.

I think with all languages debate arises as to which way to say something is correct eg with grammar, and thus some changes occur as a conscious "artificial" decision rather than "natural" change where people dont realise the change is happening.

with such lineage, a language will gradually change with time, to eg lead to people not knowing how latin was pronounced say in 100BC.

apparently we dont know for sure how latin was pronounced in 100BC, but this doesnt necessarily mean there isnt a pronounciation lineage.

Purpose of the question

my question really is whether with latin there was a lineage disjuncture at some point from the earlier eras with today's eras, where people resurrected the language entirely from writings at some point in history.

church and science and judicial latin mostly have non immersed users, so in most cases would be a disjuncture.

fake immersion excluded

fake immersion also doesnt count, eg Russia probably had towns where everyone spoke english in order to cultivate expertise. But there is a disjuncture at the start. I think they had schools where everything was done in english, in order to train spies, journalists, diplomats, linguists etc. This is immersion, but it is fake immersion. The people will speak good english, but it will be different eg they will have to guess variously, where the guess wont be as efficient as the correct form. I read an english mag produced by Russia, and they had a cartoon referring to an "eye doctor", when the correct word is an optician. I also bought a russian book on learning english, as that would have flawless russian for basics!

disclaimer: fake immersion is a good idea. I just exclude it from the question.

my own learning excluded

my own learning of 1st century latin has a total lineage disjuncture, as I did the first 13 lessons of a course without any audio at all, just guessing the pronunciation. I did have some audio, but am not using it as its for ecclesiastical latin. Before I started learning, I could get Vatican TV on satellite, but when I tried it just now, there was a guy speaking russian, and when I rescanned stations, I could no longer find Vatican TV. That would anyway be ecclesiastical latin.

  • 5
    In the interest of getting good answers I would recommend making your questions much more succinct -- personally I ended up skimming most of this.
    – TKR
    Jan 22 at 20:09
  • 1
    If Coptic counts for Egyptian then French counts for Latin, really.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jan 22 at 23:25
  • @Cairnarvon I dont have any info on coptic, but just heard in a documentary that its today's version, which may well be like latin to french. I have a book on ancient egyptian presented as a language but nothing on coptic. arabic is an imposed language, I think the original people were probably hamitic who allegedly are descended from Noah's son Ham.
    – Commenter
    Jan 23 at 15:14
  • @TKR I put the main question at the top, as "lineage" can be interpreted many ways, I needed to explain the interpretation I meant, which can only be explained by orbitting the idea. If I expressed it precisely it would be incomprehensible, some things are best explained indirectly. So I gave things included, things excluded, and comparables. An expert could state in a few words, but such an expert doesnt need to ask the question!
    – Commenter
    Jan 23 at 15:48
  • 1
    @Commenter If you start with a short main question and then proceed to explain it from different points of view, then it would greatly help the readers if you would structure your post with subtitles and such. To be honest, much of your question comes across as a rant rather than a question, so focusing on the core question and condensing your message is likely to lead to a better reception.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 23 at 21:21

1 Answer 1


No extant tradition of Latin pronunciation was transmitted via an unbroken lineage from Classical times (I get into this a bit in my answer to a previous question: How has the pronunciation of the letter "c" developed?).

"Restored" pronunciation, tautologically, isn't an unbroken lineage

This is quite obvious in the case of the restored/reconstructed pronunciation: it was developed recently enough that we have a fairly good record of its history and adoption. I believe Erasmus is usually the earliest figure cited as an influence in the development of this pronunciation system.

"Traditional" pronunciations aren't an unbroken lineage either

The other pronunciations in common use, such as what's called "Ecclesiastical" or "Church" pronunciation (Italian-style) or the other national traditions that have survived to some extent today (such as what Wikipedia calls the "traditional English pronunciation of Latin", still in use for many phrases and terms in fields such as science and law), are ultimately heavily influenced by artificial "speak as you spell" tendencies. Two clearly "artifical" features of the traditional pronunciations that have been passed down to us are the merger between short /i/ and long /iː/ (which were distinct in Classical Latin and only merged in Romance in specific geographical areas, such as Sardinia) and the pronunciation of word-final "m" as a fully consonantal labial nasal stop /m/.

What happened is that as Latin developed into the Romance languages, it underwent sound changes, like all languages, and it appears that in many time periods no particular effort was made to keep track of these sound changes or to undo them. But the spelling of Latin was to some extent conservative and did not change to reflect all of these sound changes. Then in certain time periods, there were apparently efforts to conform pronunciation to spelling.

There ultimately ended up being a split between what was thought of as "Latin" and the vernacular Romance varieties (French, Italian, etc); however, it's difficult to give an account of how this happened due to our distance in time from the era when this was taking place.

Roger Wright, author of Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, apparently attributes an influential wave of Latin spelling-pronunciation to the Carolingian period, but his account seems to be controversial.

I don't think it would be accurate to say that the language was ever "resurrected [...] entirely from writings".

  • when is the last trace of the unbroken lineage? Erasmus seems to be 1469-1536, after the unbroken lineage and before Erasmus what was happening? was he just tampering with what was already in use? I read the link about c, hadnt heard of Romanian in relation to latin, it does seem latinnic. so latin vanished by metamorphosing into the latinnic languages. what I need really is some audio of those phonetic codes, is there a URL which has these in a convenient format in one place?
    – Commenter
    Jan 23 at 15:33
  • when you say restored and traditional arent unbroken lineages, are you saying there is a continual lineage, and say the restored version is tampering with the unbroken lineage, and traditional is where someone in the lineage is pronouncing in their own way? by lineage here you are referring maybe to teacher to student lineage, where sufficiently far back in time it was an immersive lineage? because some people blatantly repronounce using say the phonetics of their own language something of other phonetics.
    – Commenter
    Jan 23 at 15:42
  • 1
    @Commenter You could say that there is an unbroken lineage from Classical Latin, but it doesn't end up with modern Latin but the many modern Romance languages. There are certainly unbroken chains of language used as the main language of a community, but that language has evolved so much over the two millennia that it is regarded as several new languages instead of Latin itself. The divergence of this lineage from Latin did not happen at any sharp point in time.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 23 at 21:28
  • @JoonasIlmavirta would you say the written form of latin is mostly unchanged since classical latin? standardised writing and literacy must slow down change, where change now has to conform to the standard, eg american jargon such as "cancel culture". with the Romance languages, how much change occurred once spelling etc got standardised? how much literacy was there in ancient Rome, was it just the patricians, or were the plebs also literate?
    – Commenter
    Jan 24 at 13:38
  • 1
    @JoonasIlmavirta I have a conjecture that romans settled en masse in northern England, and still speak latin today, but as an underground language. They arent going to admit to it as it would blow their cover, the only way to prove it would be to plant bugs in lots of houses! Our latin teacher at school was from up north with Yorkshire accent and looked like a roman, I think he was a covert roman. A lot of placenames up north are blatantly roman, eg Doncaster, Lancaster, Manchester, Leicester, Chester, and south also eg Winchester, Gloucester. Dont know if Weston Super Mare is roman.
    – Commenter
    Jan 24 at 16:05

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