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I typically pronounce sedes as SED-ays. However, I recently noticed that the "Holy See," meaning the bishopric of the Vatican, comes from Sancta Sedes (the Holy Seat), so if this is being rendered "see" in English, then the suggestion would be that it was originally pronounced SEE-dees, not SED-ays, at least in post-Renaissance ecclesiastical Latin.

Are there any definitive tracts on the pronunciation of this word type?

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  • Have you checked this word in any online Latin dictionary? Many of them indicate vowel length, and you can check several if you want more certainty.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 8, 2022 at 9:13
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    The pronunciation of an English word derived from a Latin one is not, in general, relevant evidence for the pronunciation of the Latin word.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 8, 2022 at 11:04
  • @dbmag9 Well, if somebody does research and finds out that in the 17th century, it was common for Catholic prelates to pronounce sedes as SEE-DEES and English people--hearing them say that--then used the word "see", then you would be wrong about that wouldn't you? Sep 8, 2022 at 13:07
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    You piqued my curiosity enough to open Wiktionary, where I found that the English see comes from Old French sie, from the Latin sedes. So my point that the English pronunciation is not relevant evidence for the Latin pronunciation does seem to apply in this case.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 8, 2022 at 13:22
  • +1, but I think you could elaborate more. For Sancta Sedes I automatically assume Ecclesiastical pronunciation (approximately ['se.des], SED-ays), but you could be thinking about traditional English pronunciation which was common until about one century ago and is kind of reviving e.g. in legal contexts.
    – Rafael
    Sep 8, 2022 at 14:40

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A few centuries ago, English went through the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the pronunciations of all its long vowels. This is why we use the letters A, E, I, O, and U differently from pretty much every other language that has this alphabet. And as a result, the English pronunciation of a Latin word doesn't say much about its original pronunciation in Latin: pronouncing the borrowed word lēgālis as "LEE-gal" is purely an English thing.

In this case, the word most likely passed through French rather than being borrowed directly from Latin, so it's one more degree removed: there were a lot of sound changes (and a couple morphology changes) between Latin sēdēs and French siège, though the Great Vowel Shift would have given the same first vowel either way.

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