9

I know to some degree it's a matter of taste, but are the arguments for one pronunciation being used over another? Is it simply a matter of taste, or are there claims that one is "correct" and another is not?

As a personal note, this always trips me up around Christmas time, when the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung in church or on the radio, but I studied Latin at a secular school using the Classical pronunciation.

15

Just like in English, there are many ways to pronounce Latin. Would you say that British pronunciation is correct and American is wrong? Any valid pronunciation will do, but the best choice depends on context.

If you are singing a song from 18th century Germany, it is most appropriate to sing with with the corresponding pronunciation. If you are reading Catullus out loud, it is good style to use pronunciation of his time and place. There is no single ecclesiastic Latin pronunciation — pronunciation depends on time and location.

Choice of pronunciation may also depend on audience. If you speak Latin to a Finn, you will probably be better off with a classical pronunciation since that is what is taught in Finland. (And if you want to impress your Latin-speaking friends, note that a slightly older version of pronunciation is used in Turku than in the rest of Finland.)

It can be difficult to adjust pronunciation to different situations, and sometimes I think it's better not to try to adjust. If the contextually most appropriate pronunciation is too difficult for you or you cannot follow it consistently, do as you do best.

The song you mention has medieval origin and I find it appropriate to sing it as its writer would have sung it. If I were to sing it myself, I would nevertheless do it classically, just because that feels most natural to me.

  • Yes, British is more correct, purer vowels, amenable to better enunciation ☺ – Geremia Jun 29 '16 at 17:38
  • 1
    @Geremia, you just triggered every American on the planet. :D And purer vowels? Words like "drama" are often spoken like "dramer" in a British accent (not to mention Australian), and I would hardly call that pure! But we could argue about this all day... :) – Sam K Aug 11 '17 at 22:53
9

One common argument for classical pronunciation is that it's "the way Romans spoke Latin." While I appreciate (and usually try to make) historically informed choices, this argument only tells part of the story. Yes, it's the way Romans spoke Latin—until the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. At that point Latin started to turn into Late Latin, and what we think of now as ecclesiastical pronunciation started to enter the language. (There's a good summary of the shift on Unam Sanctam Catholicam, a website run by a lay apostolate about history and tradition in the Church.)

So yes, while classical pronunciation is indeed the way Romans spoke Latin, ecclesiastical pronunciation is also the way Romans spoke Latin. It's just that Cicero was dead by then, so people are less interested in the literature. :)

  • Ecclesiastical pronunciation is probably closer to classical Latin than Late Latin was in some aspects. Late Latin has "radius" as "radzius" (then Romanian "rază"), or even "raius" (Spanish "rayo") or "ragius" (Italian "raggio"). There were dialects and stuff. Ecclesiastical "unmade" some mergers of Late Latin (v and b did merge like in Spanish for example, dzi, gi, and consonantal i merged in various ways, ti and ci merged in Western Romance, etc.). – Luiz Felipe Sep 3 at 9:44

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