I'm listening to lectures by theologian Douglas Kelly (Medieval Theology, lectures 7 and 8), in which he repeatedly pronounces the name Boethius as:

  • boh-EE-see-us (how it sounds to me)
  • /boʊˈiːsiəs/ (my guess at IPA)

Is there a recognized Latin pronunciation scheme in which the th in Boethius would be pronounced with an s sound? Vulgar Latin? Italian or French? Kelly is no stranger to European languages, so I wonder if he might have picked it up in a non-English setting.

It reminds me of a reverse of Spanish, in which z in some dialects is pronounced as th (θ). But it's a far cry from Classical Latin, where th represents a voiceless plosive, like the t in top. So is this some pronunciation scheme I've never heard of, or just a mistake?

  • I guess the θ is harder to pronounce in that place, and s is an easier alternative.
    – IS4
    Apr 19, 2017 at 11:21

2 Answers 2


It actually helps to know that the th was not always there. A variant of his name that was common (standard?) in Medieval and early modern texts was Boetius. In some texts, he's even Boece.

While a standard pronunciation of the former is /boʊˈiʃəs/ ("bow-EE-shiss"), the latter is /boʊˈis/ ("bow-EES"); cf. Statius ("STAY-shiss") and Lucrece ("loo-CREASE").

I imagine that there must have been a tradition in some university that combined the two, and Douglas Kelly is drawing on that.

  • /boʊˈiʃəs/? Where did the "-iu-" go?
    – IS4
    Apr 19, 2017 at 11:17
  • 1
    @IllidanS4 The i softened the t, and thus lost a distinct pronunciation on its own.
    – cmw
    Apr 19, 2017 at 11:38
  • 1
    ʃəs is closer to "shuss" than "shiss".
    – OrangeDog
    Apr 19, 2017 at 13:17
  • 1
    @OrangeDog: It depends on if one has the weak vowel merger. For speakers who do, non-word-final /ə/ is often realized with greater vowel height than the phoneme /ʌ/. For me, /ʌ/, /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ all seem approximately equally close to non-final /ə/.
    – Asteroides
    Jun 10, 2017 at 18:57

We need to distinguish a mediaeval Latin pronunciation from an English one. The English pronunciation is what would be used in talking about him in a English context, and is what one might expect for "Boëthius" [boʊˈiːθiəs] ("bowEEthius") The alternative spelling "Boëtius" yields [boʊˈi:ʃəs] ("bowEEshus") or similar.

However, if one wants to know how he and his contemporaries pronounced his name, it was probably [boˈeːtsiʊs] ("boAYtsioos")

Explanation: The name is of Greek origin and would contain a theta in Greek. If one were to pronounce this in the Classical way, that would be [bo'e:t(h)iʊs]. By late Latin times, however, "th" was pronounced exactly like "t" (which is why "Boetius" is a mere spelling variant of the "correct" "Boethius"), and moreover the sequence [ti]+vowel when unaccented came to be pronounced [tsi]+vowel. Thus, [boˈeːtsiʊs] for Boet(h)ius.

This assibilated "t" would further develop, often to [s] in many areas speaking a neo-Latin dialect, and in particular France. And, after the Norman Conquest, French conventions for pronouncing Latin were imported into England. Thus, Latin natio went from Classical [natio:] to late [natsio] to French nation (with "t" pronounced [s]). The last step is to further assimilate [sj] to [ʃ] as in English "nation".

In summary, [th] -> [t] and [ti] -> [tsi] in late Latin; [ts] -> [s] in French; and [sj] -> [ʃ] in English.

Oh yes, forms like "Boece", "Stace", and "Lucrece" are French forms, imported into English.


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