I know that a common source for the reconstructed pronunciation of latin is Vox Latina by William Sidney Allen, but I've read somewhere that a critical analysis of latin texts and the pronunciation reconstruction started in Germany by the end of the 19th century, but I cannot find any reference on this. Does anyone know when the first works on the reconstruction of latin pronunciation began and who were the authors? Also has there been any changes/ disputes on the reconstructed pronunciation?

  • 1
    Something to start with: Waquet, F. 2002. Latin, or, The empire of a sign: from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. London: Verso, esp. pp. 158-170.
    – Alex B.
    Mar 13, 2018 at 3:03

2 Answers 2


If you are asking simply for the earliest discussion of correct Latin pronunciation, then Quintilian (c35-c100CE) deserves a mention. INSTITUTIO ORATORIA BkI Ch4 The translation here is by HEButler (Loeb 1920). Much gratitude to Bill Thayer for the site.

On sounds lacking alphabetical forms:

Aut grammatici saltem omnes in hanc descendent rerum tenuitatem, desintne aliquae nobis necessariae litterae, non cum Graeca scribimus (tum enim ab isdem duas mutuamur), sed proprie in Latinis: ut in his "servus" et "vulgus" VIII. Aeolicum digammon desideratur, et medius est quidam u et i litterae sonus (non enim sic "optimum" dicimus ut "opimum"), et in "here" neque e plane neque i auditur;

But all teachers of literature will condescend to such minutiae: they will discuss for instance whether certain necessary letters are absent from the alphabet, not indeed when we are writing Greek words (for then we borrow two letters from them), but in the case of genuine Latin words: for example in words such as seruus and uulgus. 8 we feel the lack of the Aeolic digamma; there is also a sound intermediate between u and i, (for we do not pronounce optimum as we do opimum), while in here the sound is neither exactly e nor i.

...and on variations in pronouncing consecutive vowels:

Quia "iam" sicut "etiam" scribitur et "uos" ut "tuos". At quae ut vocales iunguntur aut unam longam faciunt (ut veteres scripserunt, qui geminatione earum velut apice utebantur), aut duas: nisi quis putat etiam ex tribus vocalibus syllabam fieri si non aliquae officio consonantium fungantur. XI. Quaeret hoc etiam, quo modo duabus demum vocalibus in se ipsas coeundi natura sit, cum consonantium nulla nisi alteram frangat: atqui littera i sibi insidit ("conicit" enim est ab illo "iacit") et u, quo modo nunc scribitur "vulgus" et "servus".
Sciat etiam Ciceroni placuisse "aiio" "Maiiam"que geminata i scribere: quod si est, etiam iungetur ut consonans.

For instance iam and etiam are both spelt with an i, uos and tuos both with u. Vowels, however, when joined as vowels, either make one long vowel (compare the obsolete method of indicating a long vowel by doubling it as the equivalent of the circumflex), or a diphthong, though some hold that even three vowels can form a single syllable; this however is only possible if one or more assume the role of consonants. [Ch.11] He will also inquire why it is that there are two vowels which may be repeated, while a consonant can only be followed and modified by a different consonant. But i can follow i (for coniicit is derived from iacit): so too does u, witness the modern spelling of seruus and uulgus.
He should also know that Cicero preferred to write aiio and Maiiam with a double i; in that case one [p69] of them is consonantalised.

  • 4
    Hi Hugh, thanks for the reply but I was not wondering about the earliest reflections on latin pronunciation but rather at what time in history people realised that the traditional/ecclesiastical pronunciation was not the roman pronunciation, and started a scientific and critical analysis of latin pronunciation (not the renaissance "reconstruction"). Also, who were the pioneers
    – user2463
    Mar 12, 2018 at 19:30

I think the reference you are looking for is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemporary_Latin#Pronunciation

It refers to K.L. Schneider's Elementarlehre der Lateinischen Sprache, 1819

I have not read this book and so cannot speak to specific changes in understanding, but there remain many disputed areas of reconstructed pronunciation for Classical Latin. One example is whether short and long vowels differ in quality as well as length, which is dealt with by Andrea Calabrese here.

  • 1
    There is no scholarly dispute about Latin vowel qualities, there is a reddit dispute. Calabrese's paper doesn't deal with Latin as such; it's a paper on rule-based phonology whose purpose is to introduce the operation of Negation which inverts the values of phonological features and serves to repair "marked" configurations such as [+high, -tense] vowels. Even worse, this paper is a mash-up of 3 different papers on different topics (which I haven't read). His overview of historical evidence is sloppy and his assertion is that Latin had an Italian-type 7 vowel system by the 1st century AD. Mar 9 at 20:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.