Fellow followers of Latin stackexchange! I hope you have all had a happy Christmas (or, if you do not celebrate Christmas, a happy holiday time).

I'm not particularly versed in musical tradition, but I've been aware for some time now that the modern de-facto standard for pronouncing Latin in singing is what is commonly referred to as the "Ecclesiastical" pronunciation. Now, this makes sense in a purely Roman Catholic context, but it seems to be standard quite outside of that. So, in the well-known Christmas carol "Angels we have heard on high", the Latin phrase Gloria in excelsis Deo is pronounced (as far as I've observed) more or less as [ɡloːːːːː::::ria in ɛksʧɛlsis deːoː]. But, why?

My understanding (perhaps erroneous) is that the Italianate Latin pronunciation became standard for the RC church only in the 19th century, so why has it now become normal for singing in Latin universally, outside of a RC context? Quite apart from the Christmas-tide "gloria in excelsis Deo", I was recently hearing a rendition of Carl Orff's musical version of a Latin mediaeval poem from Carmina Burana, O Fortuna, and was struck by the consistent modern Ecclesiastical pronunciations, e.g., glaciem as [ɡlɑʧiɛm]. Assuming that a restored Classical/republican pronunciation of [ɡlɑkiɛm] would be considered inappropriate for the time-period, and that the Carmina Burana was a collection of a German mediaeval Latin poems, wouldn't [ɡlɑtsiɛm] be more appropriate? (At any rate, I find the Italian pronunciation rather off-putting in the context.)

A final postscript: although what I've heard is that excelsis is pronounced in the Christmas carol is [ɛksʧɛlsis], wouldn't [ɛkʃɛlsis] be the "correct" Ecclesiastical pronunciation?

  • For the final question: no, because "x" in Italian and in E. Latin is pronounced [ks] and "c" before "e" or "i" is [ʧ]. Being one after the other, they're just added up together. – Vincenzo Oliva Dec 27 '18 at 2:55
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    @VincenzoOliva: Hmm. I'm not sure I quite agree with that logic. Note that sceleris is pronounced [ʃɛlɛris], so if <sce> is pronounced [ʃɛ] rather than [sʧɛ]. should not <xce> (equivalent to <csce>) be pronounced [kʃɛ] by the same logic? – varro Dec 27 '18 at 3:27
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    Also, Ecclesiastical pronunciation is just how Latin slowly came to be pronounced in Italy - because the vast majority of the people of the Vatican, popes included, were Italian - through a process that started during the Late Empire and took some other few centuries to conclude. This is related. Still, in other parts of Europe, Latin was pronounced differently, so sure you're right in saying the "German" pronunciation would be more appropriate for the Carmina. – Vincenzo Oliva Dec 27 '18 at 3:37
  • With the last remark of my first comment I didn't mean "because they're one after the other". I stated a rule: when they are one after the other, the're just added up together, i.e. "xc" before "e" or "i" is always pronounced [ksʧ]. As you noted, this is not the case for "sc", which in these cases is [ʃ] and not [sk]. – Vincenzo Oliva Dec 27 '18 at 3:44
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    In Germany and parts East, a different pronunciation is current for Church Latin, one less influenced by Italiian. [ɡlɑtsiɛm], for example. – Colin Fine Dec 27 '18 at 16:54

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