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Title: Latin Pronunciation - A Short Exposition of the Roman Method
Author: Peck, Harry Thurston, 1856-1914
Language: English
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Classics Department






Copyright, 1890,

I. INTRODUCTORY,...................................5
II. SOURCES OF OUR INFORMATION,....................7
III. THE LATIN ALPHABET,..........................12
IV. SOUNDS OF THE LETTERS,........................15
V. SOUNDS OF THE DIPHTHONGS,......................31





THIS short manual is primarily intended for those who, being
interested in the study of Latin, have accepted the Roman method of
pronunciation upon the authority of the Grammars, but have either not
been able to command the time to make themselves familiar with the
arguments upon which this system is based, or have been repelled by
the technicalities employed in treating the question from the
standpoint of the specialist. It is believed that the following pages
will be found to give in simple form the main facts bearing upon this
interesting question; and that nothing has been introduced that is
either unnecessary or obscure. For those who may wish to pursue their
investigations farther after mastering these facts, a bibliography of
the subject is given at the end.

The Roman method of pronouncing Latin has now received the approval
of all Latinists of authority in Europe and America, as giving
substantially the pronunciation employed by educated Romans of the
Augustan Age. It has been formally adopted at our leading
Universities. The most recent Grammars of the language recognize no
other method. Thus, one great reproach to classical scholarship seems
likely to be soon removed, and one universal pronunciation of the
noblest of the ancient languages to receive general acceptation. [1]
This little book will more than accomplish its object if it shall
have aided ever so slightly in discrediting the barbarisms of a
method which, to use the expression of a distinguished scholar,
"ought long since to have followed the Ptolemaic system of astronomy
into the limbo of unscientific curiosities."

[1] It is natural that the Roman system should make its way more
rapidly into use in this country than in Europe, not because
Americans are more given to experiments, but because here in the
United States the inconveniences of having no standard system have
been more sharply felt. New England being wholly settled from Old
England, long continued the English system of pronouncing Latin. In
the Middle States, the Germans and Dutch introduced their own
methods; in the South and West, the French pronunciation came in
quite frequently; and all over the Union, the Catholic clergy in
their schools and colleges have propagated the traditional usage of
their Church. Hence a Babel of pronunciations and systems existing
and practised side by side, in a picturesque confusion such as no
European country ever knew; and hence the general willingness to
accept a single method, especially one that is based upon historic



A QUESTION of much interest to the student of Latin, and one that
does not always receive a satisfactory answer, relates to the sources
of our information.

What knowledge have we of how the Romans pronounced their own
language nineteen hundred years ago? How is it possible after so long
an interval to reconstruct the laws of a pronunciation which
prevailed at a given period of the remote past?

Briefly summarized, the sources of our information are six in number.

(1) _Statements of the Roman writers themselves,_ which modern
scholarship has laboriously collected. These are of different degrees
of explicitness, and of different degrees of value. It is evident
that a statement of Cicero, however brief, is more trustworthy and
more convincing, with regard to the usage of his own time, than whole
pages of testimony in a writer like Priscian who wrote in the sixth
century, by which period the language had become corrupt.

We may, then, broadly divide the ancient authorities on this subject
into two groups,--the first consisting of those writers who
themselves belonged to the classical age; the second, of those
grammarians and commentators who have left us very full statements,
though the date at which they wrote somewhat impairs the value of
their testimony.

The chief classical authorities to whom appeal can be made are M.
Terentius Varro, a contemporary of Cicero, whose treatise on the
Latin language has in part come down to us; Cicero himself, from
whose rhetorical works one can gather many valuable facts; and M.
Fabius Quintilianus, the author of the treatise _Institutio
Oratorio,_ in twelve books. It is not merely when these authors speak
of definite points of language and pronunciation that they are
valuable; sometimes a casual remark, an anecdote, or a pun, may be of
very great importance, as will be seen from time to time in the
following pages.

Of the other writers on language who treat the subject very minutely,
a great number might be cited. [1] The most important are Terentianus
Maurus, who wrote, perhaps about the third century, a poem on
letters, syllables, feet, and metres, which is twice quoted by St.
Augustine; Verrius Flaccus, the tutor to the grandchildren of the
Emperor Augustus and author of a work on the meaning of words which
has come down to us in a later abridgment; Aulus Gellius, who, toward
the end of the second century, compiled a huge scrap-book on a
variety of subjects, many of them of great linguistic interest, and,
with the exception of a few chapters, still extant; Priscianus
Caesariensis, who wrote under Justinian at Constantinople eighteen
books of grammatical commentaries which form the most complete
grammar of antiquity; and Aelius Donatus (A.D. 333), whose elementary
treatise was so highly thought of in the Middle Ages that the name
"donat" (Chaucer) was used as a generic term for a grammar.

From these and many other writers one gathers a great mass of
instructive facts; and their very silence is sometimes as significant
as what they say.

(2) _The orthography of the language itself_ as seen in the
inscriptions. Latin orthography was in the main phonetic (Quintilian,
I. 7. 11). The language was pronounced as it was spelled. But as is
always the case, changes in orthography lagged a little behind
changes in the pronunciation. Hence even the blunders made by an
ignorant lapidary in cutting an inscription are often a source of
information to us.

(3) _The representation in Greek letters of Roman sounds._ A number
of Greek writers treated of Roman history, Roman biography, and Roman
geography. In so doing they were obliged to represent many Latin
names and words in Greek characters. But many of these writers had no
particular knowledge of the Latin language, and hence spelled these
Latin names and words phonetically. Their method of doing this is
both interesting and instructive. The writers of this sort who are
oftenest cited are Polybius (B.C. 175), the friend of the younger
Scipio and the author of a General History of Rome from the Second
Punic War down to the conquest of Macedonia; Strabo the geographer
(24 B.C.); Diodorus Siculus, the contemporary of Julius Caesar and
author of an Historical Library in forty books; and Plutarch (A.D.
80), the best known of the Greek writers on Roman subjects. [2]

(4) _A critical comparison of all the modern languages of Europe that
are derived from the Latin_ (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese)
with reference to those points wherein they all agree. This source of
information is of less importance than one would think, because these
languages are not derived directly from the classical Latin, but from
Latin that was either provincial or modified by foreign influences.
Still, this comparison is useful in corroborating facts that are
elsewhere learned, and is of positive value when not contradicted by
other evidence.

(5) _The traditions of scholars,_ and especially of the Roman
Catholic Church, which in its rites has employed Latin continuously
from the first century down to the present time. The rhymes of the
early Christian hymns also have a bearing on this subject.

(6) _The general principles of the science of phonology,_ which are
now well established and understood, and are of great value in
detecting erroneous assumptions which would otherwise pass

From these six sources can be gained a very accurate understanding of
how Latin was pronounced in the days of Cicero and Caesar. It is not
too much to claim that the system of pronunciation upon which
scholars are now agreed, differs less from that of the Romans of the
Augustan Age than does our modern pronunciation of English differ
from that of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

[It is not always remembered that only very gradually was the true
pronunciation of Latin lost in Europe. Scholars long retained the
essential features of it, and by the fact of their constant
intercourse long prevented the growth of local and national
variations from the established method. Great teachers like Erasmus
passed from country to country, lecturing in Latin at the
universities of Italy, Germany, Holland, Trance, and England,
teaching pupils of all nationalities, and being everywhere understood
without any difficulty, for Latin was the _lingua franca_ of the
educated, and one general pronunciation of it prevailed. Even in
England, it was only after that country's isolation, political and
religious, in the sixteenth century, that an "English pronunciation"
arose, and this was long protested against, e.g. by Cardinal Wolsey,
by Milton, and as late as the last century by Ainsworth (1746) and
Philipps (1750). For the Continental traditions, see Justus Lipsius
in his _Dialogus de Recta Pronunciatione Linguae Latinae;_ and
Erasmus, _De Recta Latini Graecique Sermonis Pronunciatione_ (Basic,
1528). In Scotland, the Continental sound of the vowels was long
retained, on which see the incident imagined by Sir Walter Scott in
his novel _The Fortunes of Nigel,_ ch. ix.]

[1] Schneider in his _Elementarlehre der Lateinischen Sprache_ cites
more than fifty ancient authors. Besides those mentioned above,
reference is often made to Velius Longus, Servius, Marius Victorinus,
Macrobius, and Martianus Capella.

[2] Others are Josephus, the Jewish historian; Dionysius of
Halicarnassus; Appian; and Dio Cassius,--the last a Roman who wrote
in Greek.



IN its earliest form, the Latin alphabet consisted of 21 characters,-
-A, B, C, D, E, F, Z, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, V, X. These
letters were derived from the alphabet used by the Dorian Greeks of
Campania. At a very early period the letters K and Z fell into
disuse, although K continued to occur in a few ancient abbreviations,
such as Kal. for _Kalendae_, K. S. for _carus suis_, K. K. for
_calumniae causa_ (a legal phrase), KK. for _castrorum_, KA. for
_capitalis_; and the use of Z was subsequently revived in
transliterating Greek words. Originally, the character C had the
sound which was afterwards given to G; but when K was abandoned, C
took its place and its sound; while a new letter, G, was formed by
slightly changing the original C. Plutarch says that the character G
was first employed by Spurius Carvilius about the year 230 B.C. In
Cicero's time the letter Y was introduced to represent the sound of
the Greek _Υ_; but its presence in a word always marks a foreign
origin, so that the character can scarcely be regarded as an
essential part of the Roman alphabet. About the year A.D. 44, the
Emperor Claudius tried to introduce three new symbols into the
alphabet: (1) the inverted diagamma [Picture: inverted diagamma] to
mark the consonantal sound of V; (2) the character known as
"anti-sigma" [Picture: Anti-sigma] to express the sound denoted by
the Greek _ψ_ (_ps_ or _bs_); and (3) the sign [Picture: a Latin
form of upsilon], which was to have the sound of the Greek _υ_,
i.e. of modern French _u_ or German _ü_. It may be mentioned also,
that consonants were not doubled in writing Latin until the practice
was adopted from the Greek by Ennius (B.C. 239-169), who in various
ways conformed Roman usages to those of the Greeks.

The Roman alphabet, like the early alphabet of the Greeks, lacked
distinctive characters for the long and short vowels. This defect,
which was partly corrected in Greek by the adoption of the letters
_η_ and _ω_ (traditionally ascribed to Epicharmus of Syracuse, B.C.
500), was never fully remedied in Latin, though at different times
various devices were employed to distinguish between ā and ă, ē and
ĕ, ū and ŭ, ō and ŏ. These were:

(1) The doubling of the vowel when long, as in modern Dutch; thus,
_vootum_ = _votum_; _aara_ = āra. This method was persistently used
by the poet Attius. [1]

(2) By the use of a species of accent (_apex_) over the long vowel.
This became quite general in the Augustan Age.

(3) The length of the vowel ī was denoted sometimes by making it
longer than the other letters and sometimes by writing it _ei_; thus,

_The Roman numerals_ V, X, L, C, D, M originated in various ways. [2]

V represented originally the open palm with the thumb extended, just
as our 0 (zero) is thought to represent a closed hand.

X perhaps = [Picture: old form of theta], an old form of _θ_;
according to others, it is merely two V's placed together.

L = [Picture: alternate form of chi] = [Picture: another alternate
form of chi] or _χ_, a Greek letter which the Romans did not need in
their alphabet and hence used only as a numeral.

C = [Picture: alternate form of theta], another form of _θ_, and
confounded with C as though standing for _centum_.

M = _φ_, becoming first CI[anti-sigma] and then M, as though standing
for _mille_, D is one half of this figure, or I[anti-sigma]. [3]

[1] Quintilian, I. 7, 14. When _i_ is doubled it always denotes the
consonantal _i_ (j); e.g. _maiior_.

[2] Cf. Ball's _History of Mathematics_, pp. 119, 120.

[3] See, on the whole subject, Taylor, _The Alphabet_ (London, 1883);
Kirchhoff, _Geschichte des Griechischen Alphabets_ (4th ed,
Gütersloh, 1887); Berger, _Histoire de L'Écriture dans l'Antiquité_
(Paris, 1891); Cantor, _Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der
Mathematik_ (Leipzig, 1880); Martin, _Les Signes Numéraux et
l'Arithmétique chez les Peuples de L'Antiquité_ (Rome, 1864); and
Friedlein, _Die Zahlzeichen_ (Erlangen, 1869).



_1. A: ā had the sound of _a_ in English "far"; ă had the sound of
_a_ in English "trespass."_

There is no disagreement of opinion regarding the proper
pronunciation of Latin _a_. All the modern languages derived from the
Latin practically agree in the sounds which they give to this
character. Furthermore, its pronunciation is described for us by
Terentianus Maurus (p. 328 in the edition by Keil); by Marius
Victorinus (p. 32 in the edition of the same editor); and also by
Martianus Capella (III. 261).

[NOTE.--It must be remembered in the pronunciation of the Latin
vowels that the short vowel does not differ in _quality_ from the
corresponding long one, but only in _quantity_, i.e. it occupied less
time in pronouncing. This is an important distinction between Latin
and English.]

_2. B: had in general the sound of English _b_; but before _s_ or
_t_, the sound of _p_._

(_a_) The ordinary sound of Latin _b_ is described for us by
Martianus Capella (III. 261); and by Marius Victorinus (p. 32 Keil).

(_b_) That it was sounded like _p_ when it stood before _s_ we know
because very often in inscriptions it is so written, e.g. _pleps_ for
_plebs_; Araps for Arabs; _urps_ for _urbs_. In certain verbs this
usage has modified the common orthography, e.g. _scripsi_ for
_scribsi_ from _scribo_; and _opseguor_ for _obsequor_. And so before
_t_, as we learn both by the spelling of certain words (_optulit_,
_scriptum_); and from the statement of Quintilian (I. 7. 7): "When I
pronounce the word _obtinuit_, our rule of writing requires that the
second letter should be _b_: but the ear catches the sound of _p_."

_3. C: always had the sound of English _k_._

The facts upon which this statement is founded are as follows:

(_a_) The pronunciation of this letter is so described for us by
Martianus Capella (III. 261) as to prove it a hard palatal.

(_b_) _C_ took the place of an original _k_ in the early alphabet as
previously stated; and in succeeding ages at times _c_ reappears in
inscriptions indifferently before the various vowels. Thus we have
the form _Caelius_ alternating with _Kaelius_, _Cerus_ with _Kerus_,
and _decembres_ with _dekembres_,--showing that _c_ and _k_ were
identical in sound. Quintilian (I. 7. 10) says: "As regards _k_, I
think it should not be used in any words...This remark I have not
failed to make, for the reason that there are some who think _k_
necessary when _a_ follows; though _there is the letter C, which has
the same power before all vowels_."

(_c_) In the Greek transliteration of Latin names, Latin _c_ is
always represented by _k_; and in Latin transliteration of Greek
names, _k_ is always represented by Latin _c_. And we know that Greek
_k_ was never assibilated before any vowel. Suidas calls the C on the
Roman senators' shoes, "the Roman kappa."

(_d_) Words taken into Gothic and Old High German from the Latin at
an early period invariably represent Latin _c_ by _k_; thus, Latin
_carcer_ gives the Gothic _karkara_ and the German _Kerker_; Latin
_Caesar_ gives the German _Kaiser_; Latin _lucerna_ gives the Gothic
_lukarn_; the Latin _cellarium_ gives the German _Keller_; the Latin
_cerasus_ gives the German _Kirsche_. Also in late Hebrew, Latin _c_
is regularly represented in transliteration by the hard consonant

[Advocates of the English system claim that Latin _c_ had the sound
of _s_ before _e_ or _i_ because every modern language derived from
the Latin has in some way modified _c_ when thus used. It is true
that modern languages have so modified it; but, as already noted, the
modern languages are the children not of the classical Latin spoken
in the days of Cicero, but of the provincial Latin spoken five or six
centuries later. There is no doubt that at this late period, Latin
_c_ had become modified before _e_ or _i_ so as to be equivalent to
_s_ or _z_. Latin words received into German at this time represent
_c_ before _e_ or _i_ by _z_. But had this modification been a part
of the usage of the classical language, it would have been noticed by
the grammarians, who discuss each letter with great minuteness. Now
no grammarian ever mentions more than one sound for Latin _c_. Again,
if Latin _c_ had ever had the sound of _s_, surely some of the
Greeks, ignorant of Latin and spelling by ear, would at least
occasionally have represented Latin _c_ by _σ_,--a thing which none
of them has ever done. It is probable that the modification of _c_
which is noticed in the modern languages was a characteristic of the
Umbrian and Oscan dialects and so prevailed to some extent in the
provinces, but there is absolutely not the slightest evidence to show
that it formed a part of the pronunciation of cultivated men at

_4. D: had regularly the sound of English _d_; but at the end of
words nearly that of _t_._

(_a_) The position of the vocal organs in uttering this letter is
described by Terentianus Maurus (p. 331 Keil); Marius Victorinus (p.
33); and Martianus Capella (III. 261).

(_b_) That final _d_ was sounded like _t_ is clear from the positive
statements of Quintilian and from the fact that in inscriptions, as
well as in the best manuscripts of Plautus and Vergil, we find almost
indifferently _ad_ and _at_, _apud_ and _aput_, _haud_ and _haut_,
_quid_ and _quit_, as well as _adque_ and _atque_ and many others.

[At about the fourth century A.D., _di_ before a vowel began to be
pronounced somewhat like the French _j_, just as in Aeolic Greek we
find _ζά_ for _διά_. Hence in the modern languages _g_ and _j_ arise
out of Latin _di_. Compare Latin _diurnus_ with the Italian _giorno_
and the French _jour_.]

_5. E: _ē_ had the sound of English _e_ in "they" or of the French
_ê_; _ĕ_ had the sound of English _e_ in "net"._

(_a_) The position of the vocal organs in pronouncing _e_ is
described by Terentianus Maurus (p. 329 Keil); Marius Victorinus (p.
32); and Martianus Capella (III. 261). It is regularly represented in
Greek transliterations by _ε_ when short, and by _η_ when long.

(_b_) The sound of the letter _e_ seems to have varied more than was
the case with other vowels. The later grammarians give to _ē_ a sound
approximating to the sound of _i_. (Cf. Donatus in Servius p. 421,
Keil [1]). And confusion of _ĕ_ and _ĭ_ in words like _timidus_,
_navibos_ (written _timedus_, _navebos_) is to be seen in early
Latin. But too much importance has been given to this. The fact is
that one short unaccented vowel is very likely to be mistaken, for
another, especially by the uneducated and by careless speakers. The
hearer cannot detect the difference, and in fact there is none,
practically. The extremely accurate and discriminating elocution of
which we hear was in all probability confined to the highly
cultivated classes.

_6. F: had practically the sound of English _f_._

Latin _f_ is not like the Greek _φ_, which was a double sound rather
than a single one, namely _p_ + _h_ with each element distinctly
audible, as in English _top-heavy_, _uphill_. Quintilian says: "The
Greeks are accustomed to aspirate; whence Cicero in his oration for
Fundanius ridicules a witness who could not sound the first letter of
that name." [2] The descriptions given by Priscian and Terentianus
Maurus of the position of the lips and teeth in pronouncing _f_ show
that it was formed precisely as our _f_, i.e. with the lower lip
against the upper teeth.

_7. G: _g_ always had the hard sound of English _g_ in "get"._

(_a_) "When _g_ comes before an _s_ it produces _x_, thus showing
that it is a guttural: e.g. _lex_ = _leg_ + _s_; and _rex_ = _reg_ +

(_b_) No Roman grammarian mentions more than one sound as belonging
to _g_, although they treat of the letters minutely.

(_c_) All the vowels readily interchange after _g_ in the same root,
which would hardly be the case if _g_ had had more than one sound.
Thus we have _maligenus_ and _malignus_; _lego_, _legis_, _legit_;
_gigeno_ and _gigno_; _tegimen_ and _tegmen_.

(_d_) Latin _g_ is invariably represented by Greek _γ_, and the Greek
_γ_ is invariably represented by Latin _g_. St. Augustine remarks:
"When I say _lege_, a Greek understands one thing and a Roman another
in these two syllables." This shows that Latin _lege_ and Greek
_λέγε_ had precisely the same sound.

[About the fifth century A.D., _g_ began to have the soft sound
before _e_ and _i_ that is now found in the modern languages. The
first change from the old hard sound was to a _y_ sound like that
given to _g_ by those who speak the _Berliner Dialekt_ in Germany
to-day, and said to be found also in Lowland Scotch. Such variations
as _magestas_ for _maiestas_, and in Greek _βειέντι_ for _viginti_,

_8. H: had the sound of English _h_._

(_a_) H is described as a simple breathing by Marius Victorinus, p.
34 (Keil); Terentianus Maurus, p. 331; and Martianus Capella, III.
261. It is represented in Greek by the rough breathing, and in turn
it represents that breathing.

(_b_) There seems to have existed among the uneducated Romans that
irregularity in the use of _h_ which marks the language of the
English cockney to-day. Nigidius Figulus, the grammarian, said: "Your
speech becomes boorish if you aspirate wrongly." Catullus in one of
his epigrams ridicules the cockneyism of a person who said _chommoda_
for _commoda_, and _hinsidiae_ for _insidiae_. [3] In later Latin,
the varying spelling shows the growing irregularity of usage. _H_
seems to have been omitted or inserted almost at pleasure; thus
_hauctoritas_, _hii_, and _hinventio_, stand beside _inospita_,
_omini_ (_homini_), and _abitat_ (_habitat_). The reason for this
irregularity seems to have been the gradual weakening of the sound
until _h_ became a silent letter, as it is in modern Spanish and
Italian. [4]

_9. I consonant (J): had the sound of English _y_._

(_a_) That _i_ had a consonant sound as distinct from its vowel sound
is clear from the statement of Priscian (I. p. 13, Keil). Before a
vowel and not preceded by an accented syllable with final consonant,
he says that _i_ "passes over to the force of a consonant." That it
differs from _i_ the vowel, is also clear from the fact that in
prosody it lengthens the preceding vowel.

(_b_) That it was not like English _j_ is clear from the fact that it
readily passes into _i_, which proves the two sounds to have been
closely akin; and in Greek transliterations it is always represented
by _ι_. Thus _Julius_ = _Ιούλιος_.

(_c_) Nigidius Figulus cautioned his readers that the
_i_ (_j_) in such words as _iam_, _iecur_, _iocus_ is not a vowel,--a
caution that would have been absurdly unnecessary if _i_ had had any
such sound as that of English _j_.

(_d_) The true sound of the letter is seen in the alternative
spelling _Eanus_ for _Janus_ proposed by some of the ancients, who
derived the name from _eo_, _ire_. About 300 A.D. the letter got the
sound of _z_ or _gi_.

_10. I (vowel): _ī_ as in English "machine"; _ĭ_ as in English

(_a_) Martianus Capella says: "I is a breathing with the teeth nearly

(_b_) It is represented in Greek by _ι_.

(_c_) All the derived modern languages give _i_ this sound.

[In the vulgar language and the _sermo rusticus_, _ī_ seems to have
varied with _ĕ_ and to have been confused with it. So Augustus Caesar
said _heri_ for _here_; and we find _sibe_ for _sibi_. Cf. Cic. de
Orat. III. 12. 46.; Quint, I. 7.; Aulus Gellius, X. 24. Also a
confusion appears between _ĭ_ and _ŭ_, as in the forms _optumus_ and
_optimus_; _lubet_ and _libet_. But we are only concerned with the
normal sound of the letter, which is that given above.]

_11. L: had the sound of English _l_._

It is always represented in Greek by _λ_. The position of the vocal
organs in uttering it is described by Marius Victorinus, p. 34.
Martianus Capella (III. 261) says: "L grows soft upon the tongue and

[For _l_ as a corruption of _r_, see 17. _b_.]

_12. M: had the sound of English _m_, but was much weakened at the
end of words._

The fact that _m_ was weakly sounded at the end of words is shown by
the elision of a final _m_ before an initial vowel in poetry
(synaloepha); by the fact that in the early inscriptions it is often
omitted in writing; and by the positive statements of the Roman
writers themselves. [5] Because at the end of a word before a
following vowel it was practically a silent letter, Verrius Flaccus
wished to represent it in that position by a different character,
[Picture: alternate form of M].

Quintilian (XII. 10, 31) says: "We close many of our words with the
letter _m_, which has a sound something like the lowing of an ox, and
in which no Greek word terminates." Priscian remarks, "M sounds
obscurely at the end of words."

_13. N: usually had the sound of the English _n_, "but before _c_,
_q_, _g_, or _x_ the sound of the English _ng_ in "linger"._

This _n_ before a guttural, and technically known as a "guttural
nasal," was called "_n adulterinum_;" so, according to Varro, the
early Roman writers in such cases wrote it as a _g_; thus, _agceps_
for _anceps_; _agyulus_ for _angulus_; and so on, after the fashion
of the Greeks.

_14. O: _ō_ practically had the sound of _o_ in English "note"; _ŏ_
like _o_ in English "not"._

The _ō_ is regularly represented in Greek by _ω_, and the _ŏ_ by
Greek _ο_. Marius Victorinus (p. 33, Keil) says that _o_ is produced
with the lips extended and the tongue quiescent in the middle of the
mouth. Martianus Capella (III. 261) says: "O is produced by breathing
through the mouth made round." The character O is, in fact, believed
to have been originally a pictorial representation of a rounded

_15. P: always had the sound of English _p_._

The position of the vocal organs in uttering _p_ is described by
Martianus Capella (III. 261). It is always represented in Greek by

_16. Q: is always followed by _u_, and had the sound of _qu_ in
English "queen"._

(_a_) _Qu_ is represented in Greek by _κου_, _κυ_, or _κο_. Thus,
_Quintus_ = _Κοίντος_; _Quintilius_ = _Κυιντίλιος_; _Quintilianus_ =
_ Κουιντιλίανος_.

(_b_) Q represents the old Greek letter _koppa_ and is a sharp
guttural mute. Colloquially _qu_ may have been carelessly sounded
like _k_, or like _qu_ in modern French. A candidate for office whose
father had been a cook, once approached Cicero and asked a bystander
for his vote; whereupon Cicero, who was an inveterate punster, said:
"Ego quoque tibi iure favebo," pronouncing _quoque_ "_koké_" so as to
suggest _coque_, the vocative of _coquus_, a cook. (Quint, VI. 3.

_17. R: in general had the sound of the English _r _with a slight
trill; i.e. that of the Italian _r_._

(_a_) Because of its snarling sound it is called by the satirist
Persius "the dog's letter" (_littera canina_).

(_b_) The Romans seem not to have liked a too frequent repetition of
this letter, for it is omitted often when a following syllable
contains it; as _pejero_ for _perjero_; and grammarians have noticed
that the genitive plural of the future participle is of rare
occurrence. In the colloquial and provincial Latin, _r_ is often
dulled into _l_. Thus on one of the walls at Pompeii a part of the
first line of the Aeneid was found written, "ALMA VILVMQVE CANO
TLO"--a rendering which might have been produced by a modern Chinese.
Cf. the playful use of _Hillus_ for _Hirrus_ in one of Cicero's letters
(ad Fam. ii. 10. 1.)

_18. S: had regularly the sound of the English initial _s_ sharp as
in "sip"; at the end of words it was barely audible._

(_a_) That s was a sharp hiss is clear from the fact that it
maintains its place before the sharp consonants, as in _sto_, _spes_,
_squama_, _scelus_; and does _not_ maintain its place before flat
consonants, as in _cano_ (_casno_), _iudex_ (_iusdex_), _dilabor_
(_dislabor_), _diripio_ (_disripio_), _trado_ (_transdo_), _viden_
(_videsne_); while it regularly changes a preceding flat consonant to
a sharp, as _scripsi_ (_scribsi_), and _rexi_ (_regsi_).

(_b_) That it was very lightly sounded at the end of words is clear
from the fact that until after Cicero's time it was neglected in
scanning when the next word began with a consonant; that in the early
inscriptions it is frequently omitted in writing, as _Cornelio_ for
_Cornelios_; and that in a great number of words it fell away
altogether at all periods of the language; as in _ipse_ for _ipsus_,
_pote_ for _potis_, _vigil_ for _vigilis_, _puer_ for _puerus_; and
compare such forms as _poeta_, _nauta_ and _luxuria_ with _ποιητής_,
_ναύτης_, _luxuries_: and so in modern Italian.

[The neglect of final _s_ in scanning is extremely frequent. Cf. such
a line as this hexameter from Ennius, where the _s_ is suppressed
three times:

  "Tum laterali(s) dolor certissimu(s) nuntiu(s) mortis."]

_19. T: had the sound of English _t_, always hard._

(_a_) The English system of pronouncing Latin gives to _ti_ the sound
of _sh_ before a vowel, as in the words _militia_, _oratio_. An
assibilation was undoubtedly a characteristic of the Umbrian and
Oscan dialects at an early period, and fastened itself upon the Latin
after the sixth century A.D.; for Isidores states that _tia_ should
be sounded _zia_: and in Greek transliterations of the sixth century
we find such forms as δωναζιόνεμ for donationem, and _ἄκτζιο_ for
actio. Pompeius says that whensoever a vowel follows _ti_ or _di_,
the _ti_ or _di_ becomes sibilant. So again on Christian epitaphs we
find _Constantso_ for _Constantio_, etc. But in the classical period
of the language, there is no reason for thinking that this
assibilation existed, for the Greek transliterations of that period
invariably denote Latin _ti_ by τι, as _Οὐαλεντία_ for _Valentia_. It
is this classical tradition which Servius retains, when he lays it
down as a rule that in all cases _di_ and _ti_ are to be pronounced
exactly as written. [7]

(_b_) At the end of a word the letter _t_ seems to have been less
strongly sounded, for we find such forms as _ama_, _apu_, for _amat_,
_aput_. This was a characteristic of the Umbrian and Volscian and
affects the forms of the modern Italian.

_20. V vowel (U): _ū_ sounded like _oo_ in English "fool"; _ŭ_ like
_u_ in English "full"._

(_a_) Latin _u_ is frequently represented in Greek by _ου_ whether it
be long or short; thus, _Ποστούμιος_ = _Postŭmius_; _Βελλούτου_ =

(_b_) Plautus represents the hoot of an owl by _tutu_ in the
_Menaechmi_, 654; and in the _Carm. Philom._ 41, the onomatopoetic
verb _tutubo_ is used of the same bird. Cf. _cuculo_, "to cry cuckoo"
(_Carm. Philom_. 35).

(_c_) In early Latin _ū_ is sometimes written _ou_; thus, _ious_,
_ioudex_, _douco_, for _ius_, _iudex_, _duco_.

_21. V (consonant): had the sound of English _w_._

That the character _V_ had both a consonantal and a vowel sound is
clear from the unanimous statements of the Roman grammarians, who say
that frequently when before a vowel it becomes consonantal. [8] Also
as stated above in Chap. III., the Emperor Claudius invented a new
character to represent the consonantal sound of _v_ as distinguished
from the vowel sound.

That the consonant sound of _v_ was practically that of the English
_w_ may be inferred from the following facts:

(_a_) The consonant sound and the vowel sound were closely akin. This
is seen by the fact that the consonant _v_ often melts into vowel _v_
and is so scanned, as in such words as _silva_, [9] (scanned
_silüa_), and its absorption in such words as _fautor_ for _favitor_,
_cautum_ for _cavitum_. (See Plaut. _Menaechmi_, 155). Cicero says
that when Marcus Crassus was at Brundisium, about to cross over to
Greece, a vendor of figs began crying out "_Cauneas!_" (the name of a
kind of figs.) [10] This, Cicero says, was taken as an omen; for it
sounded like "_Cave ne eas_," which must therefore have been
pronounced _Cau' n' eas_. Conversely, in poetry, the vowel _v_
sometimes strengthens into consonant _v_. Thus in Plautus, Lucretius,
and even in Vergil and Statius, this happens in such words as
_puella_, _suo_, _genua_, _larua_, and _tenuis_. Finally, the fact
that both sounds of _v_ are represented by the same character, is
evidence that those sounds must have been nearly alike. But the
consonant sound that is nearest to the vowel sound of _u_, is the
sound of the English _w_. (Cf. Consent, p. 395 K).

(_b_) Nigidius Figulus [11] says that when we pronounce the word
_vos_ we gradually thrust out the ends of our lips. This remark
describes perfectly the position of the mouth in pronouncing _vos_ if
we assume that v had the sound of English _w_.

(_c_) The Greek writers in transliterating Latin names generally
represent consonantal _v_ by _ου_; thus, _Οὐαλήριος_ for _Valerius_;
_Οὐόλσκι_ for _Volsci_; _Ιουουενάλια_ for _Iuvenalia_; _Οὐᾶρος_ for
Varus. Sometimes, to be sure, _v_ is represented by _β_, but this is
chiefly in Plutarch, who is a Boeotian and confesses his own
ignorance of Latin [12]; or else it is done in proper names in which
by using _β_ the word becomes in appearance more like a Greek one;
that is, its form becomes Hellenized: as for instance, _Λίβιος_,
_Φούλβιος_ etc., for _Livius_ and _Fulvius_,--the termination –βιος
being common in Greek.

_22. X: had the sound of _x_ in English._

The grammarians say that the character a_x_is a monogram representing
_cs_ or _gs_. Quintilian remarks that _x_ is not an indispensable
letter in Latin, implying that _cs_ and _gs_ could take its place. In
early Latin, _cs_ was often written for _x_. (Max. Victor, p. 1945

_23. Y: had the sound of French _u_ or German _ü_._

See III, supra.

_24. Z: had the sound of English _z_ and modern Greek _ζ_._ See p.

Z was a letter used by the Umbrians and Oscans, but it appears first
in ordinary Latin about Cicero's time in the transliteration of Greek
words. Before this time, ζ had been imperfectly represented in the
Latin by _s_ or _ss_, as _sona_ for _ζώνη_, and _badisso_ for
_βαδίζω_. It was, in classical times, always regarded by the Romans
as a Greek letter. Marius Victorinus remarks: "If _z_ were essential
to the Latin language, we should represent it by _ds_."

[1] Seelmann, _Die Aussprache des Latein_, p. 175 sqq.

[2] Quint. I. 4, 14.

[3] Carm. LXXXIV.

  '_Chommoda_' dicebat, si quando '_commoda_' vellet
    Dicere et '_insidias_' Arrius '_hinsidias_'.
  Et tum mirifice sperabat se esse locutum,
    Cum, quantum poterat, dixerat '_hinsidias_'.
        *   *   *   *   *   *
  Hoc misso in Syriam, requierant omnibus aures,
    Audibant eadem haec leniter et leviter.
  Nec sibi postilla metuebant talia verba;
    Cum subito adfertur nuntius horribilis:
  Ionios fluctus, postquam illuc Arrius isset,
    Iam non '_Ionios_' esse sed '_Hionios_'!

Which Martin has very cleverly translated:

  "Whenever Arrius wished to name
  'Commodious,' out 'chommodious' came:
  And when of his intrigues he blabbed,
  With his 'hintrigues' our ears he stabbed;
  And thought moreover, he displayed
  A rare refinement when he made
  His h's thus at random fall
  With emphasis most guttural.
  When suddenly came news one day
  Which smote the city with dismay,
  That the Ionian seas a change
  Had undergone, most sad and strange;
  For since by Arrius crossed, the wild
  'Hionian Hocean' they were styled!"

[4] Gellius (II. 3) gives a number of words formerly written with _h_
but in his time no longer aspirated. Between two vowels, _h_ was
silent. Hence _nil_ for _nihil_, etc.

[5] Quint, ix. 4, 40; Prise. 1, p. 29 (Keil).

[6] Velius Lougus, p. 80 (Keil).

[7] Don. in Serv. p. 445.

[8] Cf. for instance Quint. 1, 7, 26; Marius Victorinus, p. 13
(Keil); Velius Longus, pp. 50, 58, 67 (Keil); Consentius, p. 395
(Keil). The position of the vocal organs in pronouncing _v_ is
described by Terentianus Maurus, p. 319 (Keil); Marius Victorinus, p.
33 (Keil); and Martianus Capella, III. 261.

[9] Cf. Horace, Odes, I. 23, 4.

[10] _De Div._ II. 40. 84.

[11] Quoted by Gellius, X. 44.

[12] The statistics on this point will be found in the introduction
to Roby's Latin Grammar, pp. XXXVII-XLI. Plutarch, who oftenest uses
_β_ for _v_, expressly states in his life of Demosthenes his own
deficiency as a Latin scholar, and this fact impairs the value of his
testimony in general except as corroborating better witnesses. Prof.
F. D. Allen (_Class. Review_, Feb. 1891) regards the use of _β_ as
characteristic only of the later Greeks.


IT must be remembered that the Latin diphthongs (Æ, AU, EI, EU, Œ),
were originally true _diphthongs_ (double sounds), in the full sense
of the word. That is, in pronouncing a diphthong the sound of each of
its elements was distinctly heard, though pronounced in the time of
one syllable. (Terent. Maur. p. 2392 P; Prisc, p. 561 P.) Knowing,
then, the true sounds of the individual letters which compose the
diphthongs, it is a simple matter to determine the general
pronunciation of the diphthongs themselves. At the same time, it is
undoubtedly true that in the latter part of the classical period, a
tendency to give only one elemental sound to the combination finally
made its way from the pronunciation of the vulgar into that of the

With this preliminary observation we may proceed to the discussion of
the several diphthongs.


_Æ had originally the double sound _ah-ê_ pronounced quickly; later,
the simple sound of Latin E, i.e. of English _a_ in "fate"._

(_a_) _Ae_ represents an early _ai_ which appears in the oldest
Latin. Thus, _praifecius_, _quaistor_, _aulai_; and so Vergil to give
an antique coloring to his language has _pictai_, _vestis_, _aquai_,
_aulai_, etc. (Quint. I. 7.18). About the year B.C. 175, the _ai_
sound began to give way to the _ae_ sound, as can be shown from the
testimony of inscriptions. The _ai_ sound of the diphthong (that of
the English affirmative _ay_) may have lingered in the pronunciation
of purists, for at the time when the Emperor Claudius instituted his
reforms, we find a temporary revival of the spelling _ai_.

(_b_) As early as the beginning of the classical period _ae_ ceased
to be sounded as a diphthong by the rustics and by the provincials
generally. This is expressly stated by Varro in his treatise on the
Latin language (iv. 9, and vii. 96 and 97), in which he gives
_Mesius_ and _hedus_ as rustic sounds for _Maesius_ and _haedus_.

(_c_) This rustic neglect of the first element of the diphthong
gradually prevailed until at last _ae_ had only the force of a long
_e_ and is very generally so written, e.g. _seculum_ for _saeculum_,
_femine_ for _feminae_, and even _que_ for _quae_. But this is as
late as the third and fourth centuries A.D. The classical sound was
undoubtedly _ăé_.

_AU had the sound of _ow_ in English "now"._

(_a_) _Au_ remained a true diphthong down through the classical
period at least in the pronunciation of the educated. The Greeks
represent it by _αυ_, as in _Κλαύδιος_ for Claudius.

(_b_) In vulgar and provincial circles, _au_ had sometimes the sound
of _u_, the first element of the diphthong being neglected as was the
case with _ae_. Hence we find occasionally in inscriptions such forms
as _frudavi_ for _fraudavi_, _cludo_ for _claudo_, etc. But the
vulgar generally gave to _au_ the sound of _ō_, as in modern French.
Thus, some branches of the Claudian family called themselves
_Clodii_, and we find in provincial inscriptions even at an early
period _Pola_ for _Paulla_, _Plotus_ for _Plautus_, etc. Suetonius in
his life of the Emperor Vespasian tells a story bearing on this,
which has been often repeated and is important as showing that even
in the Silver Age, _au_ was still pronounced as a diphthong. The
anecdote runs as follows: "Having been admonished by one Mestrius
Floras, a man of consular rank, that he ought to say '_plaustra_'
rather than '_plostra_,' he greeted Floras the next day as
'_Flaurus_'"--the point of which is that _Flaurus_ suggests the Greek
_φλαῦρος_, "good for nothing."

_EI had the sound of _ei_ in English "feint"._

_Ei_ remained a true diphthong in keeping the sound of both its
elements; but the combination _ei_ is often found merely as an
equivalent for _ī_. Gorssen remarks that in the root-syllables of the
words _deiva_, _leiber_, _deicere_, _ceivis_; in locative forms; and
in the dative and ablative plural of -_a_ stems and -_o_ stems, _ei_
is a true diphthong, but is elsewhere a transition vowel between _ī_
and _ē_. Cf. _Aussprache_, I. 719, 788; Ritschl, _Opuscula_, II. 626;
Roby, §§ 267, 268.

_EU had (nearly) the sound of _eu_ in English "feud"._

_Eu_ remained a true diphthong with more stress upon the second
element than upon the first. This is seen by the fact that (rarely)
it has passed into _ū_ [1] but never into _ē_. The combination _eu_
is not often found in Latin except in transliterating Greek words,
and in the exclamations _heu_, _heus_, and _eheu_, and in the
contractions _neu_ (_neve_), _seu_ (_sive_), and _neuter_ (_ne_ +
_uter_). In _neutiquam_ the antepenult is short.

_OE had the sound of _oi_ in English "toil" (nearly), or of _ōē_._

Oe represents an original _oi_ and remained a diphthong in those
words in which it continued to be written. When the first element
predominates over the second, _oe_ passes into _u_, as in _plura_ for
_ploera_, _punio_ from the root of _poena_, _cura_ for _coera_. When
the second element predominates, _oe_ passes into _ae_ (by a
confusion) and _ē_, as in _obscaonus_ and _obscenus_ for _obscaenus_.
But in words where _oe_ is regularly written, it is to be pronounced
as a true diphthong.

_UI as a diphthong_ occurs only in a few interjections, as _hui_,
_fui_, and in _huic_ and _cui_. In both _huic_ and _cui_ it
represents an earlier _oi_ (_hoic_, _quoi_). In other words (e.g.
_exercitui_, _gradui_, etc.) _ui_ is not a diphthong, but each vowel
is pronounced separately.


The Romans were the first people to call the letters of the alphabet
by their _sounds_ rather than by _names_, as was done in Greek and in
the Semitic languages. Thus the Latin vowels were named by simply
uttering their sounds; the mute consonants and _h_ by uttering a
vowel after them, and the so-called nasal and fricative consonants by
uttering a vowel before them. This vowel was _e_ except in the case
of _k_, _h_, _q_, and _x_. Hence, a Roman boy saying over his
alphabet, would have given it thus:

_ah, bé, ké, dé, ê, ef, ghé, ha, î (_ee_), ka, el, em, en, ô, pé, qu
(_coo_), er, es, té, oo, ix, (ü, zeta)_. (Prise, p. 540 P.)

In pronouncing Latin words, too much care can not be taken in
distinguishing between long vowels and those that are short. Cicero
says: _Omnium longitudinum et brevitatum in sonis sicut acutarum
graviumque vocum indicium, natura in auribus nostris collocavit_; and
student and teacher alike will find that if from the outset a correct
and careful pronunciation of Latin be required, those bugbears of the
learner--the rules of prosody--will almost teach themselves, because
they will have a consistency and meaning that can never be obvious to
the unfortunate victim of the "English system." Professor Richardson,
who deserves honor as being one of the first American scholars to
advocate and adopt the true method of pronouncing Latin, has well
summed up the whole matter in a single paragraph:

"To teach the student, from his first entrance upon the study of
Latin, the English system of pronunciation; to get him thoroughly
habituated to this false method, and then by lodging in his brain
some verbal rules of quantity and prosody, at war often with each
other and commonly with his pronunciation, to attempt to make him
appreciate and observe the rhythm of Latin poetry, is like keeping a
child in a rude society where all the laws of a pure and finished
language are habitually violated, and then expecting him, by virtue
of committing to memory the common rules of grammar and rhetoric, to
talk at once with grammatical and rhetorical correctness and

And this little treatise may be closed by citing the most obvious of
the _reasons for adopting the Roman System_.

(1) Because it is approximately the system used by the Romans

(2) Because it is more musical and harmonious in sound, and makes the
structure of Latin verse clear even to the beginner.

(3) Because it is simpler than the English system, giving as it does
but one sound to each alphabetical character, and thus always
distinguishing words of different orthography and meaning by their
sounds, while the English system often confuses them; e.g. _census_
and _sensus_; _caedo_, _cedo_, and _sedo_; _circulus_ and _surculus_;
_cervus_ and _servus_; _amici_ and _amisi_.

(4) Because it makes the connection of Latin words with their Greek
cognates plain at once, and renders easier the study of Greek, of the
modern Romance language, and of the science of Comparative Philology.

[1] In the _Carmen Saliare_ we find _Leucesie_, a vocative of the
later _Lucelius_ from the root of _lux_. Cf. Paull. ex Fest. p. 114

[2] See Richardson's _Roman Orthoëpy_, pp. 83-106. This little book,
which is unfortunately out of print, contains some exceedingly good
points very cleverly put, though the view that it takes of certain
phonetic questions is one that more recent scholarship does not


ALLEN, F. Remnants of Early Latin. Boston, 1884.
BLAIR, W. Latin Pronunciation. New York and Chicago, 1874.
BLASS, F. Ueber die Aussprache des Griechischen. Berlin, 1882. Eng.
trans, by Purton, Cambridge, 1890.
BRAMBACH, W. Die Neugestaltung der Lateinischen Orthographie, etc.
Leipzig, 1868.
CORSSEN, W. Ueber Aussprache, Vokalismus, und Betonung der
Lateinischen Sprache. Leipzig, 1868-70.
EDON, G. Écriture et Prononciation du Latin. Paris, 1882.
ELLIS, A. J. Practical Hints on the Quantitative Pronunciation of
Latin. London, 1874.
HALDEMAN, S. S. Elements of Latin Pronunciation for the Use of
Students in Language, etc. Philadelphia, 1851.
KEIL, H. Grammatici Latini. 7 vols. Leipzig, 1856-80.
KENNEDY, B. H. The Public School Latin Grammar. London, 1874.
KING, D. B. Latin Pronunciation. New York and Boston, 1880.
KING, J., and COOKSON, C. Principles of Sound and Inflexion in Greek
and Latin. London, 1888.
MUNRO, H. A. J. Remarks on the Pronunciation of Latin. Cambridge,
MUNRO, H. A. J., and PALMER, E. A Syllabus of Latin Pronunciation.
Oxford and Cambridge, 1872.
RICHARDSON, J. F. Roman Orthoëpy: a Plea for the Restoration of the
True System of Latin Pronunciation. New York, 1859.
RITSCHL, F. Zur Geschichte des Lateinischen Alphabets in the
_Rheinisches Museum_, 1869.
ROBY, H, J. A Grammar of the Latin Language from Plautus to
Suetonius. London, 1881.
SCHUCHARDT, H. Der Vokalismus des Vulgärlateins. Leipzig,
SEELMANN, E. Die Aussprache des Latein nach physiologisch-
historischen Grundsätzen. Heilbronn, 1885.
SIEVERS, E. Grundzüge der Phonetik. Leipzig, 1885.
SWEET, H. A Handbook of Phonetics. Oxford, 1877.
TAFEL, L., and TAFEL, R. Latin Pronunciation and the Latin
Alphabet. New York and Philadelphia, 1860.
TAYLOR, ISAAC. The Alphabet. London, 1883.
WEIL, H., and BENLOEW, L. Théoric Gënérale de l'Accentuation Latine.
Paris, 1855.
WORDSWORTH, J. Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin. Oxford, 1874.

[See also articles by Prof. Max Müller and Mr. Munro in the
_Academy_, Feb. 15, 1871; Dec. 15, 1871; and Jan. 11, 1872; and by
Prof. J. C. Jones in the _Classical Review_, Feb. 1893.]

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