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Latin Pronuciation: Catholic v. Classical

by Steve
(San Francisco)

Dear Latin Teacher,

I have noticed the Latin spoken at Mass is different from the Latin I am learning at Junior College. For example, "Ecce" is pronounced with a hard "K" sound at school, while the same word is pronounced with a soft "CH" sound at church. I am simply not hearing well, or is there a linguistic difference?

Thank you again for answering my question concerning inquit.

Thanks, Steve

Dear Steve,

In your college course you are hearing classical pronunciation, while at Mass you are hearing Ecclesiastical pronunciation.

Most college professors in the United States, Canada, Australia, England, and Germany use what is called restored classical pronunciation. It is based on scholarly work reconstructing how Latin most likely sounded during the first century BC.

The church uses a Latin pronunciation which has been heavily influenced by Italian pronunciation. Scholars in Italy, France, and Spain tend to use this same Ecclesiastical pronunciation.

The main differences are these:

The letters C and G are always hard in Classical Latin. In Ecclesiastical Latin they are hard before A, O, and U, but soft before E and I.

The letter V sounds like an English W in Classical. In Ecclesiastical it sounds like English V.

The Diphthong AE sounds like the English EYE in Classical. In Ecclesiastical in sounds like English AY, and, in fact, it came to be spelled -e- instead of -ae-. (E.g. in Medieval Latin the genitive singular meaning "of the girl" is spelled puelle, not puellae.

There are other differences, and scholars love to argue the finer points of how and why Latin changed pronunciation. It is generally accepted that changes began to occur in the second century AD or sooner.

The book to read if you are interested in the details of the restored classical pronunciation is called Vox Latina.

If you are interested in learning to pronounce what you are hearing at Mass, then try this Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin.

In its respective category, each of these books sets the standard for students wishing to achieve excellent pronunciation of Latin.

Hope this helps, and thanks for asking a Latin teacher.



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