Latin Pronunciation

How to Pronounce Words in Latin


Vox Latina: A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin

One of the best guides to Latin pronunciation is the slim, technical volume entitled Vox Latina: A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin, by William Sidney Allen. Allen reviews how the ancient writers wrote and what the grammarians said about the Latin language, and he examines the changes the Latin language underwent over time. Should you want to know how to pronounce Latin and you are already a speaker of (British) English, Vox Latina should be able to help you out.

Other Guides to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin

For speakers of American English, some of the descriptions Allen uses to distinguish one way of pronouncing a sound from another are hard to understand because we don't have the same regional dialects. Basic pronunciation guides in Wheelock and other Latin grammars should help.

PDF of Michael A. Covington's Program in Linguistics provides various tips, including the fact that there are 4 ways to pronounce Latin:

  1. the reconstructed ancient Roman,
  2. the northern Continental European,
  3. Church Latin and
  4. the "English Method."

He provides the following chart of how to pronounce Latin (Julius Caesar) according to each:

  • YOO-lee-us KYE-sahr (reconstructed ancient Roman)
  • YOO-lee-us (T)SAY-sahr (northern Continental Europe)
  • YOO-lee-us CHAY-sahr ("Church Latin" in Italy)
  • JOO-lee-us SEE-zer ("English method")

The northern continental is particularly recommended for scientific terms.

Covington notes that it is the pronunciation scientific greats, like Copernicus and Kepler, used. The English method is used for names from mythology and history; however, it is the least like the way the Romans would have pronounced their language.

Some Pronunciation Guidelines

Latin Consonants

Basically, Classical Latin is pronounced the way it is written, with a few exceptions -- to our ears: consonantal v is pronounced as a w, i is sometimes pronounced as a y.

As distinct from Church Latin (or modern Italian), g is always pronounced like the g in gap; and, like g, c is also hard and always sounds like the c in cap.

A terminal m nasalizes the preceding vowel. The consonant itself is scarcely pronounced.

An s is not the buzzing consonant of the verb "use" but is the sound of the s in the noun "use."

The Latin letters y and z are used in Greek borrowings. The y represents the Greek upsilon. The z is like the "s" in the verb "use." [Source: A Short Historical Latin Grammar, by Wallace Martin Lindsay.]

Latin Diphthongs

The first vowel sound in "Caesar," ae is a diphthong pronounced like "eye"; au, a diphthong pronounced like the exclamation "Ow!"; oe, a diphthong pronounced like the English diphthong oi, as in "hoity-toity".

Latin Vowels

There is some debate over the pronunciation of vowels. Vowels may simply be pronounced as shorter and longer in duration or there may be some difference in sound. Assuming a difference in sound, the vowel i (long) is pronounced like the letter e (not the sound [e]), the vowel e (long) is pronounced like the ay in hay, a long u is pronounced like the double o in moon. Short

  • i,
  • e, and
  • u

are pronounced pretty much as they are pronounced in English:

  • bit,
  • bet, and
  • put.

The differences between the a and o when long and short are more subtle. A short, unaccented a may be pronounced like a schwa (as if you;re hesitatingly saying "uh") and a short o like what is called an "open o," although simply shortening and remembering not to stress the a and o should work, too.

Also see Accentuation for basics on which syllable to stress in a Latin word.

Special Sounds

Each of doubled consonants is pronounced. R may be trilled. Vowels before the letters m and n may be nasal. You can hear these subtleties if you listen to Robert Sonkowsky reading from the beginning of Vergil's Aeneid using the reconstructed ancient Roman method of Latin pronunciation.

Links: More on the Pronunciation of Latin including more audio files of people reading Latin poetry.

How to Pronounce Latin Names

This page is a guide for people who aren't interested in Latin as a language but don't want to make a fool of themselves when pronouncing English names. Despite my best efforts, I can't guarantee you won't make a fool of yourself. Sometimes the "correct" pronunciation can lead to raucous laughter. Anyway, this is the fulfillment of an email request and so I just hope it helps.