Pronunciation of Latin

Anyone looking for information about the proper pronunciation of Latin will sooner or later stumble on disagreements which sometimes can become rather nasty. A discussion on a Textkit-forum about the importance of audio may serve as just one example.

Now, I am not going to tell you what the correct pronunciation of Latin is. First of all, I am not competent. I am a humble discipulus at the very beginning of learning this language. Does that fact disqualify me from writing about this dispute? I do not think so because my critique does not require me to speak (or even read) Latin at all because it is of a fundamental nature.


My problem with the dispute concerning the proper pronunciation of Latin is the very belief that there is such a thing as the proper way of doing so. Let us look at a few facts about Latin:

  1. Latin was spoken from ancient times1 right into the Middle Ages (and even the Renaissance).
  2. Latin was spoken in a huge geographic area. The Imperium Romanum once stretched from Hadrian's Wall to Northern Africa, and from Spain to Syria.
  3. Latin was spoken not only by a distinguished circle of rhetoricians and orators like Cicero but also by the plebs and even the "dregs of society".

So which way of pronouncing Latin is it to be? What is proper Latin? It seems to be generally regarded as the "classical Latin" used by the likes of Cicero. Doing so is fine, but it should always be acknowledged that this choice is arbitrary and basically a matter of taste. Old Latin worked for the people in the early Roman republic. Classical Latin did its job for Caesar and Cicero. Vulgar, Medieval, and Renaissance Latin also did their job at the time. What is the "job" of any language?

In my opinion using a language is about conveying ideas. If someone is able to do so when speaking Latin, then the main objective has been accomplished. Anything beyond that (pronunciation closer to classical Latin, rhetoric devices, finer use of vocabulary) merely provides more beautiful garments. That is all.

Evan Millner's LATINUM

As far as Evan Millner's pronunciation and his audio resources (see his web site) are concerned, I prefer having these resources, even if Cicero would not have regarded them as quite up to his own standards, to non-existent resources which are perfectly true to the classical Latin2 albeit non-existent. Mr. Millner's audio files provide an additional (and fun) way of learning Latin. Those who do not like his (or Robert Sonkowsky's or whoever) way of pronouncing Latin, ought in my opinion supply their own renditions of what they feel proper Latin should be like, instead of "berating, raving and ranting". And please, do so! Even if not everyone agrees with your pronunciation (be it "restored classical" or your private take on the pronunciation of Latin), as long as the grammar is correct and your utterance is intelligible any addition to Latin audio is welcome.

My version of the pronunciation?

As I have written above I am an absolute novice, and I do not intend to make any recordings. However, closely related to the question of pronunciation is the question of macrons. Without knowing these one cannot even try to pronounce properly. Unfortunately I noticed while reading Latin texts from various text books that there is no absolute agreement on when to use macrons. In absence of a final authority in that matter I have made the decision not to make myself crazy concerning the finer points3. Instead I try to be consistent. That way my pronunciation (even if only in my head) may be horrible, but at least it is not constantly shifting from one way of pronouncing to another. Anyway, it is always wise to remember not to overdo things:

Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

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