Latin pronunciation

by Gn. Dionysius Scorpio Invictus


Latin pronunciation is an uncertain field. No one has been able to revive an ancient Roman to see how he pronounced his language, and even so, there probably were a lot of regional varieties in Italia, and especially in the conquered provinces. Nevertheless, from the way the Romans wrote, and from comments of authors who were occupied with language, oratory or commented on the pronounciation of their contemporaries, we can assemble a set of fairly commonly accepted rules. However, no manner is completely orthodox, and always has its flaws.  

Take note of the following symbols: <..> for a grapheme (character) and [..] for a phonemic realisation (actual sound). Also remark that this document has been written mainly for the use of anglophones (as it's written in English), but that in order to understand and pronounce Latin, knowledge of other languages comes in very handily.  


Since most Indo-European languages use an alphabet largely derived from the Roman or Greek one (although there are exceptions, such as Jiddisch) the Roman alphabet is very easy to grasp by intuition. Their alphabet consisted of 24 characters:  

A B C D E F G H I (K) L M N O P Q R S T V (X Y Z)  

It has to be pointed out, that the <K, X, Y, Z> were marginal characters. The <K> was gradually replaced by the <C>, and the last three letters were loaned from Greek, and only appear in Greek (or other oriental) loanwords. Also note that the original Roman alphabet makes no distinction between <U> and <V> and that the <J> was only added in medieval times; interesting to remark is also that the Romans did not employ small and capitalised characters as the Greeks did.  


The most important thing to note is, as in the majority of languages, one character does not always equal one sound, and one sound is not always represented by one character.


The free vowels of Latin are relatively easy to deal with. Basic Latin had five vowel pairs, with the addition of another (marginal) pair in later times. All free vowels have short-long-opposition wich is indicated by the [:] wich means long and the [ ] which means short.

Last to deal with are the diphthongues. These require special attention.