Pronunciation of Latin For Dummies
  • I cannot pronouce Latin to save my life. (I also have a problem with spelling. In English. But that is an entirely different topic.) I am looking for an easy-to-use resource for Latin pronunciation. (Pronounciation? sp...?)
  • Listening to very clear and understandable chant recordings over and over again makes a huge difference, before long you find yourself imitating the sounds....great way to learn to German, Italian....any language.

    Never underestimate the power of Cd's given to choir members. They seem to gravitate to car stereos and get played and played and played by people who want to get better at what they do.
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  • I have recommended them to others elsewhere, but once you have gotten past the bare basics and would like to know how it sounds, I highly commend to you taking a listen to these (free) Audiolibri in Latin; just Google the texts to read along, they're all easy to locate. I have not found better recordings than these, by the late Fr. Félix Sanchez Vallejo, who had an impressive and decades-long career as a Vatican Latinist (and was a Spaniard by birth, making his accent just that much better).
  • Bobby Bolin
    Posts: 389
    The hardest part for me is adjusting from the classical pronunciation I learned in high school to the ecclesiastical shown here. Thanks for the resource Scott.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,632
    The problem with learning-through-listening is that there are many Latins out there. I've heard people bring in elements of German Latin, from listening to German choirs. And there's that horrible early French Latin that so many early music groups use ("Credo in ewnum Deewm"). I've heard one guy do that, but it was mostly because he was Japanese.
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  • Yes, there have been many Latins, all legitimate to their time and place. Best book about it is Singing in Latin, or Pronunciation Explor'd by Harold Copeman. This is for choirs that want to sing (or whose directors want them to sing) works from particular periods using the Latin pronunciation that likely would have been used in those times and places. I think most choirs, though, opt for official Vatican ecclesiastical Latin (influenced mainly by Italian, with all the "chees and chaws"), and that's legitimate and probably most sensible.
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  • That's the fun of Latin: hearing the pronunciation adjustments in various places. Poulenc famously Frenchified the syllabic stresses in his GloriA in excelSIS DeO and other works.
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  • The Copeman book may be the gold standard, but you forgot to prepare us for sticker shock. Take a look at what a used copy is going for on Amazon.
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  • jpal
    Posts: 365
    There is also a primer in the back of the Parish Book of Chant.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,632
    I know about the Copeman book. My understanding was that Roman Latin is standard in the Church in the US. And even if not, one needs a standard for one's choir. If one is having to work on basic Latin pronunciation, the option of, "It's Haydn, so let's do German Latin" is a needless complication. It's hard enough to get "ti" right and keep folks from dipthonging terminal -e.
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  • WGS
    Posts: 244
    Really, it's not that complicated. Pronouncing "Liturgical Latin" is easier than pronouncing English except that you may already be familiar with English. For each vowel in Liturgical Latin, there is one and only one sound, and the accented syllable is almost always clearly indicated.

    Still, you won't be far from correct if you pronounce the Latin as would a modern day Italian.

    Don't be misled by "Ecclesiastical Latin" for which there are long and short vowels and most likely no indication of accent. The long and short vowels are certainly authentic but need not be considered for singing.

    There is a one page "Liturgical Pronunciation of Latin" primer at the beginning of the book of Rossini psalm tone propers. Print a copy of this page for each choir member. Similarly, there is a more extensive exposition of pronunciation near the front of the Liber Usualis.
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  • The other problems with listening:
    1) You need the text in front of you to determine if what is been said matches what is written.
    2) Because there are many pronounciations of Latin, you need to know which one is the right pronounciation for ecclesiastical Latin.

    I don't recall the pope or the name of the document, but there was definitely a papal document that said that ecclesiastical Latin is to be pronounced as it is in Rome. The Liber Usualis, p. xxxv, also contains a pronounciation guide which follows this line of thinking. I think this is the most important instruction concerning Gregorian chant, and it is also the most ignored. Look at that first, then say the Latin text, trying your best to adhere to those rules. Find a way to record yourself, this is easy on an iphone 3G or higher, then listen to yourself and make an honest critique.
    How did you say Deo? Did you say Deh - oh or Day - owe?
    How did you say eleison? Did you say eh - leh - ee - sohn or el - lay - zahn?

    btw, the first examples are the right ones :P
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,119
    Not for German speakers, mein Sohn:P Eventually we figure out that "oh" stands for the open vowel in some English versions of "pot", though.

    I had long assumed the 1903 moto proprio spelt things out, but didnt get around to actually reading it until this interesting post came up on Wikipedia. Is a 'legal' version of Latin an urban myth?
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  • I too recommend the Liber's guide to pronouncing Latin. One persistent problem in my experience is handling the vowel "O". The Liber says to pronounce it as in "for", not as in "go". Contrast that with T. Marier's "Gregorian Chant Practicum" (CUA 1990), which says to pronounce it as in "law, draw", not as in "rose, nose". Singing for Mr. Marier at St. Paul's in Cambridge, from boyhood through maturity, I heard the "O" sound treated variously, sometimes in the same word. "Omnipotens", for example, usually used "aw" for the 1st syllable, and "oh" for the 3rd.

    Directing my own church choir now, I drill them to always use the same "oh" sound, without the diphthong, as in "Lord".
  • If there was ever any legislation concerning this issue, it was certainly not before 1905; this article from the American Ecclesiastical Review of that year on "The Uniform Pronunciation of Latin" makes no mention of any such, only of a "resolution" passed by the bishops of Ireland "wherein it was proposed that the Roman pronunciation of Latin be as far as possible generally adopted in the ecclesiastical seminaries and colleges of the land."

    This article (starting on the right-hand page) from later in the same volume may also be of interest to people curious about these issues.
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  • Maureen
    Posts: 655
    I love you guys dearly... but there are HUGE differences in how different groups pronounce "pot", "law", "Lord", "oh", and so on. For example, in my area, people don't hear much difference between how they say "cot" and "caught", "Mary", "marry", and "merry", and so on. Meanwhile, over in the UK and in some places in the US, you've got people pronouncing "law" and "lore", "Lord" and "lard" almost identically.

    International Phonetic Alphabet is your friend. Link to the exact IPA sound you mean, let people listen to the sound, and never wonder what the heck people are going on about anymore. Here are a couple of reliable phonology sites:

    Audio illustrations of the IPA. (QuickTime)

    Audio illustrations of just vowels. (AIFF)
  • If you find that IPA references are helpful, you can try John Moriarty’s Diction (Boston: Schirmer, 1975), which covers German, French, Italian, and Ecclesiastical Latin. As to my own bugbear, the “O” vowel, Moriarty is on the side of the open vowel [Ɔ], while I side with the closed [O], which is the Liber’s position. It’s true that regional variations will guide your choices. In non-rhotic Boston and vicinity, I drill the choir on the progression “lard, laud, lord, load,” and then practice the “lord” vowel for Latin words with “O”.
  • I always give my choir the guide found in the Parish Book of Chant. (page 178)
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    I think the preference for [Ɔ] comes partly from Italian, and partly from the fact is is much easier to avoid a diphthong with [Ɔ] than with [o].

    In Italian however, [o] is not usually as closed as [o] would be in German or French. For Latin, I imagine the [Ɔ] most Latin pronunciation guides have in mind is the Italian, which lies somewhat between the extreme [Ɔ] of English and extreme [o] of German/French.
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 343
    In real life, I usually hear a mix of open and closed vowels for "o." How often do you hear someone pronounce the two o vowels in "Domino" identically?
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