Friday, June 19, 2009

Pronouncing Ecclesiastical Latin

I found this over on the EWTN site, and thought it might be useful for some of my readers. I know it will be useful for me. I still can't keep pace with the Rosary in Latin or even the responses at Mass, which I tend to say silently in English while everyone else is proficiently racing along in Latin with what seems to be perfect pronunciation. If you are learning to pray in Latin, you may want to bookmark this page from EWTN.

The following pronunciation table is adapted from the Liber Usalis, one of the former chant books for Mass and Office.


A A is pronounced as in the word Father, never as in the
word can. We must be careful to get this open, warm
sound, especially when A is followed by M or N as in
, Nam, etc.
E E is pronounced as in Red, men, met; never with the
suspicion of a second sound as in Ray.
I I is pronounced as ee in Feet, never as i in milk or tin.
O O is pronounced as in For, never as in go.
U U is pronounced as oo in Moon, never as in custom.
Y Y is pronounced and treated as the Latin I. (see above)

The pronunciation given for i, o, u, gives the
approximate quality of the sounds, which may be
long or short; care must be taken to bring out the
accent of the word. e.g. mártyr = márteer.
Double Vowels As a general rule when two vowels come together
each keeps its own sound and constitutes a separate
e.g. diéi is di-é-i ; fílii is fíl-i-i ; eórum is e-ó-rum.
The rule of each keeping its own sound applies to
OU and AI.
e.g. prout is pro-oot ; coutúntur = co-oo-toón-toor ;
is ah-eet.
However, AE and OE are pronounced as one sound,
like E above.
e.g. caelum
The two vowels form one syllable but both vowels
must be distinctly heard. The principle emphasis and
interest belongs to the first which must be sounded
purely. If on such a syllable several notes are sung,
the vocalization is entirely on the first vowel, the second
being heard onlyon the last note at the moment of
passing to the following syllable.

EI is similarly treated only when it occurs in

the interjection:
Hei = Hei , otherwise, Mei = mé-i, etc.

U preceded by Q or NG and followed by another vowel
as in words like qui and sanguis, keeps its normal sound
and is uttered as one syllable with the vowel which
follows: qui, quae, quod, quam, sanguis. But notice that
forms two syllables, and is pronounced as koo-ee.
In certain hymns,on account of the metre, this word can
be treated as one syllable.


C C coming before e, ae, oe, i, y is pronounced like ch in Church
e.g. caelum = che-loom ; Cecília = che-cheé-lee-a
CC before the same vowels is pronounced T-ch.
e.g. ecce = et-che ; síccitas = seét-chee-tas.
SC before the same vowels is pronounced like Sh in shed
descendit = de-shén-deet
Except for these cases C is always pronounced like the English K
e.g. cáritas = káh-ree-tas
CH is always like K (even before E or I)
e.g. Cham = Kam, máchina = má-kee-na
G G before e, ae, i, y, is soft as in generous
e.g. mági , génitor , Regína
GN has the softened sound given to those letters in French and
e.g. (French) agneau , signor , monsignor
The nearest English equivalent would be N followed by y.
e.g. Regnum = Reh-nyoom ; Magnificat = Mah-nyeé-fee-caht
H H is pronounced K in the two words nihil (nee-keel) and
(mee-kee) and their compounds. In ancient books these
words are often written nichil and michi. In all other cases
is mute.
J J, often written as I (e.g. juris or iurus), is treated as Y,
forming one sound with the vowel which follows it.
e.g. jam, iam = yam ; alleluia = allelóoya ; major = ma-yor
R When with another consonant, care must be taken not to
omit this sound. It must be slightly rolled on the tongue (carnis).
Care must be taken not to modify the quality of the vowel
in the syllable preceding the R.
e.g. Kyrie: Say Kée-ree-e not Kear-ee-e
sapere: Say sáh-pe-re not sah-per-e
diligere: Say dee-lée-ge-re not dee-lee-ger-e
S S is hard as in the English word sea, but is slightly softened
when coming between two vowels. e.g. misericórdia
T T is like the English T, except as below.
TI standing before a vowel and following any letter
(except S, X, T) is pronounced tsee.
e.g. patientia = pa-tsee-én-tsee-a
gratia = gr
constitutio = con-stee-tú-tsee-o
laetitia = lae-tée-tsee-a
TH is always simply T. e.g. Thomas, catholicam
X X is pronounced ks, slightly softened when coming
between vowels.
e.g. exércitus
XC before a, ae, oe, i, y = KSH.
e.g. excélsis = ek-shél-sees
Before other vowels XC has the ordinary hard sound
of the letters composing it.
e.g. excussorum = eks-koos-só-room
Y A Latin vowel, pronounced like I.
Z Z is pronounced dz. zizánia.
B, D, F, K, L, M, N, P, Q and V: Pronounced as in English
Double consonants must be clearly sounded.
= bel-lo ; terra = ter-ra


Anonymous said...

This is awesome. This will indeed be most helpful. I'm almost able to follow the mass using the Latin side of my missal but definitely not anywhere near being able to pronouce these words to say anything aloud. Thanks for this great tool.


Aussie Therese said...

I bought the Prima Latina curriculum for Tom and Amelia to learn Latin. Reading it in the book is hard to know how to pronounce some words. We got a CD with the books and I find listening to them over and over has helped me a lot with the pronunciation.