|Plosive||voiced||B /b/||D /d/||G /ɡ/|
|voiceless||P /p/||T /t/||C or K /k/ 1||QV /kʷ/|
|voiceless||F /f/||S /s/||H /h/|
|Nasal||M /m/||N /n/||G/N [ŋ]3|
|Approximant||L /l/5||I /j/6||V /w/6|
, , and were used in Greek loanwords with phi (Φφ /pʰ/), theta (Θθ /tʰ/), and chi (Χχ /kʰ/), respectively. Latin had no aspirated consonants and so these digraphs tended to be pronounced /p/ (and later /f/), /t/, and /k/, respectively (except by the most careful speakers). represented the consonant cluster /ks/.
Double consonants were geminated (/bː/, /kː/ etc.). Length was distinctive in Latin. For example anus /ˈanus/ ("old woman") or ānus /ˈaːnus/ ("ring, anus") vs. annus ("year"). In Early Latin, double consonants were not marked, but in the 2nd century BC, they began to be distinguished in books (but not in inscriptions) with a diacritical mark known as the sicilicus, which was described as being in the shape of a sickle.
(1) /j/ appears at the beginning of words before a vowel, or in the middle of the words between two vowels; in the latter case the sound is doubled: iūs /juːs/, cuius /ˈkujjus/. Since such a doubled consonant in the middle of a word makes the preceding syllable heavy, the vowel in that syllable is traditionally marked with a macron in dictionaries, although in fact the vowel is usually short. Compound words preserve the /j/ sound of the element that begins with it: adiectīvum /adjekˈtiːwum/.
(2) It is likely that, by the Classical period, /m/ at the end of words was pronounced weakly, either voiceless or simply by nasalizing (and lengthening) the preceding vowel. For instance decem ("ten") was probably pronounced [ˈdekẽː]. In addition to the metrical features of Latin poetry, the fact that all such endings in words of more than two syllables lost the final in the descendant Romance languages strengthens this hypothesis. For simplicity, and because this is not known for certain, is always represented as the phoneme /m/ here and in other references.
|High||I /iː/||I /i/||V /uː/||V /u/|
|Mid||E /eː/||E /e/||O /oː/||O /o/|
|Low||A /aː/||A /a/|
Vowel and consonant length were more significant and more clearly defined in Latin than in modern English. Length is the duration of time that a particular sound is held before proceeding to the next sound in a word. Unfortunately, "vowel length" is a confusing term for English speakers, who in their language call "long vowels" what are in most cases diphthongs, rather than plain vowels. In the modern spelling of Latin, especially in dictionaries and academic work, macrons are frequently used to mark long vowels (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū), while the breve is sometimes used to indicate that a vowel is short (ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, ŭ).
Long consonants were indicated through doubling (cf. anus and annus, two different words with distinct pronunciations), but Latin orthography did not distinguish between long and short vowels, nor between the vocalic and consonantal uses of I and V. A shortlived convention of spelling long vowels by doubling the vowel letter is associated with the poet Lucius Accius. Later spelling conventions marked long vowels with an apex (a diacritic similar to an acute accent), or in the case of long I, by increasing the height of the letter. Distinctions of vowel length became less important in later Latin, and have ceased to be phonemic in the modern Romance languages, where the previous long and short versions of the vowels have either been lost or replaced by other phonetic contrasts.
In Latin the distinction between heavy and light syllables is important as it determines where the main stress of a word falls, and is the key element in classical Latin versification. A heavy syllable (sometimes called a long syllable, but this risks confusion with long vowels) is a syllable that either contains a long vowel or a diphthong, or ends in a consonant. If a single consonant occurs between two syllables within a word, it is considered to belong to the following syllable, so the syllable before the consonant is light if it contains a short vowel. If two or more consonants (or a geminated consonant) occur between syllables within a word, the first of the consonants goes with the first syllable, making it heavy. Certain combinations of consonants, e.g. tr, are exceptions: both consonants go with the second syllable.
In Latin words of two syllables, the stress is on the first syllable. In words of three or more syllables, the stress is on the penultimate syllable if this is heavy, otherwise on the antepenultimate syllable.
Where one word ended with a vowel (including a nasalised vowel, represented by a vowel plus M) and the next word began with a vowel, the first vowel, at least in verse, was regularly elided — in other words omitted altogether, or possibly (in the case of /i/ and /u/) pronounced like the corresponding semivowel. Elision also occurs in Ancient Greek but in that language it is shown in writing by the vowel in question being replaced by an apostrophe, whereas in Latin elision is not indicated at all in the orthography, but can be deduced from the verse form.
An alternative approach, less common today, is to use I/i and U/u only for the vowels, and J/j and V/v for the semi-consonants.
Most modern editions adopt an intermediate position, distinguishing between u and v but not between i and j. Usually the semi-consonant v after q or s is still printed as u rather than v, probably because in this position it did not change from /w/ to /v/ in post-classical times. This approach is also recommended in the Vicipaedia:Commendationes paginarum recte scribendarum for the Latin Wikipedia.
Textbooks and dictionaries indicate the quantity of vowels by putting a macron or horizontal bar above the long vowel, but this is not generally done in regular texts. Occasionally, mainly in early printed texts up to the 18th century, one may see a circumflex used to indicate a long vowel where this makes a difference to the sense, for instance Româ /ˈroːmaː/ "from Rome" (ablative) compared to Roma /ˈroːma/ "Rome" (nominative). Sometimes, for instance in Roman Catholic service books, an acute accent over a vowel is used to indicate the stressed syllable. This would be redundant for one who knew the classical rules of accentuation, and also made the correct distinction between long and short vowels, but most Latin speakers since the third century have not made any distinction between long and short vowels, while they have kept the accents in the same places, so the use of accent marks allows speakers to read aloud correctly even words that they have never heard spoken aloud.
When Latin words are spoken in a living language today, there is ordinarily little or no attempt to pronounce them as the Romans did. Myriad systems have arisen for pronouncing the language — at least one for each language in the modern world whose speakers learn Latin. In most cases, Latin pronunciation is adapted to the phonology of the person's own language.
Latin words in common use in English are generally fully assimilated into the English sound system, with little to mark them as foreign (indeed, native speakers do not generally even think of these Latin words as foreign), for example, cranium, saliva. Other words have a stronger Latin feel to them, usually because of spelling features such as the diphthongs ae and oe (occasionally written æ and œ), which both denote /iː/ in English. In the Oxford style, ae represents /eɪ/, in formulae, for example. Ae in some words tends to be given an /aɪ/ pronunciation, for example, curriculum vitae.
Of course, using loan words in the context of the language borrowing them is a markedly different situation from the study of Latin itself. In this classroom setting, instructors and students attempt to recreate at least some sense of the original pronunciation. What is taught to native anglophones is suggested by the sounds of today's Romance languages, the direct descendants of Latin. Instructors who take this approach rationalize that Romance vowels probably come closer to the original pronunciation than those of any other modern language (see also the section below on "Daughters of Latin").
However, other languages—including Romance family members—all have their own interpretations of the Latin phonological system, applied both to loan words and formal study of Latin. But English, Romance, or other teachers do not always point out that the particular accent their students learn is not actually the way ancient Romans spoke.
The following are the main points that distinguish ecclesiastical pronunciation from Classical Latin pronunciation:
In his Vox Latina: A guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin, William Sidney Allen remarked that this pronunciation, used by the Roman Catholic Church in Rome and elsewhere, and whose adoption Pope Pius X recommended in a 1912 letter to the Archbishop of Bourges, "is probably less far removed from classical Latin than any other 'national' pronunciation".
It is the most commonly recognized pronunciation, and the method most widely used today as a sort of standard pronunciation in singing. A recent example of its use occurred in the motion picture The Passion of the Christ, recorded in Aramaic and ecclesiastical Latin, which was criticised for being entirely anachronistic. However, some contemporary musicians try to produce authentic regional pronunciation as far as possible.
Key features of Vulgar Latin and Romance include:
The following examples are both in verse, which demonstrates several features more clearly than prose.
Virgil's Aeneid, Book 1, verses 1–4. Quantitative metre. Translation: "I sing of arms and the man, who, driven by fate, came first from the borders of Troy to Italy and the Lavinian shores; he [was] much afflicted both on lands and on the deep by the power of the gods, because of fierce Juno's vindictive wrath."
Note the elisions in mult(um) and ill(e) in the third line. For a fuller discussion of the prosodic features of this passage, see Latin poetry: Dactylic hexameter.
Beginning of Pange Lingua by St Thomas Aquinas (thirteenth century). Rhymed accentual metre. Translation: "Extol, [my] tongue, the mystery of the glorious body and the precious blood, which the fruit of a noble womb, the king of nations, poured out as the price of the world."
1. Traditional orthography as in Roman Catholic service books (stressed syllable marked with an acute accent on words of three syllables or more).
2. "Italianate" ecclesiastical pronunciation