How Do You Pronounce Some Common Latin Words?

Latin words are often pronounced similarly to their English cognates, although the vowel "a" is always pronounced as in the word "father" rather than as in "cat" and "i" is pronounced as "ee". Thus the Latin "animal" would have been pronounced "AH-nee-mahl."

The three quite different types of common contemporary Latin pronunciation are anglicized Latin, in which words are pronounced as if they were English words; restored classical Latin which approximates ancient pronunciation; and ecclesiastical or church Latin, which reflects Roman Catholic medieval usage.

Classical pronunciation is used in law, biology, most humanistic studies and medicine, while ccclesiastical Latin is still used in the Roman Catholic Church and in referring to elements of medieval culture. Most people use anglicized pronunciation for common names such as "Julius Caesar," who would have pronounced his own name as something approximating "YOO-lee-us KYE-zar" or Cicero, whose name we pronounce "Sisero" even though he would have called himself "KICK-ehr-roh."

Common Latin phrases normally pronounced using the restored classical pronunciation would include Descartes' famous saying, "cogito ergo sum" (I think therefore I am), which is pronounced as "KAH-gi-toe EHR-goe soom" and "carpe diem" (seize the day), which is pronounced "CAR-pay DEE-em." Another common phrase, used to refer to the college from which one graduates, is "alma mater" (literally "dear mother"), and is pronounced "AHL-mah MAH-tehr."

Many hymns and some Christmas music still use Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation. For example, "Gloria in excelsis Deo" ("Glory be to God on high") would be sung as "GLAW-ree-a in ex-CHEL-sees DAY-oh."