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The pronunciation of classical words in English


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Title: The pronunciation of classical words in English

The pronunciation of classical words in English
1. Assimilated and unassimilated
  • Two types of classical words and phrases
  • Those that have been fully assimilated into
    English, and have simply become English words
    (all the early borrowings, also most borrowings
    during and before the Renaissance), and
  • True classical words that are either recognizably
    recent borrowings, or words and phrases
    fossilized in legal or scientific language.

2. Consonants in unassimilated words
  • Generally accepted that the consonants of
    classical words in English should be pronounced
    in accord with the standard values associated
    with those letters in English orthography. In
    most cases, those in Latin and in English have
    remained the same.

Some examples
  • prima facie
  • Ancient Rome pri ma fa ki ei
  • Modern English prai m? fei ?i i
  • ex officio
  • Ancient Rome ?ks o f? ki o
  • Modern English ?ks o f? ?i o

  • ceteris paribus
  • Ancient Rome kei tei ris pa ri bus
  • Modern English sei tei ris pa ri bus
  • sui generis
  • Ancient Rome su i gei nei ris
  • Modern English swi d?ei nei r?s

  • ltvgt was pronounced w in classical Latin.
  • volenti (to a consenting person)
  • Ancient Rome wo lein ti
  • Modern English vo lein ti
  • in vino veritas (wine will loose your tongue)
  • Ancient Rome in wino wei ri tas
  • Modern English in vino vei ri tas

Summary of consonants
Letter Classical Sound Anglicized Sound Example
c k always s before i, e pace, et cetera
g g always d? before i, e ab origine, genius
t t always ? before iV, e ab initio, ratio
v w always v verbatim, (modus) vivendi
3. Vowels in unassimilated words
  • Vowels can be pronounced in accord with two quite
    different systems
  • UK as normally pronounced in English in that
    position in the word.
  • USA as normally pronounced in other European
    languages such as Spanish, German, or French.
  • In either case, not the way pronounced in
    classical times, though the European-USA
    tradition is closer.

European values
  • ltagt or ltaugt as in father, nausea, represented as
  • ltegt as in fiancé, represented as ei.
  • ltigt or ltygt as in machine, represented as i.
  • ltogt as in hope, represented as o.
  • ltugt as either in boot or cute, represented as u
    or ju.
  • ltoegt like ltigt if long, but ? if short (eg

Anglicized (UK)
  • ltagt not consistent æ, ei,a
  • Should usually be pronounced as a.
  • tabula rasa ta bu la ra s?
  • pater familias pa t? fa mi li ?s
  • alma mater al m? ma t?

Fossilized pronunciations
  • Many Latin words and phrases have a
    well-established and widespread pronunciation
    that deviated from the general principles
    formulated above.
  • The British pronunciation for prima facie prai
    m? is so well known that we think it is
    perfectly acceptable.

  • lt-igt at the end of a borrowed word is very likely
    to be -ai, as in alumni, a priori, loci,
    gemini, magi, nuclei, but in phrases like
    advocatus diaboli, anno Domini, memento mori,
    modus vivendi, and vox populi, both -ai and
    -i are freely used,
  • while in lapis lazuli the most common is with

4. Fully assimilated classical words
  • Words are treated exactly like English words.
  • The pronunciation of consonants spelled ltchgt,
    ltggt, ltxgt varies depending on whether the source
    of the word is Greek or Latin.

Latin Greek
ltchgt t? k
ltggt d? g
ltxgt ks z
  • Latin channel, chart, chapel, chisel
  • Via French ltchgt?, chamois, chute, cliché,
    douche, machine, moustache. But there is a
    tendency to replace ? by t? in words like
    avalanche and niche.

  • Greek ltchgtk
  • archangel, Achilles, chi, stomach, chaos,
    chronology, character, echo, chimera, technology,
  • Some roots of Greek origin chem alloy, chir
    hand, chlor green, chrom color, mechan
    device, tachy speed, machy battle.

  • When followed by a front vowel, i, y, or e, it is
    normally pronounced as d?, as in gem, gin, gym.
    This is generally true of both Latin and Greek
    words, though there are exceptions to the rule in
    the native vocabulary gear, geek, geezer, gold,
    get, gill, gimmick, giggle.

  • One Greek root, gyn woman has an interesting
  • g- in gynecology, gynecocracy, gynecoid,
    gynogenesis in some dictionaries both g and
    d? are allowed.
  • -d?- in androgynous, heterogynous, protogynous

  • Normally pronounced ks cortex, dexterous,
    expert, sextet.
  • In some cases ks can be reconstructed flec
    s ible ? inflexible, para dog s ?
    paradox, seg s ? sex.
  • In some cases the spelling has not been agreed
    on connection (US) / connexion (UK), inflection
    (US) / inflexion (UK). However both have
    complexion and crucifixion.

  • Yiddish laks salmon, German Lachs has now been
    re-spelled as lox, and Americans are familiar
    with spellings such as thanx, sox, and truxtop.
  • Generally, if the initial ltxgt in a word is not
    capitalized, or hyphenated as in X-rated, x-ray,
    the word is Greek and its first consonant is z.

  • In transcriptions from non-classical alphabets
    ltxgt is usually ? as in the place names Xian
    ?ian, Xinxiang ?in ?iang, except in the
    transcription of Xosa, or Xhosa, in which X
    stands for kh.