The Roman Pronunciation of Latin
by Frances E. Lord
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It is, in fact, in the pronouncing of final syllables everywhere that the most serious and persistent faults are found, bus for bus being one of the worst and most common cases. How much of the teacher's time might be spared, for better things, if he did not have to correct bus into bus!

The disposition to neglect the double and doubled consonants is another serious fault, as well as the slovenly pronunciation of two consonants, where the reader fails to give the time necessary to speak each distinctly, making false quantity and mispronunciation at the same time.

In general, if two symbols are written we are to infer that two sounds were intended. The only exception to this is in the case of a few words where the spelling varies, as casso or caso. In such cases we may suppose that the doubled consonant was only designed to indicate length.

Another, apparent, exception is in the case of a mute followed by a liquid; but the mute and liquid are regularly sounded as one, and therefore do not affect the length of the preceding vowel. Sometimes, however, for the sake of time, the verse requires them to be pronounced separately. In this case each is to be given distinctly; the mute and liquid must not coalesce. For it must not be forgotten that, as a rule, the vowel before a mute followed by a liquid is short, in which case it must on no account be lengthened. Thus, ordinarily, we say pa-tris, but the verse may require pat-ris.

Although the vowel before two consonants is generally—short, we find, in some instances, a long vowel in this position. For example, it would appear that the vowel of the supine and cognate parts of the verb is long if the vowel of the present indicative, though short, is followed by a medial (b, g, d, z), as actus, lectus, from ago, lego.

Let it be remembered in the matter of i consonant between two vowels, that we have really the force of two ii's, as originally written, one, vowel, making a diphthong with the preceding, the other, consonant, introducing the new syllable; and that the same is true of the compounds of jacio, which should be written with a single i but pronounced as with two, as obicit (objicit).


The question of accent presents little difficulty as to place, but some as to quality, and much as to kind. As to quality, it must be remembered that while the acute accent is found on syllables either short or long (by nature or position), and on either the penult or the antepenult, the circumflex is found only on long vowels, and (in words of more than one syllable) only on the penult, and then only in case the ultima is short. Thus, spes, but dux; luna, but lun[long a]; legatus, but legati. In these examples the length of the syllable is the same and of course remains the same in inflection, but the quality of the accent changes. In the one case the voice is both raised and depressed on the same syllable, in the other it is only raised. As Professor Ellis puts it: "If the last syllable but one is long, it is spoken with a raised pitch, which is maintained throughout if its vowel is short, as: vent[long o]s, or if the last syllable is long, as: f[long a]m[long a]e; but sinks immediately if its own vowel is long, and at the same time the vowel of the last syllable is short, as fama, to be distinguished from f[long a]m[long a]."

But when we come to the question of the kind of accent, we come upon the most serious matter practically in the pronunciation of Latin, and this because of a difficulty peculiar to the English speaking peoples. The English accent is one of stress, whereas the Roman is one of pitch.

No one will disagree with Professor Ellis when he "assumes," in his Quantitative Pronunciation of Latin, "that the Augustan Romans had no force accent, that is, that they did not, as we do, distinguish one syllable in every word invariably by pronouncing it with greater force, that is, with greater loudness, than the others, but that the force varied according to the feeling of the moment, or the beat of the timekeeper in singing, and was used for purposes of expression; just as with us, musical pitch is free, that is, just as we may pronounce the same word with different musical pitches for its different syllables, and in fact are obliged to vary the musical pitch in interrogations and replies. The fixity of musical pitch and freedom of degrees of force in Latin, and the freedom of musical pitch and fixity of degrees of force in English sharply distinguish the two pronunciations even irrespective of quantity."

But this pitch accent, while alien to us, is not impossible of acquisition, and it is essential to any adequate rendering of any Latin writer, whether of prose or verse. Nor will the attainment be a work of indefinite time if one pursues with constancy some such course as the following, recommended by Professor Ellis:

"The place of raised pitch," he says, "must be strictly observed, and for this purpose the verses had better be first read in a kind of sing-song, the high pitched syllables being all of one pitch and the low pitched syllables being all of one pitch also, but about a musical 'fifth' lower than the other, as if the latter were sung to the lowest note of the fourth string of a violin, and the former were sung to the lowest note of its third string."

In the foregoing pages an effort has been made to bring together compactly and to set forth concisely the nature of the 'Roman method' of pronouncing Latin; the reasons for adopting, and the simplest means of acquiring it. No attempt has been made at a philosophical or exhaustive treatment of the subject; but at the same time it is hoped that nothing unphilosophical has crept in, or anything been omitted, which might have been given, to render the subject intelligible and enable the intelligent reader to understand the points and be able to give a reason for each usage herein recommended.

The main object in view in preparing this little book has been to help the teachers of Latin in the secondary schools, to furnish them something not too voluminous, yet as satisfactory as the nature of the case allows, upon a subject which the present diversity of opinion and practice has rendered unnecessarily obscure.

To these teachers, then, a word from Professor Ellis may be fitly spoken in conclusion:

"To teach a person to read prose well, even in his own language, is difficult, partly because he has seldom heard prose well read, though he is constantly hearing prose around him, intonated, but unrhythmical. In the case of a dead language, like the Latin, which the pupil never hears spoken, and seldom hears read, except by himself or his equally ignorant and hobbling fellow-scholars, this difficulty is inordinately increased. Let me once more impress on every teacher of Latin the duty of himself learning to read Latin readily according to accent and quantity; the duty of his reading out to his pupils, of his setting them a pattern, of his hearing that they follow it, of his correcting their mistakes, of his leading them into right habits. If the quantitative pronunciation be adopted, no one will be fit to become a classical teacher who cannot read a simple Latin sentence decently, with a strict observance of that quantity by which alone the greatest of Latin orators regulated his own rhythms."

"All pronunciation is acquired by imitation, and it is not till after hearing a sound many times that we are able to grasp it sufficiently well to imitate. It is a mistake constantly made by teachers of language to suppose that a pupil knows by once hearing unfamiliar sounds, or even unfamiliar combinations of familiar sounds. When pupils are made to imitate too soon, they acquire an erroneous pronunciation, which they afterward hear constantly from themselves actually or mentally, and believe that they hear from the teacher during the small fraction of a second that each sound lasts, and hence the habits of these organs become fixed."

The following direction is of the utmost importance (Curwen's "Standard Course," p. 3): "The teacher never sings (speaks) with his pupils, but sings (utters, reads, dictates) to them a brief and soft pattern. The first art of the pupil is to listen well to the pattern, and then to imitate it exactly. He that listens best sings (speaks) best."


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