28 February 2018

Only for philologists

The Latin word meaning Bad ... how should it be pronounced?

A few weeks ago I gave advice on this, which was subjected to some criticism. I now make my point more precisely, that is, with more prolixity.

I too like to pronounce Latin like Italian. I have, for example, little patience for recent or less recent German fads about how to pronounce a soft C.

So ... how to pronounce the A in Malum?

The point I would like to reinforce is that it is not pronounced like the English A in Fat or Cat. Whether we are going to call it 'long' or 'short', it is pronounced much further back in the mouth or throat, so that, if 'short', it is much more like the English U in Shut or Luck. If 'long', it will be much the same but pronounced for a trifle longer, like the English A in Father. As far as I am aware ... and my bookshelves confirm this ... whether we are thinking of Latin or Italian, we avoid the sharp English 'short A' sound (Sat, Rat).

And additionally I would add that, despite what Sir Watkin wrote some time ago and with my accustomed respect for the august and alliterated baronet, the classical refinement whereby Evil and Apple are distinguishable seems to me to be useful. It hardly represents a gross or excruciating departure from the principle of pronouncing Latin like Italian. And, despite what any millions of Italians may say, you will not catch me saying 'Nobis quoque' with a long English O (as in Boat) after the qu! So there!


Another matter: how to pronounce the Greek letters Theta and Phi when they are reproduced in Latin? This crops up most commonly in the Creed (Catholicam) and when one is proclaiming the Epistle (Corinthios; Philippenses; Thessalonicenses).

Classicist Hellenists are likely to have been taught to pronounce these letters as an aspirated T or P; i.e. the TH or Theta is pronounced like an aspirated T in an English word like Pothole; the PH (Phi) like an aspirated P in an English compound like Crophead. Unclassically trained Anglophones are more likely instinctively to use the English TH sound as in Father and the English F sound as in Philip.

But as for Italians ... my impression is that, not having either an aspirated, Classical Greek Theta, or the English TH sound (as in Father), they simply pronounce TH like T (so, in 'Catholicam', they just say 'Catolicam'). But when it comes to PH, the dear sweet poppets do have a sound like the English F. So they cheerfully pronounce Phi like an English F ... 'Filippenses'. Is it  really necessary to go to all the trouble of following them through these convoluted inconsistencies?

I have noticed that in Rome-published Latin language ORDOs, Epiphania is sometimes, significantly, typographically misspelt Epifania!

Horrifying admission: despite the Italians, I pronounce Theta and Phi as respectively aspirated T and aspirated P. So there.

Bis dixi. 


B flat said...

I confess to intruding on your post, although I have no right under your heading. Please don't be offended and forgive me.
I was not disappointed in my trespass. Thank you very much for explaining this Father.
My own late Father who, like many (most?) continental europeans could never manage the light english th as in thorough and thought, would have been gratified and encouraged by your explanation.
God bless your Lent, and preserve you to enlighten us in these darkened times, for many years!

Belfry Bat said...

"ecce locum snarchissimus! (ter dixi verius)"

Colin Spinks said...

Father, having attended (and enjoyed!) a couple of Latin Masses where you have celebrated, I was slightly puzzled by the long "o" you employ, closer to an English "upper class" "ew" (eg. "tentati-ew-nem") than what I've always understood to be the Italian/European "aw". On the short/long "a" vowel: As a singer, one is usually taught to treat all Latin vowels as long, so malum - apple, would sound the same as malum - bad. Another interesting confusion arises in the "Ave Maria" where, if one follows Italian practice of not aspirating "h"s, "ora" sounds identical to "hora".

Andreas Meszaros said...

Practice exercise for the "th" and the "ph" sounds:

Timotheus bibliothecarius phreneticus Philippusque pharmacopola atheniensis orthodoxus philosophantur in bibliotheca juxta theatrum.

Martin said...

The short 'a' in Latin would be a lot like how people pronounce 'bad' in the North of England or the Midlands.

In the case of the Greek aspirated consonants, English speakers already pronounce 't', 'p' and 'c/k' aspirated at the beginning of words in English, so it is very difficult for them to distinguish between aspirated and non-aspirated -- school-children who have been taught to pronounce theta, phi and chi as aspirated are apt to confuse them with tau, pi and kappa.


Robert Snell said...

When I need to pronounce Latin out loud I use a mixture of schemes with a view to making the resulting speech sound euphonious -- in my opinion. I am well aware that this would meet with the disapproval of a professional Latin teacher (if I were able to find one).

For me, Latin is not an end in itself but a means to an end and I have little patience with people who are dogmatic about how it should be pronounced. I am quite happy for someone to have an opinion as long as he/she understands that that is all it is.(To be fair, you fall into this latter category.)

I am unconvinced that anyone today knows how Latin sounded in the days of Cicero. Scholars are not in agreement as to how English was pronounced in Shakespeare's day a mere 400 years ago. Do we even know that the sounds that Latin speakers made were ones that we would have been able to hear, at least to the extent of being able to distinguish them?

If you want an example of a language which employs sounds which its speakers can distinguish but which non-speakers cannot, you need look no further than the Netherlands. To a Dutch ear the W sound in 'witt' (white) is easily distinguishable from the V sound in 'vet' (fat) but a speaker or prospective speaker needs to have learned to distinguish these two sounds very early in life, certainly before the age of six. To a non-Dutch speaker the V and W sound identical and no amount of effort will ever resolve them (as heard sounds).

A more extreme example of the same phenomenon is Punjabi, (England's second most widely spoken language by the way.)

Also, whenever I have attended classes in a foreign language, I notice that although at the outset the pupils are instructed on how to pronounce each of the symbols of the script and everything seems reasonable and logical, yet once texts are being read, in the rough and tumble of oratory, inconsistencies creep in. Consistent inconsistencies, if you know what I mean. Everyone I have heard speak Latin uses a schwa at some point and yet no academic text teaching Latin that I know of admits that the schwa sound exists in Latin.

Sprouting Thomas said...

Naturally, my school fellows (of 2007-12) and I were given "Vox Latina" to study. Equally naturally, the only chapter of any interest to our adolescent minds was the last one. I think, therefore, that we most often pronounce the "a" in "malum" to rhyme with that in "ale" - especially if we've had some.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Re: Malum...

Why not "a" as in "Ma"?* That is how we say it hereabouts.

* As in, "Ma, ma, where's my pa?" This was a jibe directed at Grover Cleveland when he ran, successfully, for U.S. President in 1884. It concerned a rumor about a child of an unwed mother of his acquaintance. The President maintained it was the child of an improvident friend. By the way, Cleveland's supporters responded with: "Gone to the White House, hahaha!"

Randolph Crane said...

When I learned Koine Greek, I learned to pronounce the PH as F, and TH as the TH in "the". I recently found a beautiful recording of the Improperia, where "Theos" was pronounced with the English TH. Gamma, as my Greek books tell me, is to be pronounced as the English W as in why (= whamma). So Gamma stands in the middle of g and wh (maybe an extremely soft g?).

Viktor said...

I'm not strictly speaking a philologist, but rather a historian somewhat familiar with the development of languages. I might be wrong, but my understanding is that the Greek pronunciation changed over time. Homeric greek pronounced phi and theta as aspirated taus and pis. This changed and during the koine period they where pronounced like in English. Phi and theta are still pronounced like in English in Modern Greek. When the Latins borrowed the Greek words they chose the closest Latin sound. Latin did not have aspirated consonants or the eth sound so they pronounced the th's and ph's as t and f respectively.
In Medieval Northern Europe where the germanic vernaculars had a th sound they might have pronounced the th in catholicus as in English. I rember reading a book about latin phrases written in the medieval futhark. The Norse liked the foreign-sounding latin so much they tried to transcribe what they heard at Mass in runes. There are some very accurate transliterations, but some are so bad that we do not even know what part of the Mass the author tried to write down.
The runic Alphabet has the letter thorn þ for the sound of th. I read the book a long time ago, but I seem to remember that thorn was not only used for th but sometimes for the final t. ET was e.g. transcribed as æþ. The whole topic of runic latin is actually interesting. Researchers noticed that the Medieval Scandinavian Priests probably spoke Latin with a French accent, since the soft c was transcribed as s (e.g. caelum= selum). This makes sense since many of the local Scandinavian clergy, like Blessed Hemming of Åbo, studied in Paris.

John Nolan said...

Pronunciation does have a bearing on how texts are sung. When singing (say) Palestrina it makes sense to use the Italian pronunciation, but what about Byrd? At least one group uses the English pronunciation, still used in legal and botanical Latin. Yet we are told that Elizabeth I would converse in Latin with foreign ambassadors, and if she had used this pronunciation they would not have known what she was on about.

JP II would occasionally lapse into the German pronunciation which is standard in central Europe, and PF uses the Spanish 'qu' which he would have been taught in Argentina (and yet he speaks Italian fluently).

Alan said...

A technical term relevant to Robert Snell's post is "phoneme". This is a sound which is recognised as distinct in a language. Thus, in English, the consonants usually represented as L and R are phonemes, recognisable because word pairs can be distinguished by the presence of one or the other - roam/loam, lorry/lolly. These sounds are not phonemes in Japanese, where the consonant represented as R in Hiroshima or Sapporo is an intermediate sound between an English L and R. A Japanese lady of my acquaintance joked that she avoided - speaking very slowly and deliberately - "yellow lorries". More embarrassingly for a Japanese speaking English, the sounds represented by S and SH are not phonemes, with the S sound used before all vowels except I, where SH is pronounced. A wary Japanese will carefully use a circumlocution such as "be seated" to avoid attempting to pronounce "sit".

An anecdote sometimes still circulates that the liturgist Fortescue was an early and enthusiastic adopter of the "weedy, weaky" pronunciation of Latin, and a worshipper who heard him sing "weewit et regnat per omnia sigh-cula sigh-culorum" thought the priest was a Cockney.

The Saint Bede Studio said...

Thank you for this interesting post, Father. It is refreshing to observe that there is still room for pedantry within the Church, and that it may be enjoyed, even if it is not embraced.

Belfry Bat said...

To follow up and/or amplify Good Mr Snell's remarks: I've yet to be convinced that Latin in Cicero's time or any other was just one thing, any more than English in Shakespeare's Time (any more than Chaucer's) was Just One Language pronounced in Just One Way either. I certainly have heard of later writers correcting their fellows' pronunciation, I have heard references to alternate manuscripts for John's Apocalypse making the beast's number "616" instead of the more-familiar... attributed to Different Transcriptions of "Nero Caesar" into Aramaic, corresponding to Different Sounds in the Latin... in the First and Second Century!

Languages have regional accents, alive or dead.


mark wauck said...

Could we all agree to dispense with comparisons of Latin pronunciation to marginal forms of English (south by southwest Oxford, or Midland north of Watling St., or whatever) and adhere to the accepted standard form of the English language: American newscaster?

That said, I'm with Martin and Belfry. I pronounce Latin in my own idiosyncratic way based on euphonic principles that please me. I feel wholly justified in this procedure from the history of the Latin language itself.

Admin and Student said...

Gwyl Dewi Sant Llawen!

Thank you for this post!

Of possible interest to your readers, and not exclusively intended for philologists, is this recorded lecture by Professor Robert Seymour Conway (D. Litt. (Cantab.), Hon. D.C.L. (Oxon.), and responsible for the 1932 Hibbert Lectures, among other things):


He was also, some years earlier, the co-author of The Restored Pronunciation of Greek and Latin: with Tables and Practical Illustrations (1907):


among other interesting-looking volumes scanned in the Internet Archive.

Equally of possible interest, is this recording by William Bedell Stanford, Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College, Dublin, to accompany the published form of his 1967 Sather Classical Lectures:


Worth noting, too, are the other recordings loaded (though sadly without annotation) at this YouTube account, Vox Graeca.

A Reader with Little Latin and Less Greek

Little Black Sambo said...

According to F. Brittain writing in 1934 ("Latin in Church" Alcuin Club) the English Jesuits were still using the traditional English pronunciation of Latin, so it was particularly easy to tell whether the celebrant at mass was northern, southern, American, Scotch, etc..

Alan said...

Belfry Bat is certainly right about dead languages having accents. Reasonably savvy listeners can take an informed guess at the origin of a recording of chant by listening to the choirs pronunciation. So, the Destination at which Christians hope to arrive may be "shaylurm" (Solesmes), "chayloom" (any English or Italian choir), "tsayloom" (Benediktbeuern) or "thayloom" (Santo Domingo de Silos). I understand that the same is true of Old Slavonic,with marked differences between Russian and Bulgarian pronunciation of the litutgical texts.

The Pope Emeritus was notable for a valiant, but noticeably Teutonic, attempt at an Italian pronunciation of Latin.

In concerts, attempts at "authentic" performance, seeking to reproduce the sound expected by the composer can mean that singers may have to adopt several pronunciations. I remember a concert in Birmingham Town Hall, with works on the theme of the judgment of Solomon by Carissimi and Charpentier, where the former was sung in normal "church Latin" and the latter pretty well as if it were French.

mark wauck said...

This isn't philological, but it is linguistic in nature ...

From Sandro Magister's blog: Bergoglio Disclosed. Tell Me How You Speak and I Will Tell You Who You Are