Friday 18 September 2009

More Latin

Jason Nedecky writes further:
You mention Westminster School held on to the older Anglo Latin
pronunciation. From Wikipedia on the coronation of a British monarch:
"King's or Queen's Scholars of Westminster School can exercise their
right to be the first commoners to acclaim the sovereign, shouting
their traditional "vivat"s as he or she enters the coronation theatre."
In 1953, those Westminster scholars still said [vaɪ væt]. I suppose
they were holding on to that pre-1900 pronunciation.
I think that’s traditional for everybody. See LPD.
In a somewhat-related idea: the capital city of the province of
Saskatchewan is only pronounced [ɹə ʤaɪ nə] in Canada.
While an Anglo Latin exists in the Church of England in those
canticles, it it interesting to note that one hears only that Italianate "Church" Latin in full choral works of English composers. I am thinking of Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor and Dona Nobis Pacem, Elgar's Ave Verum corpus, Britten's War Requiem, and the list goes on. …And I am speaking of BrE recordings here (King's College, LSO, David Willcocks, Adrian Boult, etc.) Maybe this is along the lines of
Paul's comment about his experience of a more Italianate Latin learned
in his school.
Someone commented on the Orff piece. It is my experience that because of the mixture it has of Latin with older German and French, one has to decide at the outset what system(s) to employ. Even then, it does not always work — I am thinking particularly of "iam amore virginali totus ardeo" in which the soprano and later baritone sings with the "Ragazzi." So often the soloists have already opted for a German [vir gi na li] and the boys come in to rehearsal having learned [vir ʤi na li], and it's back the drawing board.

We might also mention the Agnus Dei, which for me at school was ˈæɡnəs ˈdeɪiː, but which one often nowadays hears sung as ˈænjʊs-, with a clearly Italian-influenced treatment of gn. (Again, see LPD. EPD doesn’t mention this possibility, though.)


  1. Is Latin <a> properly /æ/ (/a/) or /ɑ/?

    I seem to recall reading that <gn> is supposed to become /ŋn/ - so something like /ɑŋnus/, right?

  2. It may be worth mentioning a movement towards "authentic" Latin pronunciation in choral and vocal music by various historical European composers. I myself, in various choirs, have been told to pronounce "agnus" as [agnus] in Bach, [aɲus] in Palestrina, and even [aɲys] in Fauré. For more, see

  3. I once sang in an early music group where our pronunciation depended on the nationality of the composer. For French-speaking composers like Josquin and Charpentier, we had to use the French pronunciation of Latin. What sticks in my mind after 20 years is "Jesum Christum" as /ʒezœ̃m kristœ̃m/.

  4. This is completely off-topic, but JW may be interested in another phonetic faux pas in the mainstream media. This is an article about a performance of Wagner's Ring, in the New York Times:

    "During the week, we’ve partaken of 16 hours of live, gorgeously realized Norse mythology and blond braids; 20 hours of “Ring”-related talks and symposiums; and countless opportunities to practice our spitty, throat-clearing glottal fricatives."

    I'm currently trying, without success, to produce a "spitty" glottal fricative :) Perhaps they meant to say a uvular fricative?

  5. @Tonio: When singing French-Latin, I've always been told to realize word-final "um" as /ɔm/. This corresponds to the pronunciation of most French words ending in "um", such as "album".

  6. [agnus] in Bach

    Or [aːgnʊs], if not [aːknʊs].

  7. Wow. I love latin but I don't understand it. I think I have to study for it.

  8. Thanks - I see I've completely misplaced /ɑ/ and /a/. At least now I clearly see the difference between /a/ and /æ/.

    I hate these ears of mine.


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