This link comes from Fr. Z.’s excellent website “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” As always, the article is self-explanatory and speaks for itself. I thought I would add some more ideas on Latin pronunciation here for those of us that do not understand what all the fuss is about.
1. Latin is a dead language: I don’t think anyone will deny the fact that Latin is no longer used anywhere in the world as a spoken language. As one who studies dying and moribund languages, Latin died when the last Latin speaker died centuries ago. Therefore, it is no longer a living language.
However, Latin is not strictly dead because it has been used in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries as the language of the Mass and the language of Canon Law and official Vatican documents. It is also alive in the various forms of university and high school courses that focus on the Latin language as part of a liberal arts curriculum. It is important to note, however, that nobody really speaks in Latin. Most communication at the Vatican, last I heard, is conducted in Italian.
2. If Latin is dead, then how do you pronounce it? There seem to be two schools of thought that seem to rear their heads when this question is asked. On the one hand, many parishioners and people from traditional and EF parishes will know that the Latin pronounced by the celebrant at a Mass is a ecclesiastical Latin. It is the Latin language that has been used for centuries. Caesar’s famous words: “Veni, vidi, vici” would be pronounced exactly as they are written.
However, ecclesiastical Latin is not the only pronunciation that exists. There is also what we call “classical Latin.” I’m not really sure where this style of Latin pronunciation comes from except that it’s used almost exclusively in academic environments like universities and high schools. In classical Latin, something like “Veni, vidi, vici” would be pronounced, “Weni, widi, wiki.”
If Caesar talked like that, then I’m sure that many millions of Latin students and scholars have been going down the wrong road for far too long. In general, I think the ecclesiastical pronunciation is probably closer to what the Romans. Since Latin is a dead language, however, we can only make guesses about how the language sounded in Rome.
3. Rome is the Omaha of Latin. No, this is not a joke and I’m not making this up. The following was actually a gem that I found in Fr. Z.’s original post. I thought that I would explain it here a little bit more than Fr. Z. does in his article.
First of all, readers from the United States know that most American news anchors and news reporters speak an American English that can be characterized as Midwestern. By midwestern, I do not mean the English that is spoken in Chicago or Minneapolis. It is a style that you can find for the most part in places like Iowa or Nebraska. The reason for why news organizations use this is simple because it is easy to understand.
The same thing is analogous with Latin. Since Latin originated in Rome, the Latin dialect that is spoken and used by the Church is that which has been used in Rome. It simply makes sense because everybody can understand.
Anyway, these are just some thoughts for you to think about and bear in mind that pronunciation varies from person to person. No people speak English or pronounce Latin in exactly the same way.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Jerome, pray for us!