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Latin Alphabet, Spelling and Pronunciation


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Latin Alphabet, Spelling and Pronunciation


The Romans had taken the letters from the Greeks (via the Etruscans). In the beginning, there were only capital letters. In Cicero's time, there were only 21 letters of the alphabet (it ended with X). Y and Z were added later because of the borrowed Greek words such as Byzantium.


Capitalisation in Latin:

- proper names, their adjectives and adverbs: Latium (the area), Latinus (of Latium, belonging to), Latine (adv.)

-first word in a sentence and usually first word in a verse (though in many Latin texts, this isn't observed)


Alphabet and Pronunciation

For the sake of easier understanding and different phonetic chart, I am going to give examples in English, where possible, and bold the letter pronounced. Only bear in mind that Latin consonants are more frontal than English ones - meaning that English alveolar t and d sound more dental in Latin and so on.


A a  car

B b  brother

C c  key (classical pronunciation) and German Zeit (traditional pronunciation - though only when c is found in combination with e (cena) and i (Cicero), otherwise, it's like in key)

D d  dark

E e  let

F f  foreign

G g  Greek

H h  head (again, more frontal than the English guttural h)

I i    feed

K k  key

L l  light (Latin also has the so called dark and clear l)

M m mother

N n  nephew

O o  lot

P p  pay

Q q  key (in combination qu- quote)

R r  rot (without the English alveolar sound - Latin r is more like Italian)

S s  soft (classical pronunciation), both soft and zealous (traditional pronunciation)

T t  toy

U u  soot

V v  what (classical pronunciation), vigorous (traditional pronunciation)

X x  fix

Y y  lit

Z z  zealous


Latin also has a very developed system of diphthongi, which are as follows:

ae fight (classical pronunciation), let (traditional pronunciation - only longer)

oe loiter (classical pronunication) red (traditional pronunciation - only longer)

au loud

ei  fate

eu let and soot together (sorry, I can't think of an example in English as it doesn't allow this combination, like many other languages)

ui Louis (French pronunciation)


Another remark: Combinations -ch-, -ph-, -th- were pronounced differently in these two standards. The classical pronunciation would be kh, ph, th, whereas the traditional would be h, f, t

e.g. pulcher is pulkher (or trad. pulher), schola is skhola (or trad. shola), theatrum is theatrum (trad. teatrum)


I know that at this point, it must sound obscure, but I wrote this hoping that eve nthose who don't know how to read Latin words can start somewhere. Those of you who speak Slavic languages will find this very easy as Slavic pronunciation of vowels and consonants is very similar to that in Latin. For the rest, try to think about either Russian or German consonants and Spanish vowels.


It's best to choose one pronunciation. Traditional is used seldom. Still, I wished to tell you that there were more ways of reading Latin. Most countries have adopted the classical pronunciation, so that is what I would advise you to do.


Here are some Latin words for you to practice pronunciation with using the ''chart'' above (I have used only nouns):

mater, pater, frater, terra (land), stella (star), populus (people), liber (book), labor (work), acus (needle), bellum (war), ars (art), domus (home), Roma, Athenae

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