Tag Archives: pronunciation

The Style Book of Alcuin

Alcuin’s style book is probably waiting to be discovered in a church basement somewhere

Something that’s intrigued me for many years: besides standardizing written Latin, did Alcuin standardize its pronunciation, too? I’ve been told that Alcuin instituted a policy of one consonant = one sound only, or one vowel = one sound only. I don’t know if a style guide by Alcuin exists. It’s hard to believe he didn’t write one. It would be such an Alcuin thing to do.

I suspect we have ecclesiastical (church) Latin because that’s the pronunciation Alcuin made official. Ecclesiastical Latin is why around Christmastime we sing “in eks SEL sees Dayo” and not “in eks KEL sees Dayo.” We use a soft palatal s or ch sound instead of the hard gutteral k sound the old Romans would have used. My own personal theory is that Alcuin was English, that’s the way they pronounced Latin in England, so that’s the pronunciation that got his stamp of approval. Who knows?

Angels We Have Heard on High:

From a few years back. I idiotically informed everyone that Alcuin was Irish: https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/western-civ/

This guy gets into the weeds a bit but he’s well worth the listen:

Embrace your inner Latin nerd! This is what the internet was built for. When I was a kid you’d have to go to college to hear a great lecture like this:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/cambridge-classical-journal/article/abs/english-pronunciation-of-latin-its-rise-and-fall/A0860C6625BE5A0E45FD58A18797E6FB
https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/roman-catholic-and-orthodox-churches-general-biographies/alcuin
https://latin.stackexchange.com/questions/13984/how-old-is-ecclesiastical-latin-pronunciation
https://www.fisheaters.com/latin.html

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Today’s post is brought to you by the letters I, J, U, V, W and Y.

The Volkswagen—my first car

Want more? The letter J eventually replaced I as a consonant and is pronounced Y. Before that, Jesus (Joshua/Yeshua in Hebrew) was IESVS in Latin and pronounced YEH-zoos (the V is a vowel: U). When Pontius Pilate had ‘INRI’ posted on the Cross it was short for: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum—Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews (it was meant to mock Him). Which reminds me: in Spain they pronounce J and soft G as H: Jesus=hay-ZOOS or Julio=HOO-lee-o or George/Jorge=HOR-hay. J replaced Y, too. G-d’s name, YHWH eventually got vowels and became Jehovah—because when W was added to the Latin alphabet people couldn’t decide whether to pronounce it W or V. In Italy, they pronounce V and W at the same time—vincere=VWIN-che-reh. In Germany, Vs are Ws or Fs. They pronounce the name of their own car, designed in Germany for Germans, the Volkswagen, as ‘FOLKS-vagen.*’ The Austrian town of Vienna and the sausage made there is pronounced ‘WEE-ner’—think ‘wiener schnitzel.’


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-OQojS_aVw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLLQz78w6Bo
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah
Your one-stop shop for canned Vienna sausage:
https://www.amazon.com/Libbys-Vienna-Sausage-4-6-oz/dp/B01NGZ050U/ref=asc_df_B01NGZ050U/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=416696927952&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6906383959846779699&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005171&hvtargid=pla-871853311415&psc=1&tag=&ref=&adgrpid=93865725557&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=416696927952&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=6906383959846779699&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005171&hvtargid=pla-871853311415
https://www.thespruceeats.com/wiener-schnitzel-recipe-1447089

Check the comments in the previous post for a Jim F’s list of Letters With Multiple Pronunciations!

* Thanks for the pronunciation help, Heidi K!

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Today’s post is brought to you by the letter C

A chivalrous caballero chanting a sea-shanty

Not only did P get pronounced F in the Roman Empire’s northerly boondocks, C stopped being K and got softened to CH or S. In Germany Caesar is still Kaizer but in the British Isles (and so in North America) it’s pronounced SEE-zer. Over in Russia it got shortened to Czar. Even in Italy the name became Cesare (CHEZ-a-ray). Chalk and calcium mean sort of the same thing but which of those sounds is the real C? A song is a canto or a chanson or a chant or a shanty. In a card store you can buy paper to draw a chart on. A caballero can be chivalrous or cavalier—all 3 words are about guys who ride horses. Which reminds me: in Spain they harden V to B.

Can you think of any more?

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Abjad

I’m going to pull a ‘Well, akshually’ and tell you the Phoenician alphabet isn’t quite an alphabet. It’s an abjad. An abjad has consonants but no vowels—no A, E, I, O, U or sometimes Y. You were expected to know how words are pronounced and supply the vowels yourself when you read something written in the Phoenician system.

The word ‘abjad’ comes from smooshing together the first four letters of the Arabic alphabet: alif, bā’, jīm, and dāl.

Pointless rambling for today: There’s a tv show from the 1970s set in the 1950s called Laverne & Shirley. They’re 2 working-class girls from Brooklyn, New York City and speak like Brooklyners. I saw a bit (I can’t find a clip, sorry) where one of the girls is talking about her friend ‘Sheldn’—she pronounces it just that way. It fits with her accent; that’s the way they tawk in Brookln. The punchline: his name really is Sheldn; the ‘o’ was accidentally left out on his birth certificate.

https://linguisticator.com/blog/19729/the-arabic-alphabet-what-is-an-abjad
https://www.lexico.com/definition/abjad
https://www.metmuseum.org/learn/educators/curriculum-resources/art-of-the-islamic-world/unit-two/origins-and-characteristics-of-the-arabic-alphabet
Wikipedia says the Arabic alphabet is the result of the Phoenician alphabet evolving in the Near East, where it took a few different turns from ours in the West. Scroll down to look at the chart.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Arabic_alphabet

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