Letter "h" in Ecclesiastical Latin

By Consilius, in 'Pronunciation, Spelling and Listen to Latin', Apr 1, 2019.

  1. Consilius New Member

    I didn't find a thread for this, so I decided to post one. I apologize if there's already a thread, the search function isn't very good.

    I read in the "Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin" that the letter "h" is always pronounced as a spiritus asper, never as in "hour" or "honor". However, when it comes to pronunciation guides that you can find on Google, they always tell you that "h" is silent, except in "mihi" and "nihil", where it is usually a "k". I suppose the Google articles are singing guides, as opposed to simple, spoken Ecclesiastical Latin (which the "Primer seems to be more about). But should there really be a difference?

    Looking at various videos on how the priests at St. Peter's Basilica pronounce Latin (because I figured that's where people pronounce Ecclesiastical Latin most correctly), their pronunciations are mixed. Sometimes I hear the "h", sometimes not, usually depending on who is singing or speaking.

    What are your opinions? Is the "h" supposed to be voiced in normal, spoken Latin? For me, the "h" feels more natural when it is pronounced.

    There's also the issue of intervocalic "s", which I still didn't find a definite answer to. I already have a thread on that here and was already told that it should be unvoiced, but I need some official documents for the correct pronunciation. I don't trust the internet articles on how to sing Latin. They all differ on some points and it's all very confusing. :brickwall2:

    This being said, does anyone have a reliable and definite source on how Ecclesiastical Latin should be pronounced correctly? So far, the "Primer" makes most sense to me, but I need a second opinion.
  2. I would say that everyone says it how they see fit.
    There are contradicting sources on the h in Ecclesiastical Latin.
  3. Consilius New Member

    That's what annoys me... Aren't there some trustworthy sources on how to pronounce this language? Even if they differ, they would still be better than online singing guides. So far I haven't been able to find any, apart from the Primer.
    Issacus Divus likes this.
  4. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
  5. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    The Ecclesiastical pronunciation nowadays is just that of modern Italian, isn't it? In which there is no [h] sound? So I would have thought that [h] would not be used in Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation.
  6. Well.
    I would propose to take from an older source.
    I think my dictionary says to pronounce h "as in English" or "as in the Classical method". Which doesn't make it too easier :brickwall2:
    But I would stylistically take from Modern Italian pronunciation for the most part, even when doing this there are different pronunciations (you can say "Caesar" in two ways in Ecceliastical.)

    The Catholics honestly are a bad source for Latin when you ask Me. Latin is definitely not what it used to be for the Church. One time, I heard a priest say "caeli" and pronounce it like "seh-li". Which is wrong.

    So, basically just speak it like Italian while keeping Latin standards in mind.
    Last edited by Issacus Divus, Apr 2, 2019
  7. Terry S. flamen

    • Civis Illustris
    FrZ is a patristics scholar and usually a reliable source for Latin stuff in the Church. The intervocalic 'h' is indeed pronounced like 'k' in 'mihi' and 'nihil'. I have seen 'michi' written in some mediaeval stuff before, so I doubt if it's a very recent development. Before St. Pius X there was no such thing as a standard ecclesiastical pronunciation, only regional/national pronunciations. That changed with the research that makes the foundation of restored classical pronunciation. I have heard that some Jesuits (why is it always Jesuits...) had started using earlier versions of the RCP during the sacred liturgies to the scandal of the laity - not to mention the consternation of choirs singing music composed to fit the "traditional" pronunciation systems. In response, Pius X decided to make the traditional ecclesiastical pronunciation in the Archdiocese of Rome the gold standard, but other local pronunciations such as the Italianate survive to the present day in the few places you might hear any Latin at all in the Church. BTW JPII said 'saylee' for 'chaylee' (caeli) at the start of his pontificate, but his MCs clearly got to him for he changed to the 'ch' sound in later public Masses. I've heard it's either a Polish thing or a Polish Jesuit thing. Maybe someone from Poland could comment on that.
    Godmy and Issacus Divus like this.
  8. Terry S. flamen

    • Civis Illustris
    Singing in any language can change how certain letters are pronounced. I know a trained opera singer who pronounces initial 'c' as 'g' if he's singing low notes. I asked him why he sings hymns like that in church and he said it helped the sound carry better. In short, it's safest to stick to the Roman standard unless a choir director says otherwise.
    Gregorius Textor likes this.
  9. Consilius New Member

    The Liber Usualis states:

    "Our aim, in compliance with the wishes of his holiness Pius X, is to pronounce and speak Latin in the Roman Style so eminently suitable to Plainsong."


    "Many have never learned the Roman pronunciation or know it imperfectly. Besides its great importance in Plainsong it makes for that uniformity which inspired the Vatican Edition itself; Unus Cultus, Unus Cantus. We therefore give a list of the correct pronunciation of the vowels and consonants to which reference can be made in case of doubt; it is advisable to peruse it from time to time."

    Would anyone familiar with the "Rules for Interpretation" in the Liber agree that this is the single, most correct and traditional way of pronouncing Ecclesiastical Latin?

    It seems to be in complete contradiction with the "Primer" regarding "h" and "s", though:

    "H is pronounced K in the two words nihil (nee-keel) and mihi, (mee-kee) and their compounds." - Whereas the "Primer" teaches that "h" should be pronounced in all cases, with spiritus asper.

    "S is hard as in the English word sea but is slightly softened when coming between two vowels." - Whereas the "Primer" teaches that "s" should be pronounced as a normal "s" in all cases.

    Also, the "slightly softened" description in the "Usualis" is extremely annoying. There's no such thing as a slightly voiced "s". You either use your vocal chords or you don't. It's either an "s" or a "z" between two vowels. :brickwall2:
  10. The New College LATIN & ENGLISH Dictionary states:
    H- as in English.

    Very helpful.

  11. The most traditional way would be to start with the Classical method, and then apply Italian sounds to it.
    Thusly, there really is no single, most traditional way other than that, because people will transform it here and there. (The Plainsong way agrees with My dictionary, so I'd say throw away the Primer.)

  12. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    I'm not really sure there's any possibility of being dogmatic here. We are all each other's mumpsimus.

    On a tangential note, does anyone know anything about what the pronunciation of St Jerome might have been like?
    Pacifica likes this.

  13. His pronunciation wouldn't be Ecclesiastical though, right? In the 2nd century, wouldn't he have spoken Vulgar Latin?
  14. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Jerome lived in the 4th century. And I don't know how you're defining ecclesiastical Latin. I don't know how anyone can, because different pronunciations have been used in different places at different times. If you wish to pick a particular place and time and define it as ecclesiastical, you're free to do so, but it's arbitrary. And then there's the question of how accurately the pronunciation of that time and place can be established via the available evidence.
  15. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris
    That's an interesting question. I would imagine it sounded somewhat like Church Latin, but I don't know — and I realize it's a bit ironic to say this in a thread where we're having some trouble defining Church Latin anyway. A difference could have been that, unlike in Church Latin, he wouldn't have pronounced final m's. But it's very likely he pronounced ae and oe as e and his c's were palatalized becore e and i, like in Church Latin.
    St Jerome lived in the fourth century. Vulgar Latin isn't limited to a certain period. Every period of natively-spoken Latin had its Vulgar Latin, which simply means the people's everyday Latin as opposed to literary Latin.

  16. Yes. Thusly the "Vulgate" is the common text.
    I know that Vulgar Latin can't be referred to as a stable, standardized language. That goes against the defintion itself. But, My point is: would his pronunciation tell us anything for this matter?
  17. Etaoin Shrdlu Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    If by 'this matter' you mean a definitive ruling on what ecclesiastical pronunciation should be, you have been told why this is a question nobody can really answer.
  18. I'm saying that it doesn't matter. I said Myself that there really is no set "right" way.
  19. Iáson Cívis Illústris

    • Civis Illustris
    St Jerome would presumably have used more-or-less the standard Latin pronunciation of his day. It would also have been mildly influenced by his Illyrian native language. I think it highly unlikely that he pronounced /h/.
  20. Pacifica grammaticissima

    • Civis Illustris
    He wasn't a native speaker of Latin?

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