Latin pronunciation

Fri Feb 26 05:52:29 CST 1999

Once again I find myself replying to comments by
different people in a single note.

> Joseph E. Laferriere gets my vote for a sensible
>  perspective on pronunciation.

Thank you very much for the nice compliment. I am
American but had a course in linguistics and have
studied French, German, Spanish, Esperanto, and

> * Hey! is R.T. Clausen so soon forgotten?

Who?     :-)

> I can well remember my chagrin
>  in systematic botany at Cornell at having thought Yew-niper-us
>  wir-gini=anus a novelty when he was just discoursing on Juniperus
>  virginianus.

A nice illustration of my point. He was using Classical
Latin pronunciation, something unfamiliar to most botanists.

> Medieval Latin was far from monolithic.
> Pronunciation of the local language
>  affected Latin pronunciation

Again, exactly my point. Germans speak Latin with a German
accent, Poles with a Polish accent, etc.

> I think you underestimate the extent to which the way of pronounciation
>  of one's mother tongue is hard-wired into one's brain.

But that is only part of the problem. If you start
learning a language late in life, you will never master
all the sounds. I once knew an Austrian who have been
living in the US 6 years without ever mastering the "th"
sound. But Americans are fully capable of pronouncing
the "a" sound as in "father." They use it every day.
But I have heard many American botanists pronouce the
epithet "americana" with an a as in "play" in the fourth
syllable. I cringe at that myself.
   Americans also think they cannot pronounce an "r" the
way it is pronounced in Spanish. Yet they do it ever time
they say the word "water." Brits and some Canadians
pronounce the "t" in "water" as a "t" but Americans do not.
American pronounciation is identical with the Spanish "r."
   But I digress. Returning to pronunciation of Latin names,
there are many different methods of pronunciation, and
we will never persuade everyone to do it the same way.
We have an expression in the US, "When in Rome, do as the Romans
do." When I am in the US, I pronounce "Juncus" with the English
"j" rather than the Classical Latin "j" (= English "y"). However, when
I am in Mexico talking to a Mexican botanist, I use the
Spanish "j" (in Mexican Spanish, identical to the German
"ch" in "acht"). Otherwise people will not understand what
I am saying.

Dr. Joseph E. Laferriere
"Computito ergo sum ...  I link therefore I am."

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