American Guild of Organists
Pronunciation of Church Latin
Each vowel has one sound; a mixture or sequence of sounds would be fatal to good Latin pronunciation; this is far more important than their exact length.
It is of course difficult
to find in English the exact equivalent of the Latin vowels. The examples
given here will serve as an indication; the real values can best be learned
A is pronounced
as in the word Father; never as in the word can.
We must be careful to get this open, warm sound, especially when A
is followed by M or N as in Sanctus, Nam,
E is pronounced as
in Red, men, met; never with the suspicion of a second sound
as in ray.
I is pronounced as
ee in Feet; never as i in milk or tin.
O is pronounced as
in For; never as in go.
U is pronounced as
oo in Moon; never as u in custom.
Y is treated as the
The pronunciation given for
I, O, U, gives the approximate "quality" of the sounds,
which may be long or short. Care must be taken to bring out the accent
of the word.
As a general rule when two
vowels come together each keeps its own sound and constitutes a separate
This applies to OU
But notice that AE
and OE are pronounced as one sound, like E above.
In AU, EU,
and AY, the two vowels form one syllable, but both vowels must
be distinctly heard. The principle emphasis and interest belongs to
the first which must be sounded purely. If on such a syllable several
notes are sung, the vocalization is entirely on the first vowel, the
second being heard only on the last note at the moment of passing to
the following syllable.
Examples: Lauda, Euge
EI is similarly treated
only when it occurs in the interjection Hei. Otherwise Mei
= Me-i, etc.
U preceded by Q
or NG and followed by another vowel as in words like qui
and sanguis, keeps its normal sound and is uttered as one syllable
with the vowel which follows: qui, quae, quod, quam, sanguis.
But notice that cui forms two syllables, and is pronounced as
koo-ee. In certain hymns, due to the metre, this word must be
treated as one syllable (Cf. Major Bethlem cui contigit. Lauds
for the Epiphany).
The consonants must be articulated with a certain crispness; otherwise the reading becomes unintelligible, weak and nerveless.
C coming before e,
ae, oe, i, y is pronounced like ch in church.
CC before the same
vowels is pronounced t-ch.
SC before the same
vowels is pronounced like sh in shed.
Except for these cases C
is always pronounced like the English K.
CH is always like
K (even before E or I).
G before e, ae,
oe, i, y, is soft as in generous.
Otherwise G is hard
as in Government.
GN has the softened
sound given to these letters in French and Italian.
The nearest English equivalent would be N followed by y.
Magníficat = Mah-nyeé-fee-caht
H is pronounced K
in the two words nihil (nee-keel) and mihi (mee-kee) and
their compounds. In ancient books these words are often written nichil
and michi. In all other cases H is mute.
J often written as
I, is treated as Y, forming one sound with the following
R when with another
consonant, care must be taken not to omit this sound. It must be slightly
rolled on the tongue e.g. Carnis.
Care must be taken not to
modify the quality of the vowel in the syllable preceding the R:
Sápere: Do not say Sah-per-e but Sáh-pe-re.
Dilígere: Do not say Dee-lee-ger-e but Dee-lée-ge-re.
S is hard as in the
English word sea but is slightly softened when coming between two vowels.
TI standing before
a vowel and following any letter (except S, X, T) is pronounced tsee.
Grátia = Grá-t-see-a
Constitútio = Con-stee-tú-t-see-o
Laetítia = Lae-tée-t-see-a
TH is always simply T.
X is pronounced
ks, slightly softened when coming between two vowels.
XC before e, ae, oe,
i, y = KSH.
Before other vowels XC
has the ordinary hard sound of the letters composing it.
Latin is reckoned among the vowels and is
Z is pronounced dz.
All the rest of the consonants
B, D, F, K, L, M, N, P, Q, V are pronounced as in English.
Double Consonants must be
In the pronunciation and singing of a word the "Golden Rule" must always be kept:
A person who is unable to sing this phrase from the quarter-bar to the end in one breath, must be careful not to breathe just before a fresh syllable (at a or b). The lesser evil would be to breathe after the long note and off its value:
Courtesy of American Guild of Organists
Special thanks to Joe Wagner for assembling this list.
St. Louis Metro Singers