Canterbury_Cathedral_-_Portal_Nave_Cross-spire

English Latin

English Latin goes by certain expectations according to chronology, as one might expect. There are three epochs: Early (until 1400), Renaissance (1400–1650), Modern (1650–present; sometimes called “Old Style Latin”). Each of these epochs bleed into each other quite gradually. The rule of thumb is to pronounce the Latin as if it is the English of that time.

Early (500–1400)

This style of Latin began as Western Vulgar Latin, when missionaries went to the British lands in the sixth century. Since this style of Latin is not encountered much in today’s choirs, I’ll focus instead on the other two periods until demand arises for information on this epoch’s Latin.

Renaissance (1400–1650)

This is the Latin used by Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, John Browne, Christopher Tye, John Taverner, Orlando Gibbons, and many others. This is where it starts to get interesting, mainly thanks to the slowly happening Great Vowel Shift in English.

Vowels

Stressed
aeiou
[æː]
[ɛː]
[e]
[i]
[i]
[əi]
[ʌi]
[ɔ]
[o]
[ju]
eiæœyau
[i]
[ei]
[e]
[ɛ]
[e]
[ɛ]
[ɪ][ɑu]
Unstressed
aeiou
[ɑ]
[a]
[ə]
[ɛ]
[ə]
[ɪ][ɔ][ʊ]

Consonants

bcccchdfg
[b][kʰ]
[s]
[kʰ]
[ks]
[kʰ]
[ʧ]
[d]
[ð]
[f][ɡ]
[ʤ]
gnhjklmn
[ŋn][h][ʤ][kʰ][l]
[ɫ]
[m][n]
[ŋ]
ncpphqrssc
[ŋk][pʰ][f]
[pʰ]
[k][r][s]
[z]
[sk]
[s]
tthtivxz
[tʰ][tʰ]
[θ]
[si]
[tʰi]
[v][ks]
[ɡz]
[z]

Notes

  • Vowels are stressed when they get the accent of the word and when they are not followed by consonants in a syllable.
  • Stressed a was [a] until early 1500s. Afterwards, [æ].
  • Unstressed a might reach [ə] in chant, but not polyphony.
  • Æ is pronounced as if it is e.
  • AU slowly changes from [ɑu] to [ɔ] over the period. It stays [ɑu] until the early 1600s.
  • Unstressed e might become [ə], but was usually [ɛ].
  • Stressed e was generally [i] by the mid-1400s. Deus meus is pronounced [ˈdiʊs ˈmiʊs]. It is equally acceptable to pronounce it [e], as long as a stressed a is [æ].
  • EI was [i] in single-syllable, [ei] in two syllables. Eleison is pronounced [ɛˈliːzɔn] on three notes.
  • Stressed i was a diphthong [əi] by 1400. Dwell on [ə] and move to [i] at the end of the note. [ʌi] is also an option, staying on [ʌ] until the end.
  • Stressed o is generally [ɔ] until 1600.
  • Stressed u is only pronounced [u] after r and j. Otherwise, it is [ju].
  • C before æ, œ, e, i, or y is pronounced [s].
  • C before a, o, u, or a consonant is pronounced [kʰ] (with aspiration, like the modern English k sound).
  • CC before æ, œ, e, i, or y is pronounced as [ks].
  • CH is usually pronounced [kʰ], but may rarely be [ʧ] between vowels, like Michael [ˈmɪʧaəl] or Rachel [ˈræːʧəl].
  • D at the end of a syllable was often [ð]. Apud was [apʊð] and ad was [að].
  • G before æ, œ, e, i, or y is pronounced [ʤ]. The only exceptions seem to be the Hebrew letter gimel and the name Gilbertus, which are [ɡ].
  • H got aspiration, but not terribly loud.
  • PH was [f], but was [p] in the word sphaera.
  • QU was [kw] except before u and o. Quo is pronounced [ko] and quum is [kʊm].
  • R is trilled, though tapping is acceptable.
  • S was [z] between vowels and at the ends of words not ending in -is. Otherwise, [s] is used.
  • SC before æ, œ, i, e, or y is pronounced [s]. It is [sk] otherwise.
  • TH by 1500 was often [θ]. Thronum is [ˈθrɔnʊm].
  • TI before a vowel is pronounced [si]. It is [tʰi] otherwise.

This kind of Latin is tricky to get at first, but the rules start applying themselves after a while.

Examples

Thomas Tallis’s O nata lux

Robert White’s Lamentations

Modern (1650–present)

This is where it gets even more fun. This kind of English Latin, sometimes called “Old Style Latin,” is the current form of English Latin. For the most part, it is no longer sung due to the prevalence of the Roman Church in English speaking countries, but it was still something to be expected before the early twentieth century. It is still currently used in the legal and medical professions (one still says habeas corpus as [ˈheɪbiəs ˈkʰɔɹpəs] rather than the Roman [abɛas kɔrpus], for instance). When one sees a cross with Christ on it, he or she does not call it a “croocheefeeks,” but a “crusifix.”

It is not easy to reconstruct this style because when it was used prominently in song, it was considered obvious. Much of what we know about it comes from John Sargeaunt’s “Note on the Westminster pronunciation of Latin” of 1898. Those notes were written to preserve some of the characteristics of Modern English Latin, since the Classical reform of pronunciation had succeeded in the prior twenty years in standardizing the system to that. That Classical restoration of pronunciation started in the 1870s in a few schools, then caught on quickly. This is the system that pronounces Cicero as “kickeroh” and Vincet as “winket.” There are already plenty of guides on this system of pronunciation, so I will stick here with the Old Style English version. The only time I ever hear Old Style Latin used is in Parry’s “I was glad,” where “Vivat Regina Elisabetha” is sung [ˈvaɪvæt ɹɛˈʤaɪnə ɛlɪzəˈbiːθə].

The consonants are essentially the same as Renaissance English Latin, with the exception that R can be more like the modern R in English, not rolled as much. The vowels are the main point of departure. They are essentially the same as in spoken Modern English.

Vowels

Stressed
aeiou
[eɪ][i][aɪ][oʊ]
[ɒ]
[ɔ]
[ju]
eiæœyau
[i]
[eɪ]
[i][i][ɪ]
[aɪ]
[i]
[ɔ]
Unstressed
aeiou
[a]
[ə]
[ɛ]
[ə]
[ɪ]
[i]
[ɔ][ʊ]
[ə]

For us English speakers, it is quite easy to use this style. The main challenge is accepting it after having been forced to sing Roman-style for so long. For instance, Beatus vir was once pronounced [biˈeɪtʰəs vaɪə]. Gentes was [ˈʤɛntʰiːz]. Gloria Patri was [ˈɡlɔːɾia ˈpeɪtraɪ].

Examples

Pater noster and Gloria Patri