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Why pronunciations are so confused

  • To: Multiple recipients of list AROID-L <aroid-l@mobot.org>
  • Subject: Why pronunciations are so confused
  • From: Alektra@aol.com
  • Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 08:40:26 -0600 (CST)

In a message dated 1/11/2 7:21:35 PM, hetter@worldonline.nl writes:
<< After all this discussion on pronunciation of Latin, doesn't anyone 
that the Romans are DEAD?????? Then where did all these "authorities" got
their information???

Wilbertus Amorphophallophilus Tertius Magnus Blah-us, blah-us, blah-us (no
offensus to anyonus) >>

Offensum non taken. Sorry about the slow electrons, but I did not think your 
question was merely rhetorical, so here's the answer (and even if it was 
rhetorical, here it is anyway!)...

There are 2 different sets of Latin pronunciations.

a) The ancient/classical pronunciation set is indeed not certain, but it is 
pretty well known because there's tons of information on how they talked. 
There are poems, which were written according to stricter rules than English 
verse ever used. And there are descriptions of how foreigners spoke with 
accents, or how people in different regions spoke. A guy named Varro wrote a 
lot on this topic, about 2000 years ago.

b) The medieval/modern pronunciation set is known because it is still used; 
it's very much like Italian. Also, there are parts of Europe that still have 
a lot of people who study Latin and keep inventing words for modern things (I 
seem to recall that Finland is one such place) and even do radio shows in 
Latin. Additionally, Latin is still one of the languages of the Roman 
Catholic Church. Even into the late 1970s in some RC universities, there were 
still some American graduate students who =chose= to defend their doctoral 
dissertations in Latin.

c) And there are descriptions of how these things changed over time.

So, there's your answer. That's also why there are usually at least 2 sets of 
correct pronunciations.

The word could be pronounced "ah-ree-SIGH-mah," and that could be correct by 
the standards of classical Latin.

HOWEVER, there are often 4 sets of correct pronunciations.

Dewey's example of "raphidophora" brings up another issue, which is whether a 
word in question is pronounced in the Greek or Latin way.
"ra-phi-DOPH-o-ra" is Latin. "ra-phi-do-PHO-ra" is Greek.
That's why both are correct, because "raphidophora" is really a Greek word 
written in Latin letters.

And then, there's modern Greek versus ancient Greek.
"ahg-lah-oh-NEHH-mah" is ancient Greek. "ahg-lah-oh-NEEE-mah" is modern Greek.
Of course, no American pronounces "uh-glay-oh-NEEE-muh" either way!

Literally, as the saying goes, "it's academic." Species naming is sort of 
like classical Chinese. It can be pronounced many different ways, but it 
unites people by allowing them to correspond.

Thank you all for your forbearance!

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