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Latin phonology should be somewhat familiar to many readers, since it is an ancestor to the phonological systems of many of the world's most popular languages. In addition, one system of Latin phonology remains alive today, in institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church; this system is known as ecclesiastical Latin.

The Roman alphabet has five basic vowels: a, e, i, o, u. In addition, there are five diphthongs: ae, au, eu, oe, ou. There are seventeen basic consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x. There are three letters that are found only in foreign borrowings: two consonants (k, z) and one vowel (y). There are also a few consonant digraphs. To further complicate things, in many texts i and j are both written i (very common) while both u and v are often both written u (less common, and found in some modern printings) or both written v (very common in ancient inscriptions). For more detail, see Latin spelling and pronunciation on Wikipedia.

Pronunciation Guide

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(using IPA notation)


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Letter Classical pronunciation Ecclesiastical pronunciation
A /a/ /a/
B /b/ /b/
C /k/ /k/ (before a, o or u) /tʃ/ (before e, i, y, oe, ae)
D /d/ /d/
E /e/ (long), /ɛ/ (short) /e/
F /f/ /f/
G /g/ /g/ (before a, o or u) /dʒ/ (before e, i, y, oe, ae)
H /h/ no sound
I /i/ (long), /ɪ/ (short), /j/ (consonantal) /i/, /j/ (consonantal)
J ("consonantal I") /j/ /j/
K /k/ /k/
L /l/ /l/
M /m/ /m/
N /n/ /n/
O /o/ (long), /ɔ/ (short) /o/
P /p/ /p/
QU (Q is never found alone) /kw/ /kw/
R /r/ /r/
S /s/ /s/, /z/ (if between two vowels or at the end of a word and proceeded by a consonant)
T /t/ /t/
U /u/(long), /ʊ/ (short), /w/ (consonantal) /u/, /w/ (consonantal)
V ("consonantal U") /w/ /v/
X /ks/ /ks/ /gz/ (if the word begins with ex and the x is followed by a vowel, h, or s)
Y /y/ /i/, /j/ (consonantal)
Z /dz/ (?) /dz/ (?)

Diphthongs and Diagraphs

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A diphthong is a vowel combination that is pronounced as a single sound. It is often described as a ‘glide’ between two vowels. A diagraph is a similar combination--the only difference between the two is that both the vowels are distinctly pronounced.


Grapheme Classical Latin Ecclesiastical Latin
ae A glide between an /a/ and an /ɛ/. similar to the English ‘ie’ in pie which is a glide between /a/ and /ɪ/ /e/
au A glide between an /a/ and an /ʊ/ pronounced as the ‘ow’ in how
ei A glide between an /ɛ/ and an /ɪ/ pronounced as the ‘ey’ in they
oe A glide between an /ɔ/ and an /ɛ/. Similar to the English ‘oy’ in boy which is a glide between an /ɔ/ and an /ɪ/. /e/


eu A glide between an /ɛ/ and an /ʊ/.
ui A glide between an /ʊ/ and an /ɪ/, pronounced approximately as the 'uee' in queen.
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