Latin pronounciation

Jim McKenney
Fri, 12 Dec 2008 12:33:49 PST
Tim, to the classicist the oe in foetidus is pronounced oi. Classicists
themselves don't always agree about these things, and in particular there is
debate about this very word foetidus. 


Perhaps you are wondering how anyone would think they know how it was
pronounced two thousand years ago? There are several sorts of evidence, but
the easiest for most of us to understand is the evidence from the way the
Romans wrote Greek words. When Romans took Greek words which had the oi
sound, they wrote them with the letter combination oe. Greek evidently had
the oi sound and wrote it as oi (omicron-iota). So see what happened: the
educated Romans could read Greek, they could see the oi (omicron-iota) which
looked a lot like the their letters o and i, but they did not use their
letters o and i to spell the Greek words because in Latin the letter
combination oi represents the o sound followed by the i sound; it does not
represent the oi sound of oink in Latin. In Latin, oi is not a diphthong
(which is why purists do not use the oink sound but instead separate the o
and i sounds in botanical words ending in, for instance, -oides.  


Incidentally, note that I have not answered your question, I've simply used
it as an excuse to give my version of things. You asked what the consensus
is. I have no idea. Someone else will have to answer that one. But I don't
follow the consensus. 


The word Fuchsia as a botanical name honors Leonhard Fuchs, a sixteenth
century German botanist. If you want to commemorate him, pronounce the word


Your Danish friend's problem is not the result of his pronunciation; it's
the result of the nearly universal mispronunciation in the English-speaking
world of the word to which you allude. In Latin the e is a long e and the
first syllable is thus pronounced pay-, not pee-. Joe Six Pack pronounces it
pee because that's all he probably does with it. (Am I in trouble?)


Are you sure about Rachelus?  


Jim McKenney

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