Why I dislike the Classical pronunciation of Latin

As a student of Latin, I often come across a problem with which most students of language never have to deal: “How to pronounce it?” As the language has developed, so has its pronunciation. If English is spoken differently in the Americas, England, Australia, and India, the pronunciation of Latin must also be different depending on its region. Yet a survey of Latin pronunciation among modern students of the language will find the “Classical” pronunciation as dominant. According to 19th Century Classicists, this pronunciation has been reconstructed from extant texts. I disagree with the domination of this method.

I do not consider myself sufficiently knowledgeable to judge the scholarship which led to the formation of the classical pronunciation. I rather take exception to the idea that it must be used. Until the 19th Century, every in Christendom spoke Latin with a slightly different accent. Once the classical pronunciation was discovered, the beauty of these various accents disappeared.

Furthermore, the idea that we must use the classical pronunciation because the Romans used it is a faulty argument. In one case, the Romans didn’t always use the classical pronunciation. The Romans of the Middle Ages used the Ecclesiastical pronunciation. In the other case, just because the Romans did something, doesn’t mean that it is best. We don’t speak English as Shakespeare did because the pronunciation of English has evolved since then. To demand a return to English as spoken in Shakespeare’s day would imply that all the English since the 16th Century is somehow faulty, and less than perfect. In the same way, to insist that classical pronunciation must be used, because the Romans used it, implies that any Latin after the classical era of Latin is equally imperfect.

The various regional pronunciations of Latin represent the Latin spoken by such men as Thomas Aquinas, Gregory the Great, Albert the Great, Innocent III, and countless others. The desire to restrict the pronunciation of Latin to the classical is an effect of the relentless Ciceronianism which has largely killed Latin as a spoken language, as Erasmus predicted, which tries to reduce all “good” Latin to Cicero, Caesar, Ovid, Horace, and Livy.

I do not deny that it may be easier to pronounce classical Latin, but I take issue with the desire that all Latinists use it.

P.S., Arcadius Avellanus wrote a great piece on the failures of current Latin pedagogy.

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