The ancient Latin alphabet (Abecedarium Latinae) only contained 21 letters during the period of Cicero (106-43 BC) . During classical period, the letter "i" diverged into vowel "i" and consonant "j"; "v" became "u" and "v"; two letters - y and z- were brought into Latin during the middle ages. "W" is only used in recent biological literatures, for spelling foreign names.
The Latin written today thus includes 26 letters (which also make up the English alphabet), there're 6 vowels: a,e,i(y),o,u and 20 cosonants: b,c,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,q,r,s,t,v,w,x,z. Note that during the classical times, all letters were written capitalized.
The 26 letters are listed as follows, the table lists the letters and its name and possible pronunciation in a word:
|Letter||Name (Classical)||Name (Ecclesiastical)||Pronunciation||Examples|
|Cc||[ke]||[ʧe]||[k] [ʧ]||canis , coelicus|
|Gg||[ge]||[ʤe]||[g] [ʤ]||gallus, regia|
|Hh||[ha:]||[akka] [ha:]||[h] [k] or silent||habitāre * , mihi|
|Ii||[i:]||[i:]||[i:] [i] or [j]||Iulia, amīcus|
|Oo||[ɔ:]||[ɔ:]||[ɔ:] [o]||Romanōrum, octo|
|Pp||[pe]||[pe]||[p]||panis, elephantus *|
|Ss||[es]||[es]||[s] or [z]||septem, basis|
|Uu||[u:]||[u:]||[u] [u:] or [w]||quod, mūrus|
|Vv||[we]||[ve]||[w] or [v]||avis, viridis|
|Xx||[iks]||[iks]||[ks] or [gs]||rēx, panax|
|Yy||[ypsilɔŋ] or "y Graeca"||[ipsilɔŋ] or [igreka]||[y] or [i]||Ægyptus *|
- The pronunciation listed above includes possible classical and ecclesiastical methods, the detailed rules will be dealt later.
- Words with * are pronounced in Classical method.
- Compared to a word's pronunciation, the names of the Latin letters don't matter too much. The name listed above is most commonly used, however some references may provide some slightly different letter names, and again, it doesn't mater as long as the name can represent the phonetic feature of that letter.
Latin is a hightly phonetic language, that is, the word sounds exactly like how it's written. So pronoucing the language is much easier than English once you learn the basics and keep certain rules in mind. The details will be covered in the chapters that follow, for now, let's just keep these rules in mind:
- In most cases, every letters in a word is sounded. eg. amate, don't say [ameit].
- The length or quantity and quality of vowels are essential for accent and grammar.
- Accent is important.
- Diphthongs and cosonants before "soft vowels" are usually the places where the sounds evole, thus they may sound different in different times (methods).
- At last, prevent pronouncing everything like your native language, because that can't be right!