No, this isn’t a “real” language lesson, a sort of “Latin pro populo” (“Latin for everybody”) that you can use as a handy phrase book when ordering dinner at the Vatican. It’s just that we got into a discussion about singing in Latin the other day, and one of the participants in the conversation happened to mention that singing “Church Latin” is much easier than singing “Germanic Latin.” That started us off on our “Latin Pronunciation Lecture,” which — bear with us — does have a bearing on the Just Third Way. Of course, everything does, but it might not be obvious at first glance.
|"Ve haf vays of making you pronounce Latin!"|
Anyone who is in a singing group these days that is not attached to a church — and some that are, as well — will have at one time gotten into The Discussion of How To Pronounce Latin Properly. A huge amount of the musical heritage of the west is in Latin, whether you’re talking eleventh century plainchant (Veni Emmanuel) or nineteenth century German student songs (Gaudeamus Igitur). Do you use “Germanic Latin,” “Church Latin,” “Italianate Latin,” “Classical Latin,” or Latinam Pro Canem? (That last is hilarious if you’ve ever studied Latin. . . .)
|"A Greek-speaking Roman Empire? Hmmm."|
To understand what the fuss is all about (and know how to pronounce Latin properly, i.e., my way), we need to know a little history. It goes back to when Constantine the Great shifted the main capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, named (naturally enough) after himself. Over time, the Western Roman Empire came to be called the Holy Roman Empire (we will not discuss Voltaire’s little quip here), and the Eastern Roman Empire came to be called the Byzantine Empire, from the little town near where Constantinople was built. Some historians call them (respectively) the Latin Roman Empire and the Greek Roman Empire.
We’ll skip over a lot of fascinating history here, and cut to the chase. The fact is that the Romans in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire spoke Latin (when they did) with a Greek accent. In fact, in the early seventh century, the last emperor/first basileus Heraclius made Greek the official court language, and Latin fell into disuse, except among scholars.
|Heraclius, last emperor, first basileus|
And what does Latin-with-a-Greek-accent sound like? The easiest example to illustrate this is the letter c. In “Italianate/Church/Roman” Latin, it was either a hard c, or the ch sound. As you went west, the ch softened to an s sound. As you went east, it hardened to a k sound. Thus, in Rome, you spoke of the City (what City? Why, Rome, of course) as Chih-veese. In Britannia and Gaul, as well as Iberia and Lusitania (England, France, Spain and Portugal to you barbarians) it was Sih-veese. As you went east where the people spoke Greek, it hardened into Kih-veese.
We know this because of some misspellings found on early Medieval inscriptions and manuscripts. Manuscripts produced in bulk were written from somebody reading from a podium, so a scribe in a hurry or not paying too much attention could write “sivis” instead of “civis” because that’s what he heard.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Greek-speaking Latin scholars fled the city and went to the west, where they began instructing people on the “right” way to pronounce Latin . . . with a Greek accent, of course. That is where we get the so-called “classical Latin” pronunciation that differs from the “Church Latin” that was in use in the courts, universities and, of course, the Church, a continuous and unbroken usage that was suddenly “wrong.”
|"Latin vill be pronounced mit blut und eisen."|
Fast forward to Prince Otto von Bismarck and Kulturkampf. The Iron Chancellor wanted to rid Germany of as many foreign influences as possible. This was an outgrowth of the socialist “Young Germany” movement that took on a more nationalistic character than the other “Young” movements, leading eventually to National Socialism.
One of the victims of Kulturkampf was the pronunciation of Latin. German scholars rejected the traditional “Church” pronunciation, and went to the presumably more authentic (and non-Catholic) Greek pronunciation. They then added a few German changes, e.g., the letter v pronounced w.
Thus was born “Germanic Latin,” which has at least a little more connection with actual Latin pronunciation than the racial theories being developed at this time and embodied in, e.g., “Ariosophy” (“Aryan Theosophy”). This was the same way many other aspects of socialism worked their way into the presumably “official” record.
Disregarding facts and anything that tended to contradict the historical revision considered essential to justify socialism, a new history was created. All that is needed is enough people who either don’t care about something, or who believe that the end justifies the means. Who cares if facts have been altered, as long as you get what you want?
It’s just a seemingly small thing, but even in something as trivial as the correct pronunciation of Latin, the moment something deviates from known fact or is altered for political or any other purposes, the truth has taken another beating. It helps build the habit of lying.