Friday, 6 October 2017


In a choral singer's life, the pronunciation  of Latin is bound to become an issue. People learn one way in school, and can't help being infected. Fortunately, in the Venn diagram of my life,  Church Latin (which I started to ... enunciate at the age of about 7, as described here), school Latin (there are several of course, but mine was Church-Latin-speaking), and the Latin used in the study of Romance Philology (Vulgar Latin), all coincided.

I can't claim to know the whole story, but there are at least four gross variants – old and new Classical systems, Church Latin, and Germanic or continental Latin; there are probably more. And these are further compounded by  national phonemic peculiarities (sounds that are excluded – made effectively unpronounceable – as a necessary part of the acquisition of a mother tongue) such as those I mentioned here.

I  discussed one of the many problems arising from this clash of pronunciation regimes here. But in this post I want to talk about an old system that has almost died out but was once widely taught both in the UK and of course in many schools around the world in the British Empire (ensuring that the colonies paid at least twice for the dubious accolade of the imposition of the Pax Britannica).

Ask the search engine of your choice about Benedicite and you will be told this:
If you're not a user of the IPA, I recommend pressing the little loudspeaker doofer (in your browser that is, not on my screen-capture).

Elsewhere I wrote:
<autobiographical note>
In a choir I used to sing in, there was a great kerfuffle about how one should pronounce Benedicite. It couldn't have mattered less, as it happens, since that word does not occur in the [Ed: English] text.  But in  Benjamin Britten's world (and particularly at the school he went to when he went there) the first "i" (but not the second) had this same /ɑɪ/ diphthong.
<PS date=2017>
Benedicite was just the name of a canticle he was familiar with in the Book of Common Prayer: "Bless ye the Lord".
</autobiographical note>

The first i has the same /aɪ/  diphthong as the mori that ends that poem: as I said here (a post that unaccountably has attracted nearly 1 in 3 of all 100,000+ page visits that all HD posts have enjoyed over the last 5 years):
... in the school where Wilfrid Owen learnt his Latin, the last two lines rhymed...
The words are "old lie/mori", but it is an internal rhyme, I now see, as "Dulce" doesn't – as I had thought – start the last line.
...(and they may have scanned as well – I dunno; even  if they didn't they probably did in schoolboy-speak, where the stress  is often inverted in memorized (and drilled) Latin. Think of aMO aMAS aMAT..., whose actual stress [Ed: on the first syllable] is attested by most [if not all] Romance languages [aimer, amar, amare, etc. etc].)
(Naturally, if you know and remember and love the poem with the sound /'mɔ:ri:/ don't let  me interfere. In my house there are many mansions/let a thousand flowers bloom/etc.)

Many examples in legal Latin show a similar vowel sound: prima facie (/praɪmә feɪsi:/), decree nisi (/naɪsaɪ/).... The same system of diphthong vowel sounds accounts for habeas corpus (/heɪbiәs.../) among others (although later "corrections" may have been made, especially in parts of the world where the English legal system was adopted).

But I have promises to keep, and files [sic] to weed before I sleep.


PS: A few clues:
  • Do about 50, not completely. (6)
  • Used up exemplary piece, in which to be used no longer. (9)
  • Publish electronic Bible version? (7)

Update: 2017.10.07.15:30 – Added PPS.

PPS Just heard one on the radio (a misquote, FWIW, but enough to remind me: anno domini (the second i with an /aɪ/ sound). In fact, this phrase may have been the catalyst for the misquote, now I think about it: it was "laudato domini" ( for "laudate dominum"): <some-latin-stuff>o <more-latin-stuff>i).

But laudato means "to|by|with|from the praised [one]"; and domini means "of the lord". Put them together and... well, I imagine a Latin scholar could find a context that they would fit in, but that ain't me, babe.

Update: 2017.10.29.17:30 – Added PPPS.

And another (recalled by a Radio 3 playing of I was glad: "Vivat Regina".

And those answers: PARTLY, DESUETUDE and EVULGATE. Sorry about the "in which", which I'm afraid seems to have been an accidental typo.

Update: 2017.12.09.12:45 – Added P4S.

Last one: ex gratia (/'greɪʃə/)

Update: 2018.02.19.11:30 – How many Ps for Pete's sake, and didn't he say...?

The ghost of  "Last One Yet-to-come": verbatim (/vɜ:'beɪtɪm/)

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