Some time ago, as I was taunting Aelianus with the mispronunciation of Latin prevalent among English native speakers, he answered with a sarcastic remark about the “particular suitability of the German language for the pronunciation of classical languages. Let us leave aside classical Greek, of which I know next to nothing – but for Latin, curiously enough, Aelianus’ sneering remark rather seems to hit the point.

Let us just look at the vowel, as the problem largely seems to center there:

As Wikipedia tells me, Latin knows five vowel qualities, which may occur long or short:

[a:]/[a], [e:]/[ɛ], [i:]/[ɪ], [o:]/[ɔ], and [u]/[ʊ].

While all of these occur in ordinary German, [e:] and [o:] are missing in English.

With very few exceptions, moreover, German uses the same letters to represent these vowels as Latin does (sometimes indicating length by doubling them), or maybe more to the point, predominantly the same vowels are used to pronounce the letters.

In English, the matter is far more confusing: “a” often is [æ] (as in cat), [ ɔː] (as in law), [eɪ] (as in date) or [ə] (as in about). On the other hand, [i:] may be spelled “ee” or “ie” or “ee”, and probably in other ways as well, but never, to my knowledge “i”. (Illustrated by the need “Ignitum Today” has of a video on pronunciation of their name.)

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