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Latin/Two questions of pronunciation


Dear Maria,

I hope you can help me with the following:

1. As far as I know, initial s in Latin sounds /s/, but what about middle ones (except from some standard endings such as -osus, -isus, -usus etc. where it sounds /z/, right?)? For example, prosum: /-zum/ or /-sum/; insero: /-zero/ or /-sero/?

2. Is it sure that the Greek φ,χ,θ sounded like "spitting" p,k,t respectively (like in the initial English "pea, key, tea" or is it still an open topic for discussion? Because if so, then it is difficult to distinguish sound differences from πτ/φθ and κτ/χθ, particularly when considering that an ρ may follow in some words. So, we would have three δασέα together. Some questions that came to my mind were whether it is possible that φ,χ,θ can be absent from an ancient language like Greek and whether the proposed pronunciation - which is closer to /p/, /k/, /t/ can develop to the modern /f/, /x/, /θ/.

Other than that, there are words like Βάκχος, τιτθή, κέπφος and other, where the assumed pronunciation of the "spitting" p,k,t makes more sense. So, how sure are modern ideas about this topic? Is it still open or is there a definite answer to that?

Thank you for your time and have a good day!



I must state beforehand that the only evidence we have for pronunciation of Classical Latin is the comparison with  other Indo-European languages which have the same origin, i.e. most of the ancient and modern languages of Europe.

For example,we know that the German noun “Kaiser” and the  Russian “Czar”, both deriving  from the Latin "Caesar", shows  that:

-the C pronunciation was hard, i.e. it sounded  as the K in "king".

-the diphthong AE was pronounced separately (see “Kaiser”), differently from the Scholastic pronunciation where Latin AE is pronounced as a single E.

Of course, there are other examples which give us a reasonably idea of  Latin general spoken practice, in spite of  the school pronunciation of the Latin language,  which dates back to the Middle Ages and is deep-rooted now.

That being stated, with regard to your  first question about  the S  pronunciation, I have to tell you that  this consonant was probably always pronounced as S in “sit”, “see”, “sound”,”say”,  not as S in “rose” or “ease”, where the S is a sibilant/fricative consonant characterized by a hissing sound.

Therefore in “prosum”, “prosit”, “prosunt”, “insero”, “insitum”, “adsum”, “usus”, etc. the S sounds as  /s/ , like in the English terms  “sit”, “see”, “sound”, “send”, etc.

To sum up, as far as we can know about the pronunciation of Classical Latin, the S was always pronounced as /s/, not as /z/, whether it was an initial S or not, unlike English where e.g. we have the verb “suppose” where the initial S sounds /s/, while the middle  one sounds /z/.

As for your second question about Greek φ,χ,θ, please  note that:

the Greek consonants φ,χ,θ did not sound like  p,k,t respectively, i.e.  the initial English "pea, key, tea" .
Moreover, the voiceless aspirate consonants  φ,χ,θ, i.e.the labial φ, the guttural/palatal  χ, the dental θ [ which were pronounced  “ph” as in “graphic”, “ch” as in German “machen”, “th” as in British “thin” respectively]  already existed in the ancient Greek alphabet which had  twenty-four letters, i.e. 7 vowels (α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω.) and 17 consonants (β, γ, δ, ζ, θ, κ, λ, μ, ν, ξ, π, ρ, σ/ς, τ,φ,χ, ψ ).

In the older period there were the following three other letters:

(1)the Ϝ pronounced "ϝαῦ" (uau)and called “digamma” (i.e. double-gamma) from its shape. It stood after ε and was pronounced like ω.
(2) the  ϟ (κόππα =koppa")), which stood after π.
(3) Another ς, called “san”, which is found in the sign “sampi “, i.e. "san" (an old form of sigma) + "pi".
Two of these three obsolete signs were employed as numerals, i.e. the koppa (ϟ )  for 90; the sampi (ϡ)  for 900.

As for words like Βάκχος,τίτθη, κέπφος  and other, the κχ was pronounced as an aspirate "kch", the τθ was pronounced as "t" followed by the aspirate "th", and the πφ was pronounced as "p" followed by the aspirate "ph".

So,to conclude, this topic is not still open for there has always been  a definite answer, as I've said.

Hope all is clear now.

Best regards,


As for Greek consonants φ,χ,θ, please note that, according to AllExperts policy, you should have asked such question in the category “Greek” at  or in the category “Ancient languages” at  


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I received my Ph.D. in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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