Introduction

It is always nice to start off with a nice little introduction to Latin. In this lesson, the idea of the construction of Latin, how it works, and its basics will be discussed. This includes:

  • The Latin Alphabet
  • The nature of Latin sentences
  • Pronouncing Latin
  • Latin Diphthongs

The Latin Alphabet

The Latin alphabet does not contain as many letters as English does, only 22 letters as opposed to 26. Regardless, Latin makes due with what it has and the 22 letters make a plethora of words. Here is the Latin alphabet in full:

A B C D E F G H I L M N O P Q R S T U V X Z


Note that the letters missing are J, K, W, and Y. Occasionally, due to some Greek intermixing, K and Y may be present, but that normally isn't so. Furthermore, in a classical Latin structure, U's were written as V's, but in our case we will make them all look like U's. J's in Latin are completely replaced with I's in both aesthetics and phonetics. This means that if you were to use "Julius" in Latin, you would write it (and pronounce it) as "Iulius".

Latin Sentences

Latin sentences are definitely not like the typical English sentence. Latin is considered to be an inflected language. This means that the role of a word in the sentence is determined primarily by they way it ends. English is not inflected, and the role of the word is determined primarily on its position in the sentence. This means that when writing Latin sentences, the order of the words don't matter as much. Order does play a small role in how sentences are read.

Let us observe a few Latin and English sentences.

Latin Sentence English Equivalent
Agricola videt. The farmer sees.
Agricolam vidi. I saw the farmer.

Observe the two English sentences. In the first one, we have a character who is a farmer. He sees meaning he is at that time performing the action of seeing. We don't know what he sees, but we do know that he sees and apparently isn't blind. In the Latin sentence, "agricola" means "farmer"1, and "videt" means "(something) sees". Thus we see how the sentence translates.

But look at the next Latin sentence. "Agricolam" looks a lot like "agricola" but with an m on the end. Well, guess what? "Agricolam" and "agricola" mean the same thing: "farmer"! As well, "vidi" and "videt" both pertain to seeing. Why then do they look different? This is because Latin is inflected, and the ending of a particular word tells you what its role is. Because "agricola" ends in an m in the second sentence, we know that it is receiving the action of seeing. Because "vidi" ends in the di, we know that it is in the past tense first person (meaning "I" did something). Thus "I saw the farmer". In English, we know the farmer receives the action of seeing primarily because it comes after the verb. In Latin though, the farmer came before the verb, so be careful!

All this will be made more clear in later lessons when the endings become known and you understand how Latin works, especially with verbs.

Pronouncing Latin

Although Latin isn't spoken any longer, it is useful to know how to pronounce it. Most of the letters are pronounced normally, but there are certain rules that need to be followed. But you shouldn't have a hard time with these rules because they are much more black and white than the English ones!

The letter/compound Pronunciation
C Always hard as in cat or coy. C will never sound like an S.
G Always hard as in goat or gate. G will never sound like a J.
Qu Q will always couple with a U, and together they sound like kw, as in quick.
R The R in Latin typically rolls.
V There is no V sound in Latin. V's will sound like W's, as in wet.
Ph This does not sound like an F. It is simply a P sound + and H sound.
Th This is simply a T sound plus an H sound. They do not combine.
Sh Same thing. They do not combine.

The vowels of Latin are the same as vowels in English, though they do not act the same. They are A, E, I, O, and U. Each vowel has two different sounds depending on their context in the word. The sound is determined by the macron, small line above the letter such as in "ā". The Latin Dictionary doesn't use any macrons since they are meant to be understood.

The Vowel Pronunciation
a Short as in ago
ā Long as in father
e Short as in get
ē Like a long A sound, in they
i Short as in sit
ī Like a long E sound, as in machine
o Short as in pot
ō Long as in no
u Short as in put
ū Long as in tuba

Latin diphthongs are a combination of two vowels that together create a new sound normally different from if the two vowels were sounded separately. These diphthongs are found everywhere in Latin words, so it is important to recognize them.

Diphthong Pronunciation
ae As in aisle
au As in out
ei As in reign
eu As in sew
oe As in joy

With the actual pronunciation of Latin words, there is also an accenting of certain syllables depending on the nature of the word. Single syllable words have no particular accent. Two syllable words have the first syllable accented. So in "audax", I would accent the au. Words of three syllables or more have the third to last syllable accented. I would accent gri in "agricola".

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