A perceptual examination of the effect of select languages on the pronunciation of sung Latin

Date of Completion

January 1996


Music|Speech Communication|Education, Music




Although Latin is the most commonly used language in the sacred choral music of Europe and the United States, there is no commonly accepted standard for the pronunciation of sung Latin. American musicians who perform internationally are continually in a quandry concerning the appropriate Latin pronunciation. The dissertation examines the influence that pronunciation rules from four native languages (German, French, Italian and English) exert on the pronunciation of sung Latin. Results of the study offer an explanation for the myriad of pronunciations in sung Latin and provide documentation of select sounds currently employed by choirs in Europe and the United States. Analysis of data reveals a connection between the expected pronunciation (those sounds derived from the pronunciation rule of the native language) and the observed pronunciation (those sounds perceived by subjects listening to recorded samples of sung Latin).^ Chapter 1 presents a statement of the problem and the hypothesis. A brief overview of the methodology includes the rationale for the selection of languages, sounds, and text used for the experiment and the design of the perceptual experiment. Chapter 2 presents a review of the sound systems employed by the languages (Latin, Italian, German, French, English-U.S.) and a summary of pronunciation rules for the sounds represented by the letters "c", "e" and "o" for each language. The pilot study is reviewed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 presents the methodology and design for the perceptual experiment. Results of the main study are reported in Chapter 5 and the connection between the sounds expected (Chapter 2) and the sounds perceived by subjects (Chapter 5) are discussed in Chapter 6.^ The first question clarified by the study is that differences in pronunciation are perceptible to subjects listening to the recorded samples. Secondly, each language group displayed preferences for particular sounds. Since the patterns of preferred sounds are language specific and a direct relationship can be seen between the native language pronunciation rule and the preferred sounds in sung Latin, it can be concluded that the pronunciation rules in the selected languages affect the pronunciation of sung Latin. ^