“Sorry, I Don’t Know English!”

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. II:

“It has not been generally noticed that Gardiner’s edict of May, 1542, was directed against any change in the customary method of pronouncing Greek or Latin. Early in the 16th century it was assumed in England that the Italian method of pronouncing the Latin vowels was right. Erasmus describes the Italians as recognising the English pronunciation of Latin as being the next best to their own. Even as late as 1542 the vowels were still pronounced at Cambridge in the Italian manner. But the Reformation made it no longer necessary for the clergy to use the common language of the Roman Church; and, partly to save trouble to teachers and learners, Latin was gradually mispronounced as English. The mischief probably began in the grammar schools, and then spread to the universities. Coryat, who visited Italy and other parts of Europe in 1608, found England completely isolated in its pronunciation of long i.

‘ Whereas in my travels I discoursed in Latin with Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, Danes, Polonians, Suecians, and divers others, I observed that everyone, with whom I had any conference, pronounced the i after the manner that the Italians use… Whereupon having observed such a generall consent amongst them in the pronunciation of this letter, I have thought good to imitate these nations herein, and to abandon my English pronunciation of vita. ..and amicus, as being utterly dissonant from the sound of all other Nations ; and have determined (God willing) to retayne the same till my dying day ‘.

At Leyden, in 1608, Scaliger received a visit from an unnamed English scholar, and, after listening to his ‘Latin’ for a full quarter of an hour, and finding it as unintelligible as Turkish, was compelled to bring the interview to a close by apologising, in perfect good-faith, for his inadequate knowledge of English’.”

2 thoughts on ““Sorry, I Don’t Know English!”

  1. SALVE! There’s a crucial typo here you may be able to fix: “…pronounced the * after the manner.” Probably trouble with macroned “I” so you could just insert “long I” for the *asterisk. GRATIAS for the posts–LOVE’EM & often SHARE’EM!! Rick

    1. Gratias tibi maximas! We rely on notices like this to correct the (often imperfect) copy!

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