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Some pronounce the trailing "i" in Latin-derived words (e.g., "Gemini") as a long "e" and others pronounce it as a long "i." I was taught the long "e," but is this mere preference or is there a firm basis for one or the other?

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When in doubt, you can always look up the word. In the case of Gemini, both pronunciations are listed as acceptable. –  MrHen Apr 20 '11 at 20:06
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IPA transcription: long "e" = [i] and long "i" = [aɪ] –  Kosmonaut Apr 20 '11 at 21:13
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

The trailing i on most masculine nominative plurals is usually a long e, as has already been stated, like ee in levee or tree. Pueri (the boys) would be poo-air-ee.

A trailing ae like that found on most feminine nominative plurals is a dipthong which sounds a lot like a long i, but, as it is a dipthong, is more of a switch in sound starting with a short a and ending with a long e, similar to the pronunciation of aye or eye. Thus, Puellae (the girls) would be poo-ell-aye.

Is at the beginning of words are pronounced like the y in yet or yellow, and Cs were usually hard. So, Julius Caesar (which would have been Iulius Caesar, as they didn't have Js), would have been pronounced something like Yul-ee-us Kai-sar, the pronunciation of which is where Germans get the word Kaiser, Russians get Czar, and Arabs get Qaysar, amongst a dozen other languages that have words rooted in Caesar.

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Note that u was pronounced oo. –  Cerberus Apr 21 '11 at 22:14
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If you're familiar with the wide variety of pronunciations of English words, it probably won't surprise you to know that Latin — which has arguably been spoken for longer and in more countries — should also suffer the same fate.

Nobody knows how Latin was originally spoken.

There is no firm basis, therefore, for any particular way of speaking. Latin has been kept alive more by the Church (in her many denominations) than any other body, in which an end of i is pronounced with the long e, possibly best known from Enigma's "Sadeness":

In nomine Christi, Amen.

Long e works better when sung (a long i having more than one part to it, sounding more like aahyee when sung slowly*).

However, I blame just one thing in particular for spreading the i sound, and it's this:

Q: What do you call a mushroom who buys all the drinks?
A: A fungi [fun guy] to be with.

We all get to learn this joke at six years old in our Christmas crackers. Any other pronunciation is therefore doomed, or at least turned into an exotic curiosity, in our childhood.

*Please feel free to introduce me to the art of phonetics. I'm curious.

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*This may help: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:IPA_for_Latin –  z7sg Ѫ Apr 20 '11 at 20:28
    
I think I need to ask a question about which of those three alphabets to use... –  Lunivore Apr 20 '11 at 20:33
    
Ah, I got it. Thank you! That explains a lot. Now at least I can decipher some of the strange code on this site, as well as sing the score to Pygmalion. –  Lunivore Apr 20 '11 at 20:49
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* [aɪ] is (as you might guess from the IPA) a diphthong. In English we are supposed to sing them by holding the [a] for most of the note, only slipping to the [ɪ] at the last moment. This isn't necessarily true in other languages; I have a vague recollection that in Italian, you hold the last vowel sound of a cluster rather than the first. –  user1579 Apr 21 '11 at 1:46
    
We know quite a lot about how Latin was pronounced; it is just that Latin pronunciation is only one of our many considerations when determining how we want to pronounce or actually pronounce modern English. Latin i was pronounced like ee, ae like eye, a like ah, and u like oo. –  Cerberus Apr 21 '11 at 22:17
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Traditionally, when learning Latin, one is taught to pronounce a trailing 'i' such as that in Gemini as "ee." So if you want to hew closer to the classical pronunciation of such words, such as the Oracle of Delphi, go with the "ee." (Warning: In US English, this will generally sound astoundingly pedantic and pompous.)

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Up until the sixteenth century, English scholars pronounced their Latin '-i' the same way as everybody else did, viz /i:/ ('-ee', if you will).

But when the English long vowels made their great trek around the mouth over the next two centuries, they took the Latin vowels with them on the trip.

So between then and the early 20th Century, in most contexts English scholars (and lawyers) pronounced Latin words more or less as if they were English, hence bizarreries like "Decree nisi" (/naɪsaɪ/).

Some time in the 20th century, classicists realised what had happened, and endeavoured to return Latin (and Greek) scholarship to something very much closer to how the classical languages had actually been pronounced. This didn't have much effect Latin words that had entered English - except when it did.

The consequence is that there is confusion between /i:/ and /aɪ/ for '-i', and between /aɪ/ and /i:/ for '-ae'. Go figure.

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