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Caesar and caesura are two similar-sounding Latin words which have made their way into English unsullied in terms of their orthography. The same can however not be said of their pronunciations. The original Latin pronunciations of /kaisar/ and /kaisuːra/ have evolved into /siːzər/ and /sizjʊrə/ respectively. Why/how did this come to pass? Furthermore, why does Caesar have the long /si:/ while caesura doesn't?

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Why is the second syllable accent3ed in caesura and not Caesar? –  Peter Shor Jan 10 '13 at 4:11
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@Peter Shor "Fixed recessive stress accent" is what I was taught is the ModE rule. –  StoneyB Jan 10 '13 at 4:54
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@PeterShor Caesar never carried stress on the second syllable; that is why the name César in contemporary Spanish is written the way it is. –  tchrist Jan 10 '13 at 5:07
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Woah! You've invented a time machine! How else can you have heard how Latin was pronounced? –  Matt Эллен Jan 10 '13 at 11:05
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@MattЭллен Thank you. I try my best :) –  coleopterist Jan 10 '13 at 12:12

1 Answer 1

For a complete answer, take a look at the Wikipedia article on the traditional English pronunciation of Latin or at Appendix B ("The pronunciation of Latin in England") of Sidney Allen's Vox Latina: The Pronunciation of Classical Latin. The rough story seems to be that the traditional English pronunciation of Latin consists of the (Norman?) French pronunciation of Latin at the time of the Norman Conquest, filtered through the sound changes undergone by English (including the Great Vowel Shift), but with some peculiarities of its own. If I'm reading things correctly, it would seem that the differing pronunciations of ae in Caesar and caesura essentially stem from the fact that the ae in Caesar is accented, whilst the ae in caesura is unaccented (and followed by a single consonant), and was thus "reduced" (i.e., shortened and opened?) in the English pronunciation.

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