Pronouncing Caesar's name

I’ve been watching Rome lately and a thought occurs to me.

Everyone is saying Julius Caesar’s name the way we normally pronounce it in modern times - joo-lee-us see-zer.

But while I don’t speak Latin, but I think that’s not how a name spelled like that would have been pronounced. Wouldn’t actual Romans have said something like yool-yus ky-ser?

GUY-us YOO-lee-us KYE-sahr.

Nit being picked ahead: the way it’s normally pronounced in modern times in English. Which makes sense, since the series is in English.

/end nitpicking

I understand (partly from previous similar questions on this board which I’m too lazy to search for) that nobody is really sure how “standard Latin” was pronunced way-back-when, we can take educated guesses but that’s all they are. I can tell you that the “Latin pronunciations” being taught in Latin class in the UK and in Spain are different; in both cases the teachers are trying to teach “standard Latin”.

There is Classic Latin pronunciation and there is Church Latin (which is different), but in Caesar’s time, the pronuciation would have been (as best experts can reconstruct it) as Polycarp describes it with the slight nitpick that Julius would have technically be pronounced like “ee-OO-lee-us,” with the first two syllables glossed quickly enough to result in a ‘y’ sound

Not doubting you, Dio, but, as a matter of interest, how do we know this?

I don’t know exactly, but that’s what I was told in College Latin (Greek too). I always wondered myself what the exact techniques were. I know that some of it has to do with ancient texts about those languages, and I believe some of it has to do with forensic analyses of how it evolved in later languages too, but I never delved deply into the methodology. I was assured that the methodology was sound, and that if the reconstructions were not exact, they were very close (even these reconstructions vary by region, though. For example, I seem to remember that in some region or another, “Caesar” was pronounced as “TSY-sar,” which, I guess, is where the “Tsar” pronunciation came from).

One method is finding common misspellings, and extrapolating pronunciation rules from other words. For example, if Caesar is misspelled something like Caisar you know that ae and ai must sound alike. Do that enough times with various words, and you can link to a language with sounds that are known.

I’ve always heard that, with modern precision, time travelers would most likely get the general sounds correct, but they’d sound like you had a very strange accent.

Wouldn’t the ee-OO part be a single syllable? A diphthong, a syllable with two vowels.

The “iu-” beginning is not a dipthong, no.

In addition to misspellings, another way to detect pronunciation from written documents is by rhymes. If two words are commonly paired in a way that suggests they were meant to rhyme, that helps to clarify their pronunciation. It’s not fool-proof, of course - sometimes there are near-rhymes. The larger the number of examples you have, the more accurate it becomes.

And yet the title of the series is not an issue with the OP, apparently.

One issue at a time. You don’t want to get me started on how the Roman Empire was apparently founded by two guys named Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus.

Another means is looking at how non-Latin speakers transcribed a Latin name or phrase into their native language. Did they call the guy who invaded their country Chulas Geeshor or Heleyez Zayzer?

Latin classes drag on SO LONG that ancient-era classical Latin can still be heard droning in some areas of Italy.

I was told by one of my linguistics profs that Estruscan dialects of Italian were used to back-construct the original pronunciation with Vulgar Latin used as a base.

Does this sound remotely accurate?

The German “Kaiser” also came from another pronunciation of Caesar.

I believe I’ve quoted this summary on the Dope before:

3 Do we know how the Romans pronounced Latin?
Surprisingly, yes. The details of the reconstruction are given in W. Sidney Allen, Vox Latina (written in English), Cambridge, 1965. There are several main sources of knowledge:
[ul][li] The Latin alphabet was meant to be entirely phonetic. Unlike us, the ancient Romans did not inherit their spellings from any earlier language. What you see is what you get.[/li][li] Language teaching was big business in Roman times, and ancient Roman grammarians give us surprisingly detailed information about the sounds of the language.[/li][li] Languages derived from Latin give us a lot of evidence. In fact, many of the letters of the alphabet are pronounced the same way in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. It stands to reason that the original Latin pronunciation has survived.[/li][li] Spelling errors made by the ancient Romans are very informative. If two letters are often mixed up, they must sound fairly similar. Likewise, if two letters are never mixed up, we know they sounded different. Here’s an example. In classical times, the natives had no trouble keeping ae distinct from e; if they ever misspelled ae it came out ai. Later on, they started changing ae to e. That enables us to pinpoint when the sound of ae changed.[/li][li] Finally, transcriptions into other writing systems, such as Greek and Sanskrit, often pin down the ancient pronunciation of Latin very precisely.[/ul][/li][/quote]

I wouldn’t say “educational guesses” per se. It’s more like “a substantial body of evidence picked through by generations of pedants who make your comic book nerds seem anal expulsive”. Also, for “that’s all they are” I would substitute “only the most niggling of questions are still up in the air.”

Yeah, we talk about a Reconstructed Classical vs. Ecclesiastical pronunciation, but in fact there are multiple inherited systems of pronunciation throughout the world that the reconstructed Classical system has not quite dethroned. My own Latin instruction was Classical in principle but in practice often anglicized.