The Latin demeanor

PL

Why say circles, if we say cats?
The initial letter shape c sounds as {s} in circles, and as {k} in cats. The origin for both words is Latin, circulus and cattus, or catta, for a cat of female gender.
Wikimedia Commons Audio, Circle
Wikimedia Commons Audio, Cat

The matter here is about pronouncing the US Great Seal phrase — Annuit coeptis — according to classic Latin, and knowing what and why.

BOY READING CICERO, FRESCO BY VINCENZO FOPPAWikimedia Commons: Young boy reading Cicero,
fresco by Vincenzo Foppa, US PD 1923

In the name Cicero as well, Latin had a sound that English hardly has today, written as [ts] in the phonetic script. We may produce it, saying {s} and closing on the hard palate as for {t}.

Russian, Polish, or German have the sound in words deriving from Latin decimals, as cent or zehn, ten. The Latin centesimus meant a hundredth, and centenionalis was a small coin.
Google Translate, Cent in Russian
Wikimedia Commons Audio, Cent in Polish
Wikimedia Commons Audio, German ‘Zehn’, 10

We can be back with circles and cats. In English words that derive from Latin, the letter shape c sounds {s}, when it comes before a front vowel. When it comes before a back vowel or a non-vowel, the sound is {k}. Classic Latin was the same for the sound {k}. Before front vowels, people said [ts].

Phonetic names for speech sounds have been disputed, hence the general term, “non-vowel”. We tell back and front vowels by the position of the tongue. Even if we protrude our lips to say {u}, the tongues make a back vowel.

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Russian, Polish, and German also happen to be called The Amber Trail languages. They adopted the Latin [ts] over trade talk, and began using the letter shape c along with the sound [ts] also in native wording. There is no classic pattern as circles and cats in those languages, and the sound [ts] has become used where it never occurred in Latin, after the fall of Rome.
Wikimedia Audio, ‘Information’ in German
Wikimedia Audio, ‘Information’ in Polish
Wikimedia Audio, ‘Information’ in Russian

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Why didn’t the people of the river Thames adopt the sound [ts], if the people of the Baltic did? Well, a theory can be that — like the people of the Loire — they did not have as much amber.

PICTURE: AMBER
Wikimedia Commons: Amber, Public Domain

Baltic waters brought much amber, and the Trail encouraged spoken Latin. The trail also happens to be named the Amber Road, but the region did not have an ancient Roman “highway”, like the Via Appia, and locomotion was by foot, hoof, or oar, as the surface of the planet allowed.

PICTURE: THE AMBER TRAILWikimedia Commons: Baltis Amber Road, CC BY-SA 3.0

The French and the English did not have as much occasion for spoken contact, and learned Latin via handwriting more, adapting Latin sounds. Roman written resources were quite abundant, copied and transported for scholarly reasons. English or French tongues hardly would have [ts], and the tolerance to [v] remains low, inside syllables. [Svastika] is an infamous exception in French.

To recur to the US Great Seal: how do we read it with a digraph as œ?
E pluribus unum
Annuit cœptis
Novus ordo seclorum
.

The Latin digraph œ sounded much like the {e} in “æra”. Since {e} is a front vowel, we say the letter shape c as [ts], in the word {tseptis}. To compare English, words as inception or concept derive from the Latin cœpio.

Ancients kept double non-vowels separate, as in {an—nuit}. Here we go,
{e pluribus unum}
{an—nuit tseptis}
{novus ordo seklorum}.

Feel welcome to read about the Latin sense in the Seal: A New People:
Out of one, many, say the sibylline lines.
Virgil wrote for Octavian Augustus, who had Cicero proscribed and executed. The Framers might have used Virgil to learn Latin, but would they have followed him for the US Great Seal? More→

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