The Latin demeanor

Why say circle, if we say cat?
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 female cat. We may compare the audio for English.
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 modern English hardly has today, written as [ts] in some phonetic scripts. We may try to produce it, saying [s] and closing on the hard palate, as for [t].


We can hear the sound for example in Russian, Polish, or German, in words deriving from Latin decimals, as cent or zehn, ten. The Latin centesimus meant a hundredth, and cententionalis was a small coin. We may compare the audio.
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 modern English, in words that derive from Latin, [s] is the sound for the letter shape c, if it comes before a front vowel. If it comes before a back vowel or a non-vowel, the sound is [k].


Phonetic names for speech sounds, as consonants and other, have become very disputable; we can have a general term, “non-vowel”.


Regarding back and front vowels, it is the position of the tongue to decide. We might even protrude our lips to say [u], but the tongues are going to make a back vowel.


The Amber Trail languages, as Russian, Polish, and German happen to be called, have adopted the sound [ts] and began using the letter shape c or the sound [ts] also in native wording.


There is no Roman Latin pattern as circle and cat preserved in those languages. Not only in German, and not only in the word {informatsion}, the sound [ts] has become used where it did not occur in Latin. The earliest written record for the word “information” in English is dated for the 14th century.
Wikimedia Commons Audio, ‘Information’ in German


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




Baltic waters brought much amber, especially after storms, and the Trail encouraged spoken Latin in the region. 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 boat, as the surface of planet Earth allowed.




Written resources were abundant in Rome, but if they ever got transported, it was for scholarly reasons. The French and the English thus began their acquaintance with Latin via handwriting more; they actually do not have [ts], and their 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, if a digraph as {oe} followed?
E pluribus unum
Annuit cœptis
Novus ordo seclorum


The Latin digraph {œ} sounded much like the {æ} in “æra”, a front vowel as [e]. We pronounce the letter shape c as [ts], in the word {tseptis}.


To compare English, words as inception or concept derive from the Latin cœpio to have meant get hold of.


Ancients kept double non-vowels separate, as in {an—nuit}. Here we go,
{an—nuit tseptis}.


Feel welcome to read about the Seal.
A New People


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